In what ways have the practice and the choreographic work of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker influenced Contemporary Dance?
In order to provide the fullest possible answer to the question, this essay would need to cover the whole of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s life, experience and career. It is by no means easy to analyse the complex background and growth of her choreographic work as it is still in the course of its development. Therefore, I have narrowed it down by focusing on three main areas of analysis when approaching the question: the subject —Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s movement practice and choreography—, the object —Rosas danst Rosas and P.A.R.T.S.— and the context—Minimalism and the Flemish wave.
Before getting into the matter itself, I will be exploring how Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker has been influenced in order to understand, subsequently, the impact she has provoked. There are three main elements which coexist and are interrelated between each other throughout all her practice: music, nature and the dancers who have accompanied her (De Keersmaeker, 2019).
Since De Keersmaeker started creating her own pieces, she has shown a rich capacity to create singular and personal compositions with music becoming one of the main characters. The Belgian choreographer has often affirmed music is her master and, throughout her journey as an artist, she has developed diverse techniques in implementing this artistic discipline in partnership with dance (Genter, 2011, p.130).
This is reiterated by the notion that Plouvier suggests:
The relationship between dance and music was to become a constant in Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s work (2008, p.9).
Secondly, another relevant tool she commonly integrates and which fascinates her is nature —involving everything related with its innate shapes, geometry and processes— with ideas such as the Fibonacci numbers, the golden section and the spirals (Van Campanout et al., 2002, p.36), the last of which was commented by herself during a lecture at Collège de France as the most compelling one:
The figure that has always been mine… and which I use without reserve in my choreographies is the spiral. The spiral is not only a geometric shape but the shape of a certain vision of life (De Keersmaeker, 2019).
Finally, her last and most direct influence: the dancers she has been working with. In Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s methodology, “they do not operate like the young members of a ballet company”(Van Campanout et al., 2002, p.38). Instead, they are part of the whole production not only doing their own role but also possessing the knowledge and responsibility in relation to the whole work. The dancers are thinkers who can independently make decisions and choices both during the performance and the creative process. The dialogue the dancers have with De Keersmaeker is constant and the principal means of keeping the construction alive and fluid so that things keep moving (ibid).
In her own poetic words —which clearly defines her philosophy:
As long as there is life, there is transition from the one to the other; when there is only thing, it dies (cited in Van Campanout et al., 2002).
A significant element to be mentioned when talking about Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s significance is her company Rosas danst Rosas, formed in 1983, which directly launched her career as a choreographer building a crucial and strong presence in the dance industry, “engaging theatres, repertoire companies, opera houses, festivals, educational platforms, and exhibition spaces” (Rosas, no date).
Her choreography enabled contemporary dance to evolve to the next level. After the Judson Dance Theatre legacy, which influenced many of dancers of her generation, she developed the minimalist approach in the 1980s that she remains known for (Snauwaert, 2015, p.22).
According to Bräuninger (2014, p.57), the choreographer shifted the preceding choreographic work Trisha Brown established a couple of generations before, in which she set up and played out with fixed patterns, documented in scores. De Keersmaeker knows Brown’s work and her influence can be definitely detected. However, what distinguishes one another is their choreographic structural methodology: “De Keersmaeker choreographs cells, while Brown choreographed phrases” (ibid).
Moving forward, it is said by Genter that, even though De Keersmaeker’s work has been constantly shifting, minimalism has always been her imprint. The persistent elements she plays with —like the use of repetition with rhythmic sense and the counterpoint configurations—are concepts that always come back to the abstract and non-symbolic art movement she used to develop (2011, p.130).
The artist’s choreographic voice and expression has always been in constant evolution, keeping the ability to amaze by continuously evolving and changing, but always coming from the same source (2015, p.32).
As an example of it, Genter analyses the first section —Piano Phase— of the piece Fase: Four movements to Music of Steve Reich premiered in 1982. In it, “two women dance with intense energy, wearing white sleeveless dresses hanging just below the knees” (2011, p.130). The dancers execute complex pivoting forms by continuously changing their body facing towards or away from one another in a line (ibid, pp. 130 - 131).
Creating this pure dance through abstract strategies, permanent repetitions, highly precise forms and gesticulated natural actions, the choreographer shifts and expands dance and choreography by giving three new inputs to it: repetition, simplicity and minimalism (Genter, 2011, p.130).
Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker has always had a strong interest in combining her artistic vision with new media technology by the creation of video-dance, something completely new in the 1980s. Since then, she commonly inserts video-projections in many of her works and has been collaborating with several directors such as Peter Greenaway and Thierry De Mey, with whom she produced prizewinning video-versions of her dance creations(Boenisch, 2003, p.34).
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The cameras and film editing in the video versions of her works clearly illustrate the perspective De Keersmaeker wants to show the spectator about what dance is for her. For example, in the Rosas danst Rosas-film (1997) directed by Thierry De Mey, the cognitive experience of the audience is completely reprogrammed by shifting what would be the stage and its front. With that, Rosas propose adding unexplored concepts of bodies and physicality to the stage by “escaping from and even contradicting the traditional logic of the spectatorial gaze” (ibid, pp.36-38).
Rosas danst Rosas has become the masterpiece of the company and it has been performed by diverse generations of dancers throughout three decades. Moreover, it is a fundamental part of the curriculum at P.A.R.T.S. and has been transmitted through workshops all around the world and within the Rosas company itself (Karreman, 2015, pp.102 -103).
The company productions have been changing the ordinary categories and viewpoints for “framing, watching and perceiving a performative event” by slightly adjusting “the spectator’s sensorial apparatus”. Therefore, the public is no longer watching but progressively starts interacting and becoming part of the performance (Boenisch, 2003, p.37). As Boenisch states, De Keersmaeker’s choreography “explicitly re-programmes” our perception of what dance can be. (2003, p.34).
Moving forward, according to Adolphe (2002, p.301), another practical and direct way in which Anna Teresa De Keersmaeker’s work has affected contemporary dance is by the creation of her own school. She opened P.A.R.T.S —Performing Arts Research and Training Studios— in 1995, jointly with Bernard Foccroule, in Brussels. Since then, she has been transmitting to all the students her knowledge and experience, becoming “a place of luxury for dancers” (ibid).
As suggested by Van Kerkhoven, the reasons why she opened P.A.R.T.S. were three: the choreographer’s personal need and wish to pass her own background, the school as a creative project and a medium to propagate the Rosas approach, and the establishment of a project to fill the educational gap in modern dance after the closure of Maurice Béjart’s school (2002, p.8).
Becoming an international central point for ambitious and risky work in dance, P.A.R.T.S. has been significant in the birth of a dance scene in Brussels. At the same time, it has been influenced by the dance landscape developed outside Belgium —nationally and internationally— (ibid, p.9), with pedagogues experienced in the vocabularies and practices of William Forsythe, Trisha Brown and Pina Bausch. The study of the Rosas repertory has always been present as well, becoming, together with musical analysis, one of the pedagogical foundations of the curriculum (Adolphe, 2002, p.302).
The institution has been developed as a project that wants to connect the transmission of knowledge with the incentive of creativity. As a result of it, some of the first generation of students from P.A.R.T.S., graduated in 1995, have already shaped dance, having an effect on European stages, captivating the audience and critical attention (ibid). Some significant names are: Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Alexander Vantournhout, Salva Sanchis, Mette Ingvartsen…among others (Rompay, 2016).
When De Keersmaeker created the school in Brussels, she wanted to transmit “an art of which no script, except that of shared experience, can guarantee the durability.” (Adolphe, 2002, p.302) Therefore, she made it without making concessions, with perseverance, bravery and the same radicality we can observe in her choreographic work (ibid).
From there, popularity has grown over the years towards the school philosophy. Auditions are run every three years in more than twenty-five different countries from all over the world. As a result of its success, more than two thousand people applied for the audition in 2016. However, to maintain the essence of the work, only 54 people were taken (P.A.R.T.S., no date).
Lastly, an important aspect De Keersmaeker evolved in contemporary dance has been music. The choreographer has been moved and inspired for many years by the composer Steve Reich, with who shares the same principles of composition, in which the constant repetition in both music and dance is a clear example of it. Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker has been intrigued by his music throughout her career, exploring the choreomusical relationship. From Bräuninger point of view: “certain compositional principles of Reich’s music resonated with De Keersmaeker’s own aesthetic sensibilities” (2014, pp. 47-49).
Therefore, it can be seen that Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker was “influenced by Reich’s structured process but not a mere translation of it” by using his music in different productions —Fase, Amor Constante, Rain and Drumming (ibid, pp.53-56). However, we cannot speak about a collaboration or influence from Reich position as his music existed first (ibid, p.49).
In Snauwaert’s own words: “The tight imbrication of dance and music…are vital to her” (2015, p.22). Hence, this action of “layering and braiding” both disciplines to one another enables the audience to become “exponentially enriched” (Brooks and Meglin, 2014, p.3).
The Belgium choreographer has gained an international reputation with her work with musical ensembles such as Ictus, with who she has been collaborating for years and shared the same premises since 1994, together with P.A.R.T.S. (Snauwaert, 2015, p.7). Thanks to the first musical partnerships with Rosas Danst Rosas, Ictus started making collaborations with other dance choreographers, including Wim Vandekeybus, Maud Le Pladec, Eleanor Bauer and Fumiyo Ikeda (Ictus, no date).
De Keersmaeker’s way of approaching the relationship between the dancer and the musician and his or her instrument has been influential with dancers who have worked with her (Cvejić, 2015, p.13).
As an explicit example, in Thomas Hauert’s piece Inaudible (2016) in which six dancers have a dialogue with George Gershwin composition Concerto in F. Hauert is a Swiss-Belgium based choreographer who worked with Rosas danst Rosas for several years. Therefore, it can be clearly suggested the influence De Keersmaeker has had to him (ZOO/Thomas Hauert, 2020).
Cvejić clearly defines De Keersmaeker approach as follows:
The dancers associate their movements with the instrumental part in the written score… Hence, the gestures of arms will be prominent for dancers coupled with the strings, or breathing with the wind instruments or jumping with the percussive cascades of the piano (2015, p.13).
As noted above, because Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker’s work is still in evolution and developing, this does not yet allow any final conclusions to be drawn about the influence she is going to make over the dance generations ahead, in the near future (Van Kerkhoven and Laermans, 1998).
However, according to Genter (p.87, 1999), her impact is more than ensured since Performing Arts Research and Training Studio —P.A.R.T.S.— was founded in Brussels, with the guidance of ex-dancers of such new choreography including rDe Keersmaeker herself. Therefore, the repercussions arising from the establishment of this school can be clearly seen in the work in the work of the artists who once were students at her school (1999, p.87).
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In that way, it can be said De Keersmaeker has “come full circle” (Van Kerkhoven and Laermans, 1998). Between the eighties and nineties, her productions became distinguished and with P.A.R.T.S. she passed on to the upcoming dancers the fundamentals of her methodology. However, it is not easy to reach a final conclusion as De Keersmaeker’s future work is still in progress and any analysis will assuredly need to be updated (ibid).
Evidently, it can be affirmed her company Rosas danst Rosas hasspread dance as a way of ‘writing movements’ throughout space and time, by exploring, all over the years, the relationship between the art of choreography and compositional forces such as music, geometry, the visual arts, and language (Rosas, no date).
Genter has argued that, because of the establishment of her school and her company in Brussels, De Keersmaeker has gained much recognition and popularity —becoming a ‘Cultural Ambassador of Flanders’ since 1993. Thanks to her persistence and capabilities, she has turned into one of the unique visions of the European experimental dance (1999, p.87).
The three main areas of analysis earlier stated in Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s work —the subject, the object and the context— have become a vast influence in the contemporary dance field. As Snauwaert mentions, thanks to De Keersmaeker’s international acclaim and that of her dance company, Rosas danst Rosas, her school, P.A.R.T.S., as well as her work with musical ensembles and visual artists such as Ann Veronica Janssens and Michael François, Belgium has played a decisive role in becoming a centre for contemporary dance, and Brussels, a capital for interdisciplinary artistic experimentation (2015, p.7).
Although De Keersmaeker’s future influence is yet to be determined, she has definitely developed and established a strong, solid base to become a fruitful grounding in the contemporary dance field so far (Genter, 1999, p.87).
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Boenisch, P.M. (2003) ElectrONic Bodies. Corpo-Realities in Contemporary Dance Performance. To be published in Performance Research, 8:4, 33-41 [Preprint]. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/13528165.2003.10871964 (Accessed: 23 January 2020).
Bräuninger, R. (2014) Structure as Process: Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker's Fase (1982) and Steve Reich's Music. To be published in Dance Chronicle, 37:1, 47-62 [Preprint]. Available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/01472526.2014.877273 (Accessed: 23 January 2020).
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Van Kerkhoven, M. (2002) …as long as we keep track of the law of our own growth. Thoughts of ten years of PARTS, in De Belder, S. and Van Rompey, T. (eds.) P.A.R.T.S. : documenting ten years of contemporary dance education. [Brussels]: P.A.R.T.S, pp. 8-9.
ZOO/Thomas Hauert (2020) Inaudible. Available at: https://zoo-thomashauert.be/en/projects/139/inaudible (Accessed: 19 February 2020).
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