It’s been six years since Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and her company Rosas last visited the Walker: in 2008, they performed the artist’s early work Fase, Four Movements to the Music of Steve Reich (1982) for one night only. This weekend, the Walker will welcome De Keersmaeker back for the fifth time in twenty years with her seminal work, Rosas danst Rosas (1983). This important piece, which has never before been performed in Minnesota, initiated De Keersmaeker into the dance world in the early 1980s and has continued to gain international attention in the decades since.
Rosas danst Rosas, Then and Now
While Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker continues to make new work, she also maintains a strong repertoire throughout her oeuvre to be restaged and re-performed by her changing company of dancers. By presenting these pieces again and again over decades, Rosas provides audiences with a path through which to connect similarities and progressions from one period of De Keersmaeker’s choreography to another. With Rosas danst Rosas in particular, De Keersmaeker seems to be continuing a dialogue about the work over time, offering space for reinterpretation while also maintaining the integrity of the original choreography, which still feels as relevant today as it did thirty-odd years ago.
In 1997, the piece was filmed by Thierry De Mey (who provided the original score for the piece) in an old technical school in Leuven, Belgium, casting a new light on the staging and sequencing of the four sections of Rosas danst Rosas and offering a cinematic interpretation of the work. In 2012, the piece was described and presented textually in a book co-authored by De Keersmaeker, titled A Choreographer’s Score: Fase, Rosas danst Rosas, Elena’s Aria, Bartók, in which the choreographer and performance theorist Bojana Cvejić created visual scores for four of De Keersmaeker’s most significant works, including verbal explanations, drawings, photos, and demonstrations by the choreographer. Both De Mey’s film and the 2012 book serve to further explore and even re-imagine De Keersmaeker’s original choreography and performance of Rosas danst Rosas.
In addition to these interpretative documentations of Rosas danst Rosas, the piece has received participatory attention in recent years through the Re:Rosas project. After pop star Beyoncé used De Keersmaeker’s choreography from Rosas danst Rosas in her 2011 music video Countdown, a discussion of De Keersmaeker’s work and the notion of it being plagiarized entered the mainstream media. As a sort of happy accident with the Beyoncé episode, Rosas danst Rosas reached new audiences, some of whom would not have otherwise been aware of the work.
In recent years, De Keersmaeker developed the Re:Rosas project in which she sets her choreography free to be interpreted by anyone, teaching the movements and choreographic structure of the piece to online audiences. She encourages anyone and everyone to film themselves dancing Rosas danst Rosas in their own way and to upload their videos to the Re:Rosas site. So far, nearly 300 videos have been uploaded, showing people of all ages and in various parts of the world performing their versions of De Keersmaeker’s choreography.
As Rosas danst Rosas has been performed over and over, not only by the Rosas company and its evolving group of dancers, but by people around the world through the Re:Rosas project, the movements take on new meaning when performed in different contexts and settings. De Keersmaeker’s original choreography involves four female dancers performing a four-part dance in which they first move while lying on the floor, then while seated in chairs, then while standing in a line, and lastly while moving through the entire space of the stage. The structure of the chair sequence is described in detail by De Keersmaeker on the Re:Rosas site and involves a quite mathematical repetition of movements where each dancer is assigned one of four positions which determines the order of set movements she must execute.
In Thierry De Mey’s film, the dancers’ drab costumes and the industrial setting suggest they are factory workers or prisoners of some sort, and their movements in the first two parts reflect a frustration and tiredness as well as a hint at femininity and even sexual repression when the dancers expose and quickly cover up one shoulder with their shirts. On the Rosas website, dramaturg Marianne Van Kerkhoven writes that the concept of femininity is a common theme in all of De Keersmaeker’s early works, and that these works refer to femininity and the transition stage between female adolescence and adulthood without directly referencing the feminism of the early 1980s. De Keersmaeker was only in her early 20s when she created Rosas danst Rosas and her other early works, so she likely placed her own position in life and its challenges and limitations into her work.
With the Re:Rosas project, the content of the dance changes as different bodies perform the work in different settings and spaces all over the world, even while the movements remain similar to De Keersmaeker’s original choreography. De Keersmaeker seems curious to see other interpretations of her work, perhaps inspired by Beyoncé’s copy just as Beyoncé was inspired by De Keersmaeker’s choreography. In a 1999 interview with Walker Performing Arts Curator Philip Bither, De Keersmaeker mentioned the change involved when different dancers perform a piece in a different time than the original staging, and she seems interested in the way different bodies respond to her movement in different ways and can even change the piece entirely. As generations of audiences continue to learn about De Keersmaeker and her history through the performances of her early works, De Keersmaeker also learns from the perspectives of new audiences and new casts of dancers performing historical pieces.
De Keersmaeker as an innovator and educator
What makes Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker unique as a contemporary choreographer is her commitment to education and her practice of making dance education accessible to younger generations of dancers. Through educating the public about dance, as well as by providing resources to the dance community, Rosas continues a conversation about De Keersmaeker’s work while contributing to an environment of sharing and learning. Rosas has partnered with other Belgian and European arts organizations on several education initiatives, including Bal Moderne (a workshop in which the public learns a series of short choreographies with little or no dance experience required, with the goal of experiencing simply the pleasure of dancing), Dancing Kids (a weekly dance class offering for children, taught by Rosas), Lasso (a network of education, cultural heritage, social welfare, and arts organizations to share best practices in arts education and form partnerships), and RondOmDans (a project in which Rosas introduces high school students in Brussels to contemporary dance and performance through lectures, classes, and rehearsal visits).
One of De Keersmaeker’s most successful and influential education projects has been the creation of the P.A.R.T.S. (Performing Arts Research and Training Studios) school in Brussels, which she co-founded with the Belgian National Opera De Munt/La Monnaie in 1995 and continues to oversee as Director. P.A.R.T.S. is a contemporary dance training program and a laboratory for creative exploration that emphasizes a dialogue between dance and music, theater, and other art forms. Students develop their own independent artistic voices through a two-year training cycle followed by a two-year advanced research cycle which include a schedule of short workshops on topics from dance technique to caring for the dancing body taught by internationally known and respected choreographers and teachers. Upon visiting the school, one will notice the relaxed, yet intellectual atmosphere within the expansive studio spaces and student lounges. Countless languages are spoken in the hallways, as the students at P.A.R.T.S. come from dozens of countries throughout Europe and across the world. Lunch is provided to students in a cafeteria that serves meals to support a healthy, macrobiotic diet, and the curriculum seems to emphasize body awareness and health.
De Keersmaeker has designed P.A.R.T.S. not to teach her specific style or repertory, although these may be included in the workshop schedule, but rather to foster a productive environment and a space for experimentation for the next generation of movement-based artists. She seems always to be interested in the possibility of artists inspiring one another and continuing the conversation she started in her early 20s with the advent of Rosas. As she continues to educate the public with her repertoire of dance works and younger generations of dancers through P.A.R.T.S., De Keersmaeker succeeds in strengthening a legacy of teaching, thinking, and rethinking …a legacy that fosters an ongoing dialogue with the public and the world about her work.