Reservoir: Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker (ENG)

Kaaitheater bulletin Mar 2008English

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In this section we plunge into an artist’s ‘reservoir’: the library, video and record collections, the archives and the experiences on which they draw when engaged in creative work. This season, on the occasion of Kaaitheater’s 30th anniversary, we are hearing from artists who have a long career behind them and whose work we have often shown. The choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker (born 1960) has been associated with the Kaaitheater from almost the very beginning of her career. Most of her numerous creations have been performed in our theatres. At the beginning of March 2008, we will be presenting her latest project, Zeitung.


My parents had a small classical records collection and I remember the records by Soeur Sourire and Jo Erens, but they were not really music connoisseurs. But the radio was always on, and we used to listen to the news – on which my father would give a running commentary – and to the bel-canto programme on Sunday afternoon.
As far as theatre is concerned, I remember De bende van Jan de Lichte being performed in Wemmel’s gymnasium by the Mechels Miniatuurtheater (MMT); Josse De Pauw was one of the actors. And then there was Johan Verminnen who stood on a table singing at the Hooghuis in Wemmel during the annual fair. And everyone sat in front of the TV when he received the Ontdek de ster award from Toon Hermans. But for me, Wemmel was above all the farm, working in the fields, tractor, cows and horses…

I became acquainted with literature mainly through school. At the Heilig Hart lower-secondary school in Heverlee I was taught Greek and Latin by Rosa Vergaelen: a brilliant, inspirational woman, one of those dedicated nuns of the old generation. When translating De Bello Gallico, she let us push aside the desks and act out the battle between the Gauls and the Romans. One of the inspiring teachers at the Maria Boodschap upper-secondary school in Brussels was Johan Boonen. He taught Dutch, Latin, Greek and aesthetics. To give an example, he had us translate Paul Van Ostaijen into Latin…

During my final years at school, I lived in digs in Brussels: during the day I went to school and afterwards I studied dance and music at Lilian Lambert’s Ecole de la danse, de la Musique et des Arts du Spectacle. It was at that school in Kartuizerstraat, next to the Greenwich, that I met Michèle Anne and Thierry De Mey. I then went on to study at Mudra, where I became acquainted with the dance world during the golden age of Béjart’s Ballet of the 20th century. I kept up with what was going on at the Beursschouwburg, Théâtre 140, and the first Kaaitheater festivals. I got to know the work of Jan Decorte and Chantal Akerman. The information I obtained from the Kaaifestivals, the things I was reading, and seeing the work of Lucinda Childs and Trisha Brown, made it obvious to me that I had to go to New York: after all, everything to do with post-modern dance and Judson Church was based there. I had already got to know the music of Steve Reich through Thierry. He helped me discover a lot. He himself was such a wonderful mixture: he did not just to talk to me about Steve Reich, but also about Beethoven’s last quartets, the films of Fassbinder, the plays of Michel de Ghelderode, the poems of Trakl, the theatre of Artaud, about Louis Andriessen and Hoketus, François Couperin’s Leçons des tenèbres, Arno’s Putain putain and much more.

One of my most important encounters was with Fernand Schirren. Schirren was the rhythm teacher at Mudra but he had also taught me at Lilian Lambert’s school. As a result of the proximity of Schirren and Thierry De Mey, a permanent discussion took place about music, dance and theatre. Schirren had developed a highly individual discourse which went much further than just thinking about rhythm alone. His system was much more than an articulated physical technique, it was a way of understanding the world that came very close to certain aspects of Taoism, more specifically the concept of yin and yang. That is the body of ideas which I too came to embrace: first through macrobiotics and then through reading about that philosophy. Only later did I realise that Schirren told a highly Brusselised, Belgian version of what Taoism was. He also developed this notion of the omnipresence of antagonistic and complementary energies; he saw in everything – whether it was a chair or the whole planet – the manifestation of a vibration, of a materialised energy.

I have never been intensely involved in any other philosophies or philosophical systems. Of course, in the early years there was also Nietzsche and the ideas of Rilke. They were part of that great romantic feeling, that passionate, intellectually challenging involvement in that period. What attracted me in Nietzsche was above all that almost wanton sovereignty, that provocativeness, daring to go further, beyond morality. After Rilke, Heiner Müller also became an important writer for me, but as far as literature is concerned, that first confrontation with the Greek and Latin texts was crucial.

As for music, first place belongs to Bach. Webern as well, but above all Bach. And, apart from that, so many specific works: Bartok’s Fourth String Quartet, Mozart’s Cosi fan Tutte, Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione… the Flemish polyphonists, Debussy, Mahler, the work of fantastic musicians such as Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Prince, Indian and African music, that whole field of world music… It is just endless. But still: first and foremost, Bach.

I have always loved mathematics but never had the same fascination for it as I did for language structures. The absoluteness of mathematical constructions, figures, and abstract configurations attract me. This attraction was also nurtured through the combination of dance and music in the discussions with Thierry. Every creation is really about the organisation of time and space. That ‘crystallisation of things’ has become even more intense over the years: the constant re-organisation of energy and vibrations according to a number of universal laws in an infinite number of possible variations.

The I Ching – after the Bible the oldest book in the world – is an inexhaustible source for me. It is one of the chief books in Chinese culture and contains descriptions of every possible manifestation of movements between Yin and Yang. This idea of construction and deconstruction on the one hand delivers highly articulated structures, but at the same time it has become a sort of second breath for me, an intuition about how one can organise things, about the philosophical idea of ‘unity’ and ‘division of unity’ – from 1 to 2 to 3… and about how this idea has manifested itself in history and culture, in buildings, in dance…

I have always had a deep affinity with nature; it may have something to do with the fact that I do, after all, have a romantic soul. As a child I used to love working with the others on the farm and in the fields. It was only later that my love for high mountains developed. I started walking. Eight years ago I went on a trip to the Himalayas. I cannot think when sitting at a desk. I need a route and movement. Walking in the mountains is an unbelievably purifying experience. It brings peace and clarity to your mind. The higher you climb, the more simple the shapes become: large surfaces, simple configurations, a huge white or grey sky, no multitude of shapes, but more a sort of crystallisation or mineralisation and a rarefication that almost becomes an abstraction…