Rosas Early Works 1982-87 (Eng.)

Kaaitheater bulletin Jun 2010English
Kaaitheater season programme 2010-2011

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Many early works by young artists who later become ‘major auteurs’ are fascinating because they contain the seeds of the conceptual world, themes and formal idiom they develop and explore in depth in their later oeuvre.
In the Early Works project, the choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker collects together four choreographic works from the 1982-1987 period: Fase, Four Movements to the Music of Steve Reich (1982), Rosas danst Rosas (1983), Elena’s Aria (1984) and Bartók/Mikrokosmos (1987). Elena’s Aria will be rerun for the first time since its creation; the three other performances have been a part of the Rosas repertoire for quite some time, in various versions and often with younger performers.


The language of the body

Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker was very young when she started out on her career: she created her first production, Asch, in 1980 when she was barely twenty. Two years later, after a stay in New York, she created Fase, a beacon on the Flanders dance map that immediately radiated its light far beyond our borders. The first task for a young choreographer building up his oeuvre is to develop his own idiom. This is even truer for choreographers who do not start out from an existing system of movement such as that of classical ballet. Obviously one would expect them to seek this personal language of movement in their own bodies. Consequently, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s early period (1980-1987) is characterised by the fact that she was always present on stage, that the movements originated from her own body, and that she transferred the form, energy and expressiveness of her dancing through her ‘own body’ to the bodies of ‘the others’ on stage with her.



One of the threads running through these Early Works is that of a pronounced femininity. In the first period the ‘others’ on stage are almost all women. Only in the duet Mikrokosmos does a male dancer appear for the first time. The number of performers in Early Works is also limited to a maximum of five female dancers. Femininity, the female body and female emotions help colour these productions, but without explicitly referring to the feminism of the times. The subtle metamorphosis from girl to woman radiates diffidently through the bodies: from their emotional inner selves to their visible physical expressiveness. The twilight zone between girl and woman is an inextricable part of the choreography. This bond appears to be so compelling that in the reruns of Fase, Rosas danst Rosas and Bartók/Mikrokosmos the cast selected is mostly younger, but Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker herself often continues to dance in them too: she probably experiences the language of the dance as being so personal that she must maintain her presence in these works.
In Early Works images appear that refer to that hesitant transformation from girl to woman, images that slip back and forth between childlike qualities, adolescence and adulthood. The disciplined, abstract bodies of the two women in Fase (featuring Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and Michèle Anne De Mey) are replaced in Rosas danst Rosas by a youthful recklessness, an uncontrolled surrender to the beat of the music, to the energy of the dance. However, the third movement of this choreography is built up around a series of short solos in which each of the dancers in turn bares her shoulders. As if this were the first time the woman, doomed to play the game of seduction, was taking on her role. Nevertheless, this is still ‘an exercise in influence’. The man is (still) absent. The girls are standing in front of an (imaginary) mirror: they seduce themselves, testing it out for the future. In Elena’s Aria, created one year later, the young women on stage have already experienced their first disappointments in love. At least this is what it looks like. They still play children’s games, balancing on a chalk circle, chasing one another on a row of chairs. But they are wearing tight dresses and high-heeled shoes, womanly attributes that hamper them in their play. The general atmosphere of the performance is dominated by the desire for the other. The pain caused by the absence of the beloved is explicitly voiced in a text by Tolstoy read out on stage. Later, in the choreography set to the Fourth String Quartet by the Hungarian composer Bela Bartók – originally created in 1986 as the main constituent of Bartók/Aantekeningen – the small wanton girls are back: they couldn’t care less about seduction, dance shamelessly on high-lows and cheekily show their white panties. Only at the end do they return to stillness and once again adorn themselves with female attributes. The first man appears in Mikrokosmos. The power of attraction does its work, but is not romantic or noticeably tender. There is a bit of pushing and tugging and there is both playfulness and oppression. The recurring image of the central embrace is intense and hard at the same time.


The road travelled, part 1: Fase and Rosas danst Rosas

In that first period, the road Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker travelled in her language of movement was covered step by step and very deliberately. The simplicity and repetitive tightness of Fase loosens up slightly in Rosas danst Rosas. There is greater diversity, but the economy of means remains unchanged. De Keersmaeker clearly defines the parameters within which she wishes to build up a performance, and movement, music, light, dramaturgic structure and so on are combined in a way that is both intelligent and controlled. In the steps used, the combination of the dancers and structuring of ‘chapters’, Rosas danst Rosas is more adventurous than Fase; it moves from unison (or its de-phasing) towards greater compositional complexity; dancing in perfect synchronisation (or its de-phasing) slips into a clear individualisation of the performers. Apart from abstract movements, Rosas danst Rosas introduces gestures that could be described as ‘everyday’, ‘realistic’ or, rather, as ‘bearers of concrete meaning’: fingers running through hair, legs being crossed when sitting down on a chair, arms sliding down the body, and so on.

De Keersmaeker’s oeuvre is dominated by a great mutual respect between music and dance, as if these two disciplines listened closely to one another and were in constant dialogue, yet allowed to follow their own path every now and then. In Fase and Rosas danst Rosas, music and movement join forces. The repetitiveness of Fase, the beat and drive of Rosas danst Rosas, supported by the minimalist compositions of Steve Reich and of Thierry de Mey and Peter Vermeersch respectively, enraptured audiences and established and confirmed De Keersmaeker’s international reputation as a choreographer.


The road travelled, part 2: Elena’s Aria and the Bartók choreographies

Immediately after Rosas danst Rosas, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker felt the need to react against her success and resist the temptation to repeat her achievements. In many ways the 1984 piece Elena’s Aria is a crucial work in her career, which is precisely what makes repetition in a repertoire so difficult. This piece is the product of someone who questions herself and her work, however young and fresh she may be, in the knowledge that this is what great artists have to do over and over again, no matter how painful the process may be. Elena’s Aria reflects its maker’s quest and the doubts that appear when the confident energy of the early projects briefly ebbs. In Elena’s Aria, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker broke away from her fascination with repetition and abandoned the beat and the drive, opting rather for long moments of silence and for a variety of musical excerpts/voices that underpin the movements but remain in the background. The ‘spectacular’ element of unison work disappears, except in the coda. The introvert element, which although not immediately visible is nevertheless palpable, is at the very heart of this production. As there is so much to express that cannot actually be conveyed, De Keersmaeker sought alternatives to dance and music. In Elena’s Aria, she introduced texts and filmed images for the first time. Words – which always want to signify so much – are treated with diffidence. There is literally a reader’s corner on stage, complete with easy chair and standard lamp, to which the dancers one by one regularly withdraw and read out a text.

From a spatial point of view, the structure of Elena’s Aria is more whimsical than that of previous works, even though the circle (drawn in chalk) and the line (the row of chairs) do recur. Fase consists of three ‘linear’ duos and one solo in which the line, diagonal and circle are combined. This solo is echoed, together with its exhausting effect, in the fourth part of Rosas danst Rosas. In the first movement of this last choreography ‘the floor is conquered’ once and for all, and from then on falling, rolling and lying became fundamental elements in De Keersmaeker’s language of movement. In the Bartók choreographies – the duet Mikrokosmos and the quartet to Quatuor no. 4 – these three basic forms (line, diagonal, circle) are already interwoven in a way that is more complex and virtuoso. However, in the underlying structure of Quatuor, its division into five chapters, they remain visible: the principal direction in the first and fifth chapters is linear and frontal, the second and fourth part are constructed around a lateral line, while the third chapter has a circular structure. Following Elena’s Aria, dance and music come together again in a joyful encounter in the Bartók choreographies. The mutual dialogue between the disciplines is resumed. Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker: ‘Through dance I always try to present what attracts me in music, what encourages me to dance. Actually, I try to make the audience experience the beauty, pleasure and enjoyment of music through dance.’


Structure and emotion

The most important common factor that links the Early Works is Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s search for emotionally charged structures and for the structure contained in emotions. The various productions in the first period all take their place on the axis running from pure abstraction to pure intuition. They keep one another in an unstable balance. The structure includes the enriching detour that prevents emotion from manifesting itself explicitly. Conversely, the concreteness of the emotion tempers the abstraction of the structure. Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker: ‘Structure and emotion support one another. This may sound like a cliché, but it lies deep in my very fibre. Although structure and emotion differ from one another, I have never been able to see them as separate. Emotions have always been a major theme in what I do, but on the other hand there is always a sort of longing for abstract beauty, for an inexorable order that exists in its own right.’
She discovered the first ways of expressing this credo in Early Works: achievements which in her later oeuvre she continued to develop, and questioned and explored, questioned once again, and so on, and so on.