Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker on Her Love Affair With Bach & Why She's Finally Ready for Broadway
What do Johann Sebastian Bach and Leonard Bernstein have in common? Not much, save perhaps an enthusiasm for counterpoint and a propensity for pushing the envelope. That, and they've both attracted the interest of Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker, the Belgian choreographer who has always thought of music as her primary partner.
Next week, New York audiences will experience her latest work to Bach, The Six Brandenburg Concertos, at the expansive Park Avenue Armory, featuring a multi-generational cast of 16 dancers plus baroque music ensemble B'Rock.
But next year will bring a far more unexpected project for de Keersmaeker: The Broadway revival of West Side Story, which she will be choreographing alongside Ivo van Hove as director. What sold the contemporary giant on taking on a show so far outside her typical oeuvre? The music, of course.
Why She Keeps Coming Back to Bach
Brandenburg will mark de Keersmaeker's fifth time working with the music of Bach. "I find that Bach played badly is still great," she says. "It invites me to dance. It embodies abstraction and that's what interests me in dance. It reflects order and chaos at the same time."
What Makes This Piece Different
Brandenburg will feature a cast of 16. Photo by Anne Van Aerschot, Courtesy Resnicow and Associates
De Keersmaeker is tackling Bach on a grander scale than ever. While her previous works were set to music for solo musicians, the Brandenburg Concertos are complex works for many instruments. The piece will also feature her largest cast to date: a group of 16 including some of the oldest and newest members of de Keersmaeker's company, Rosas. "It's an enormous joy to bring different generations of dancers together," she says.
What Audiences Can Expect
Rehearsal for Brandenburg Concertos. Photo by Anne Van Aerschot, Courtesy Resnicow and Associates
"It's like moving architecture," de Keersmaeker says of the Brandenburg Concertos. "It's about uplifting, jubilating energy. It's about communication, it's extremely consequential and has extreme clarity of form. It expresses such a wide range of emotions such as joy, anger, sadness, desperation, rage, empathy." Her goal? "In the most careful, modest way trying to formulate what could be a possible choreographic answer to these masterworks."
Why Making Brandenburg Was Inevitable
Though de Keersmaeker is only now tackling the complexity of the Brandenburg works, they have been a part of her process since 1980, when she was making her first solo to the music of Steve Reich called Violin Phase. Brandenburg was prevalent in the studio back then, she says, but she was scared to create something to it. Even now, with four Bach works under her belt, she questions whether putting movement to such masterworks is "too much vanity to aim for."
What Made Her Say Yes To West Side Story
De Keersmaeker's production of Così fan tutte. Photo by Anne Van Aerschot via www.rosas.be
Though de Keersmaeker won't say much about her plans for West Side Story just yet, she did admit that it's not a project she would have ever thought she'd be doing. But her rewarding experience directing the large-scale Così fan tutte at the Paris Opéra last year—another project she never thought she'd do—plus the chance to work with Ivo van Hove and explore a key work in the history of musical theater convinced her to say yes when van Hove asked her to choreograph.
Imagine this scenario: You get a text from a friend just as you're heading into ballet class, and have to answer as quickly as possible. Now, if you were heading into a juggling class, or water polo match, or fencing practice, you'd be able to send a quick emoji in response. But alas, you're forced to type out a full sentence. Because, to the ballet world's collective frustration, There. Is. No. Ballet. Emoji. Until now...
According to Emojipedia, the site for all things emoji-related, a ballet shoe emoji is slated to come out later this year (the exact date hasn't been announced yet) as part of Emoji Version 12.0. The proposal came from Australia-based tech company manager and ballet fan Rüdiger Landmann. Landmann proposed three separate ballet emojis: a ballerina, a male ballet dancer and a pair of pointe shoes. Only the pointe shoe emoji was approved, and we'll be honest, it doesn't look like any pointe shoe we've ever seen. It's more like a pink loafer with ribbons attached. But we're trying not to complain, as this is definitely a (wobbly, given the shape of that shoe) step in the right direction.
You might still be thinking wistfully of the figure skating choreography at the 2018 Winter Olympics or already looking forward to the gymnastics competition at next summer's games, but we're officially marking our calendars for Paris 2024. Why? There's an excellent chance that break dancing will make its Olympic debut.
The jukebox musical is a bonafide Broadway staple. Everyone from ABBA to Elvis and Billy Joel to The Beach Boys has been given the Great White Way treatment, and shows with Alanis Morissette's and Michael Jackson's hits are on their way. The big question on our minds is, What current artists' songs might we hear on Broadway in the future?
The fourth wall has come down, and it has opened up a whole new kind of gig for dancers. Since Sleep No More became a hit in 2011, immersive theater experiences have been shattering expectations by inviting audiences to move through the world of the performance as they please. What kind of skill set does this burgeoning art form demand?
For choreographer Raja Feather Kelly, music is simple: "There's good music and there's bad music and I love good music and I love to hate bad music."
But, true to form, Kelly—whose past few months have included choreographing the Skittles Super Bowl musical and earning one of our first-ever Harkness Promise Awards—had some surprises up his sleeve when he made us a playlist he describes as "for moody Geminis who work over 12 hours a day and need a playlist that can shuffle and never disappoint."
Though the playlist has some whiplash-inducing twists and turns—from Coheed and Cambria to Carly Rae Jepsen to Missy Elliott to Schubert—there is a through-line: "Music that makes you feel like you're in your own movie. I love walking through the street feeling like I'm on a runway, living my best life."
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Growing up, I never saw a problem with my dancing and neither did my Muslim-Egyptian dad or my non-Muslim, American mom. They raised me to understand that the core principles of Islam, of any religion, are meant to help us be better people. When I married my Pakistani husband, who comes from a more conservative approach to Islam, I suddenly encountered perceptions of dance that made me question everything: Is it okay to expose a lot of skin? Is it wrong to dance with other men? Is dance inherently sexual? What guidelines come from our holy book, the Quran, and what are cultural views that have become entwined in Islam?
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No matter how much anti–Valentine's Day sentiment I'm feeling in a given year, there's something about dancer couples that still makes me swoon. Here's a collection of wonderful posts from this year, but be warned: Continued scrolling is likely to give you a severe case of the warm fuzzies.
When Rennie Harris first heard that Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater had tapped him to create a new hour-long work, and to become the company's first artist in residence, he laughed.
"I'm a street dance choreographer. I do street dance on street dancers," he says. "I've never set an hour-long piece on any other company outside my own, and definitely not on a modern dance company."
Lately I've been having recurring dreams: I'm in an audition and I can't remember the combination. Or, I'm rehearsing for an upcoming show, onstage, and I don't know what comes next. Each time I wake up relieved that it was only a dream.
However, this is the reality of how I often felt throughout my dance career. Once I knew the steps, there was no undoing it. It was the process of getting there that haunts me to this day.
Sebastian Abarbanell remembers being asked as an undergrad at Trinity Laban in London to perform wearing only a dance belt. "I said no," he says, "because I felt uncomfortable." Now a performer with Sidra Bell Dance New York, he's performed partially nude several times, without reservation. The difference? "It comes with more experience and maturing as a dancer," he says. "When you see a dancer living in their skin, you don't need to put anything else on them. When I said no in college, I wasn't in my skin yet."
Getting in your skin—and getting comfortable wearing only your skin onstage—requires a particular alchemy of vulnerability, agency, preparation and practice.
The entrancing power of Instagram can't be denied. I've lost hours of my life scrolling the platform looking at other people documenting theirs. What starts as a "quick" fill-the-moment check-in can easily lead to a good 10-15 minute session, especially if I enter the nebulous realm of "suggested videos."
My algorithm usually shows me professional ballet dancers in performances, rehearsals, class, backstage and on tour, which I quite enjoy. But there are the other dance feeds that I find myself simultaneously intrigued and horrified by: the hyper-elastic, hyper-extended, gumby-footed girls always at the barre doing developpés to six o'clock. There are the multiple turners, the avid stretchers and we can't forget the endless balancers.
This parade of tricksters always makes me wonder, What else can they do? Can they actually dance?
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