Rehearsal for Brandenburg Concertos. Photo by Anne Van Aerschot, Courtesy Resnicow and Associates

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

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.

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Rachel Papo

Our 8 Best Pointe Shoe Hacks

It turns out that TikTok is good for more than just viral dance challenges. Case in point: We recently stumbled across this genius pointe shoe hack for dancers with narrow heels.

Dancers are full of all kinds of crafty tricks to make their pointe shoes work for them. But don't fear: You don't need to spend hours scrolling TikTok to find the best pro tips. We rounded up a few of our favorites published in Dance Magazine over the years.

If your vamp isn't long enough, sew an elastic on top of your metatarsals.

Last year, Pacific Northwest Ballet principal Elizabeth Murphy admitted to us that her toes used to flop all the way out of her shoes when she rose up onto pointe(!). "I have really long toes and stock shoes never had a vamp long enough," she says.

Her fix? Sewing a piece of elastic (close to the drawstring but without going through it) at the top of the vamp for more support...and also special-ordering higher vamps.

Solve corns with toe socks

Nashville Ballet's Sarah Cordia told us in 2017 that toe socks are her secret weapon: "I get soft corns in between my toes because I have sweaty feet. Wearing toe socks helps keep that area dry. I found a half-toe sock called 'five-toe heelless half-boat socks' that I now wear in my pointe shoes."

(For other padding game-changers, check out these six ideas.)

Save time by recycling ribbons and elastics.

Don't waste time measuring new ribbons and elastics for every pair. Washington Ballet dancer Ashley Murphy-Wilson told us that she keeps and cycles through about 10 sets of ribbons and crisscross elastics. "It makes sewing new pairs easier because the ribbons and elastic are already at the correct length," she says. Bonus: This also makes your pointe shoe habit more environmentally friendly.

Close-up of hands sewing a pointe shoe.

Murphy-Wilson sewing her shoes

xmbphotography, by Mena Brunette, courtesy The Washington Ballet

Tie your drawstring on demi-pointe.

In 2007, New York City Ballet's Megan Fairchild gave us this tip for making sure her drawstring stays tight: "I always tie it in demi-pointe because that is when there's the biggest gap and where there's the most bagginess on the side."

Find a stronger thread.

When it comes to keeping your ribbons on, function trumps form—audiences won't be able to see your stitches from the stage. Many dancers use floss as a stronger, more secure alternative to thread. Fairchild told us she uses thick crochet thread. "Before I go onstage I sew a couple of stitches in the knot of the ribbon to tack the ends," she says. "I do a big 'X.' I have to make sure it's perfect because I'm in it for the show. It's always the very last thing I do."

Don't simply reorder your shoes on autopilot.

Even as adults, our feet keep growing and spreading as we age. Atlanta podiatrist Frank Sinkoe suggests going to a professional pointe shoe fitter at least once a year to make sure you're in the right shoe.

You might even need different sizes at different times of the year, says New York City Ballet podiatric consultant Thomas Novella. During busy periods and in warm weather, your feet might be bigger than during slow periods in the winter. Have different pairs ready for what your feet need now.

Fit *both* feet.

Don't forget that your feet might even be two different sizes. "If you're getting toenail bruises, blood blisters or other signs of compression, but only on one foot, have someone check each foot's size," Novella says. The solution? Buy two pairs at a time—one for the right foot and one for the left.

Wash off the sweat.

Blisters thrive in a sweaty pointe shoe. Whenever you can, take your feet out of your shoes between rehearsals and give them a quick rinse off in the sink. "If feet sweat, they should be washed periodically during the day with soap and water and dried well, especially between the toes," says Sinkoe.