Quick Q&A: Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker
Originally these works were performed outdoors—one at dusk, one at dawn. Did bringing them into the theater change them for you? Well, it is true that they premiered at the Festival d’Avignon as a diptych—En Atendant at sunset, Cesena at sunrise. From the beginning I collaborated with the visual artists Ann Veronica Janssens and Michel François. We wanted to go from light into darkness and darkness into light. Avignon was a unique occasion to do that.
For indoor spaces, we transformed the opening and closing of the light in a very simple way. The pieces gain in dramatic intensity indoors, though they maybe lose a certain notion of poetic force. But it would be wrong to say that you lose the essence of the pieces. In fact, they are done indoors much more frequently than outdoors.
In the theater, do you try to emulate the rising and setting sun? I don’t think you should compete with the sun. So that was not the point. The solutions are extremely modest and efficient—absolutely low-tech. These are also pieces that challenge your perception of what becomes visible in the darkness and what disappears in the light. The music is linked to music of the late 14th century, a style named ars subtilior. Of course the Middle Ages are often wrongly described as the Dark Ages. It was a very chaotic era, but out of this chaotic situation came the beginnings of the Renaissance.
So in this music from the so-called Dark Ages, were you able to find something bright? The music for me was like coming home. It brought together all different aspects of what I search for: a complex and refined structure, both melodically and rhythmically, and at the same time, in a very natural and articulated way, a high degree of emotional intensity.
Rosas in En Atendant at the Festival d'Avignon
Photo by Herman Sorgeloos, Courtesy Rosas
But it was challenging, too? It was really challenging to find a choreographic answer to the music, to bring to the surface what is so contemporary about it.
How do dancing and singing inform each other in these works? The relationship between dance and music has been over 30 years my main focus, and I think in this diptych, it is in its most purified form. In Cesena, the dancers also sing, and the singers also dance. There are no instruments—only the human body with the human voice. I’ve never gotten so close to music. In En Atendant, music and dance are more separate; there are still instruments, like the flute and vielle, a kind of medieval violin.
Cesena is very much about the collaboration with Björn Schmelzer and the singers of Graindelavoix, which is historically based but non-orthodox in how the voice is approached. They approach the voice similar to how I approach movement: aiming to detect the universal laws of movement, the mechanics of movement, how the body functions, but at the same time very individually anchored, not trying to polish things.
How do the dancers of Rosas train on a daily basis? People have their individual training—contemporary dance techniques or other practices such as Alexander technique, yoga, tai chi. I think with the kind of vocabulary I’m working with, the work is the performance and the performance is the work. People train through the making of these pieces. They are very long, intensive, slow physical and social processes. The dancers are very much involved in the genesis. So I think that’s their main training. And we do a lot of yoga.
Your work is so mathematically complex. Can you trace your interest in geometry to any particular starting point? I’ve had a strong interest in Pythagoras from the very beginning, when I made Fase: Four Movements to the Music of Steve Reich and the first solo, Violin Phase, which is based on a circle and where time and space are organized according to geometrical trajectories. That was 30 years ago. The beauty of abstraction and formalist patterns—proportions and their infinite manifestations in nature—is for me a continuous study and source of inspiration.
Picture at top by Anne Van Aerschot, Courtesy Rosas.
Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.
"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."
Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.
Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:
We knew that Ivo van Hove and Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker's production of West Side Story would challenge our preconceived notions about the show.
But a recent Vogue story gives us a taste of just how nontraditional the Broadway revival will be. Most notably, van Hove is cutting "I Feel Pretty" and the "Somewhere" ballet, condensing the show into one act to better reflect the urgency of the 48-hour plot. (The choice has been approved by the West Side Story estate, including Sondheim, who has "long been uncomfortable" with some of the "I Feel Pretty" lyrics.)
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.