Archive for the ‘American Dance Festival’ Category

Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s Rosas danst Rosas, photo by Jean-Luc Tanghe

Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker stepped on stage last Saturday night to accept a lifetime achievement award from the American Dance Festival. A few minutes later, the 51-year-old Belgian choreographer was back to perform – unbilled – in her demanding signature work, Rosas danst Rosas. One of the dancers from her company was apparently sick. It was also De Keersmaeker’s birthday. Was her appearance a present to herself or was she pressed into service? No matter.

Though De Keersmaeker didn’t move as intensely as the other three performers at the Reynolds Industries Theater in Durham, N.C., the piece would’ve looked differently than during its U.S. premiere 25 years ago anyway. Time and the march of dance history have a way of changing perceptions.

By 1983, when she made Rosas danst Rosas shortly after forming her company in Brussels, De Keersmaeker had absorbed the previous quarter century of New York postmodern style (she attended NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts in 1981-82), especially the mathematical repetition employed by some of the Judson Church choreographers of the 1960s.

I was running late (as usual) to a 1986 matinee performance at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, where De Keersmaeker’s fledgling Rosas troupe was about to become the sensation of BAM’s Next Wave Festival. The 550-seat Lepercq Space upstairs, with its general admission seating, was already packed, and I was going to end up at the top of the risers…until I spotted an empty single in the sixth row and couldn’t believe it was available.

All I knew about Rosas danst Rosas at the time was that it was supposed to be “punky” and would last 90 to 100 minutes without an intermission. And it lived up to the billing: four young women forcefully gesturing in precisely timed patterns in a kind of feminist shorthand that transcribed the vagaries of modern existence.

There was not a dancerly moment in sight, only what used to be called “everyday” or “pedestrian” movement: nods of acknowledgment between the quartet, crumples to the floor, stomach and breast grabs, often synchronized or staggered in cannon, with ever evolving but subtle variations you could easily follow. The heart of the piece found the dancers mingling wild and languid gestures while sitting in or lying on school chairs set up in parallel rows at about a 45-degree angle to the audience.

Despite this mechanical relentlessness, driven hard by Thierry De Mey and Peter Vermeersch’s loud, pounding, clock-like soundtrack – the industrial age on fire – Rosas danst Rosas wasn’t pedestrian at all. Instead, its visceral thrills startled, to the point where I haven’t stopped talking about the work since. I know now that my dance education began that afternoon in Brooklyn – I hadn’t seen half a dozen performances at that point. What I didn’t realize until witnessing the piece again last weekend is it’s the perfect beginning for anyone’s.

With the stunning surprise factor out of the way, the simple vocabulary and rigorous structure of Rosas danst Rosas came to the fore – a textbook lesson in how to build choreography.

Photo by Michiel Hendryckx

“You set up a logic in the beginning of those pieces and that logic is regularly followed,” De Keersmaeker says of her early work in an interview with Sadler’s Wells available on the London venue’s iPhone app. “They’re not sweetened up. There’s a very high sense of taking movement seriously and not putting fuzz around it, not hiding things, so that can seem a little bit harsh. But they’re not about entertaining, that’s for sure.”

She also discusses how those first dances reflected where she was in her own learning curve. “They’re small scale…They’re made not with a lot of craftsmanship, because at the very beginning I didn’t have that much craftsmanship.” Instead, she says, the pieces have “intellectual and emotional conviction” and “very strong physicality…They made their reputation by being very mathematical and distant but I actually think they’re very passionate pieces…They’re full of intensity, and they’re very well constructed.”

Here’s a link to Jack Anderson’s 1986 New York Times review of Rosas danst Rosas and Roslyn Sulcas’ from ADF. Below is a video excerpt of the work.


I intended to start this blog almost a year ago after returning from a fellowship at the American Dance Festival in Durham, N.C. With the 2011 ADF on the horizon, I’m finally getting it going. Check out my entries about the upcoming festival and the new TITAS season below and my mission statement by clicking on the “About” page above.

I also intend to use DFW Dance Blog as an archive of my dance writings since I became the main dance critic of The Dallas Morning News in 2008. So far, I’ve uploaded my unpublished reviews of 2010 ADF performances and pieces that fit into the “Other Archives” category. I should have everything else up, including an updated calendar, before heading to ADF at the end of next week.

Thanks for reading and feel free to comment!

Eiko & Koma to revive River (1995) at the American Dance Festival. Photo by Philip Trager

As Janet Eilber, artistic director of the Martha Graham Dance Company, recently pointed out to me, modern dance is old enough now to have classics. The American Dance Festival is out to prove that this summer while also trying to push the form forward by commissioning new works.

Held at Duke University in Durham, N.C., since 1977 and with roots dating back to the 1930s, the festival opens next week with a gala starring North Carolina’s own Mark Dendy, Scottish Dance Theatre, Martha Clarke, African American Dance Ensemble (led by Chuck Davis, who hosts Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s annual DanceAfrica show) and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. Clarke returns to the festival July 18-20 for a commissioned world premiere on a bill with a revival of Twyla Tharp’s 1996 work, Sweet Fields.

ADF also is bringing back a pair of dance pieces that were key — along with Tharp’s In the Upper Room, Nine Sinatra Songs and The Catherine Wheel — to me becoming a dance lover in the 1980s and later a dance critic: Rosas danst Rosas (1983) by Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker (June 10-12), with its feminist take on modern angst using a vocabulary of intense everyday movement, and Bill T. Jones’ D-Man in the Waters (1989), dealing with death metaphorically in a gorgeously rendered swimming motif (June 16-18). (Jones’ 1990 The Last Supper at Uncle Tom’s Cabin/The Promised Land is the best thing I’ve ever seen on a stage.) Eiko & Koma (July 5-6) also bring their retrospective tour back to Durham with a site-specific performance of River (1995) at Sarah P. Duke Gardens.

Running for six weeks, through July 23, the festival is rounded out with Yossi Berg & Odef Graf (June 14-15), Tao Dance Theater (June 20-22), Evidence and Dayton Contemporary Dance (June 23-25), Rosie Herrera (June 27-29), Pilobolus (June 30-July 2), Emanuel Gat Dance (July 7-9), Doug Varone and Dancers (July 11-13), Shen Wei Dance Arts (July 14-16), Bulareyaung Pagarlava (July 18-20) and Paul Taylor Dance Company (July 21-23). Herrera, Pilobolus, Shen Wei, Pagarlava and Taylor each premiere ADF commissions.

My ADF stories from last year’s festival are here. Press release after the jump.