Q&A: Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker

The groundbreaking choreographer presents four early works at Lincoln Center Festival



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Rosas; Bartók/Mikrokosmos

Rosas; Bartók/Mikrokosmos Photograph: Herman Sorgeloos

This year's Lincoln Center Festival includes four programs dedicated to the early works of revered Belgium-based choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker. Her company, Rosas, will perform the inconic dances Fase, Four Movements to the Music of Steve Reich (1982) and Rosas danst Rosas (1983), as well as the lesser-reprised Elena’s Aria (1984) and Bartók/Mikrokosmos (1987) at John Jay College's Gerald W. Lynch Theater. In anticipation, De Keersmaeker spoke about her choreographic beginnings.

How often do we get the chance to see the early works of a major choreographer? This season, Lincoln Center Festival offers a generous look at Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s influential beginnings with programs focused on four of her iconic dances: Fase, Four Movements to the Music of Steve Reich (1982); Rosas danst Rosas (1983); Elena’s Aria (1984); and Bartók/Mikrokosmos (1987). De Keersmaeker’s transformative dances fuel the body as much as the brain; she will perform in all but Bartók. For Beyoncé fans who first became aware of De Keersmaeker’s choreography after the pop star repurposed it—Rosas in particular—for her “Countdown” video, get ready for the real thing.

Since this presentation focuses on your early works, what was your background at that time? Why were you drawn to dance?
At that time, the Ballet du XXe siècle under the direction of Maurice Béjart was very active not only in Brussels where I grew up but all over Belgium and in the world. It was really an inspiring point for me. One could say—this was in the late ’60s and ’70s—that it was really Béjart who brought dance to a large public. I only decided later that I wanted to dance. I think that if I hadn’t danced I would have gone into theater or language studies.

How soon did you begin choreographing? About how old were you?
When I was 18, I went to Mudra, the school of Maurice Béjart, for two years where several students started to choreograph. I did take a dance class when I was younger, with a very inspirational dance teacher that taught not only ballet but also modern dance. My first creation was Asch, which was made with an actor in 1980, but my first major piece was Fase, which premiered in 1982; I made it while I was studying at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. I spent a lot of time in the studios. For me, it was the first time I had left home, the first time I was in New York, and it was also the first time I was so surrounded by dance. I saw a lot of dance and theater, mainly of the so-called avant-garde scene but also Broadway theater. The very fact of being in New York was extremely inspiring and completely different from anything I had experienced before.

Why did you decide to attend NYU?
At theater festivals, I had seen the work of a number of American choreographers such as Trisha Brown and the work of Bob Wilson. Andy deGroat. Lucinda Childs. I knew the history of modern dance and especially of what one then would call postmodern dance and how that was linked to the United States and to New York and that New York was considered a city where dance was a part of daily practice. In Brussels, other than the Ballet of the XXe siècle and the Royal Ballet of Flanders, we don’t really have a history like France or England or even the Netherlands. Maurice Béjart was really a separate phenomenon. It was also when I first saw the Wooster Group. I discovered the music of Steve Reich. It seemed to me that the whole generation of people who came after Cunningham and were linked to Judson—that was the kind of dance I wanted to know more about. And there was the fact that I could have a dance education on a university level, which was impossible at that point in Belgium or even in Europe. It was an important factor for my parents in letting me go to study at an American university.

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