Q&A: Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker

The groundbreaking choreographer presents four early works at Lincoln Center Festival



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Why did you want to put these works together on one program? How did that come about?
We has never taken back Elena’s Aria. Rosas danst Rosas and Fase have been performed regularly over the past 30 years. I thought that for the new generation of dancers, for the public and for myself, it would be good to go back to that past and to bring the works together to see the unity in them. What were literally the first steps of something that developed into an oeuvre? I think I’ve made 45 choreographies now, and to go to the very beginning has been an interesting experience to see what the seeds of that language are. We are also seeing how we have changed the way we watch. Do you look at it differently than you did 30 years ago? And what about young people who have never seen these pieces? The very experience of going to a dance performance is different; today, we have the hugest library, which is YouTube. So the aspect of live performance has changed.

How has seeing your early works and performing them on this program affected your work today?
I did very intensive work with [dance theorist] Bojana Cvejić in writing A Choreographer’s Score [a book that describes the way the early works were made]. We had the occasion to analyze those pieces and their working processes. It was analytical, going back to my physical body and memory—many layers of it—to think: Why did you make those decisions and those choices? It was very challenging, but also an inspiring process that influences the choices I make today. I was amazed by the combination of simplicity and complexity—a kind of rigorous minimalism and, at the same time, a very explicit and feminine physicality. Also, the performative aspect of what it meant to be with such demanding pieces onstage at that age. The use of time. A lot of those pieces work on duration. The patience. How time is experienced differently today, even for myself. And how movement was developed: There was a lot of work on detail and very slow working processes where movement was taken very carefully and very seriously. It was a constant search between the beauty of abstract forms and how the body could embody them. The search for a different kind of virtuosity. A certain notion of stubbornness. 

You stopped dancing for a few years and then returned to the stage. Why did you take a break? Did it have to do with the fact that you were working on counterpoint and had to step out of your work to understand it?
Yes. At a certain point, it was because I wanted to work on counterpoint and also because I wanted to work with men. When I generated vocabulary before, I always danced it myself; with men, that changed a lot, because there was another physicality coming in. And then also for purely private reasons, for the birth of my children.

What was it like returning to dancing? Did it feel like the same body?
In New York, I will dance “Violin Phase” [from Fase], and that’s the dance I’ve been performing since 1982—that’s nearly 32 years. It is, of course, exceptional to keep on dancing a piece for 32 years and to experience a change of time in your body. The world has changed, your body has changed, and then there is this writing that stays—musically and choreographically—basically the same. The body carries all those memories and emotions within itself. I’m very happy I can do that. More than a choreographer, I’m a dancer. Dancing, for myself, is really a question of surviving. Well, that’s maybe too dramatic, but it’s quite essential.
Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker/Rosas is at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater July 8–16

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