“A Choreographerʼs Score”
The Basic Principles of the Keersmaeker Creation

Detail of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and Bojana Cvejić: „A Choreographerʼs Score: Fase, Rosas danst Rosas, Elenaʼs Aria, Bartók“, Brüssel 2012, Mercatorfonds & Rosas
Detail of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and Bojana Cvejić: „A Choreographerʼs Score: Fase, Rosas danst Rosas, Elenaʼs Aria, Bartók“, Brüssel 2012, Mercatorfonds & | Photo (detail): © Rosas

In autumn 2012 Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and the musicologist Bojana Cvejić published “A Choreographer’s Score” – a score of dance creation.

The Belgian troupe Rosas met with a distinctly unenthusiastic reception on their tour of Germany in 1985. One reviewer complained of “utter boredom” at the sight of five young “ladies in cocktail dresses”, who for two long hours strutted their stuff in a piece entitled Elenaʼs Aria – the work of a choreographer named „Anne Teresa De Koorsmaeker“. Almost half a century later one can read about this magnificent gaffe in the recent publication A Choreographerʼs Score, which attempts to collate and record the early oeuvre of this artist, who was once eyed with such disapproval. Today her name glitters like a bright galaxy in the universe of contemporary dance – and is meanwhile also spelt correctly: Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker is one of the most important and stylistically influential dance authors of the present day – which, of course, by tomorrow will already be the past.

Archiving dance

This is why the Brussels-based founder of Rosas is concerned with the very same question that is currently on the agenda of many of her colleagues: how can dance, how can a whole work be properly archived without erasing significant peripheral elements, perhaps even its contingent essence in the process? Of course, the visual storage of a performance is obviously better than nothing, but all too often everything that is beyond the range of the camera’s long shot is eliminated – for example, intricate structures, artistic details, spatial and conceptual connections as well as the pre-, post- and reception history of the respective production. Nevertheless, the film documentation has meanwhile become the most common procedure when it comes to conserving at least the outer shell of a work.

Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker uses a different method: she dissects and secures exemplarily the skeleton, so to speak, of her pieces. The problem of archiving became acute for her in 2010 when she decided to restage four early works: Fase. Four Movements to the Music of Steve Reich (1982), Rosas danst Rosas (1983), Elenaʼs Aria (1984) and Bartók/Aaantekeningen (1986). She then wondered whether this re-launch might also be an “opportunity to write down these choreographies”, i.e. to notate them with one of the customary choreological methods. She put this question to the musicologist Bojana Cvevjić, who evidently gave her an ambivalent answer: yes, because it is the ideal time to collect all available documents, to talk to one another and record whatever crops up here in the way of explanation, commentary, insight – and no, because not one of the usual notation methods is able to do justice to the finesse of De Keersmaeker’s compositions and the complexity of her approach.

The archive dances

So the two of them looked for an alternative, and the result can now be admired as a double pack - in the form of a thick book together with four DVDs, on which can be seen not the pieces themselves but the choreographer as their exegete. In front of the camera – a board, a chair and the clever and delightfully communicative Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker; behind the camera – Bojana Cvevjić, intervening now and then with probing questions: this is the setting for an outstanding lecture demonstration, lasting for many hours, which grants wide-ranging insights into the basic principles of the first Rosas creations. Seldom do artists talk so openly about their work, seldom are choreographers able to reconstruct and explain their procedures from the original inspiration to the finished movement sequence in such detail as Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker does – and this in a seemingly effortless manner.

In the book all materials are compiled, fanned out and complemented by photos and reproductions of programmatic designs, funding applications, newspaper reviews. Particularly impressive are the drawings and sketchbooks created before the rehearsal process and which anticipate, as it were, the curve of the performance in the manner of a filmic treatment. Interestingly, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker uses quite as a matter of course graphic planning and transmission systems, which have a centuries-old tradition. Those leafing through A Choreographerʼs Score will come across floor patterns, line drawings and spatial position markings similar to those “signes”, which Raoul Auger Feuillet invented for his Chorégraphie-compendium in 1700. In another section readers may be reminded of Jules Perrot’s rudimentary notation of the first Giselle from 1841 – another example of how dance history segues into the contemporary scene.

If the multimedia possibilities of the 21st century had been available to Feuillet or Perrot, they would presumably have made very good use of them. Yet what makes A Choreographerʼs Score so different from similar projects of recent years – for example William Forsythe’s ambitious Synchronous Objects or Emio Greco's Double Mind/Double Skin project – is actually its technological abstention. Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and Bojana Cvevjić do without interactive surfaces, virtual retouching and all those trendy triggers, trailers and teasers. Instead they rely entirely on the spoken word, the written word, the picture – and on the memory and expertise of a great artist.

Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker & Bojana Cvejić: „A Choreographerʼs Score: Fase, Rosas danst Rosas, Elenaʼs Aria, Bartók“, in english or french, Brüssel 2012, Mercatorfonds & Rosas. 256 pages, 4 DVDs. 49,95 €