Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker creates beauty out of emptiness in new Rosas-performance ‘The Song’


For quite some time, you wait for it to happen. But in the end, it never happens. The music never kicks in, during Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker ‘s impressive new creation The Song, which premiered at Théâtre de la Ville in Paris. Call it a bold move, for a choreographer who’s been applauded for her use of music, be it classical, jazz or minimalistic. And that’s not the only surprise.

Premières in Paris, they are quite a thing. Parisians have this annoying habit of leaving during the performance, thereby clearly showing their disapproval. A month ago, during the Paris’ première of Meg Stuart’s Do Animals Cry, I was shocked by that bizarre parade of people leaving, while at the end, the truly great performance nevertheless got a standing ovation (read review here) . Having witnessed that, I quickly braced myself for the worst, as I was watching The Song.

Because this is not the Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker a lot of her fans are used to. The ones that come to see lavish pieces built on grand minimalistic or classical scores, with swirling, ravishing girls on stage. This time, there are men on stage, to begin with. Nine of them. And just one woman. And just that simple fact, that new group of people, I must admit, already brought a whiff of fresh air to the whole.

And then there’s other significant changes. The Song is a collaboration between De Keersmaeker and two contemporary artists: Ann Veronica Janssens (who already worked with her on Keeping still) and Michel François. Their input is truly felt, throughout the performance. Together they decided to leave the stage completely empty. Apart from a white square to dance on, and a sort of aluminium veil floating above the heads of the dancers. They extended this feeling of emptiness to the lighting. There’s just one gigantic spotlight, front-stage, and the cold, white strip lighting that’s usually used to light the stage. So what do you get? A radical performance in black and white.

‘I wanted to reduce things to their essence in order to question movement, sound, body, the connection with music’, De Keersmaeker says in an interview with Belgian newspaper La Libre Belgique. ‘I felt like having an empty space, with light and the body taking centre stage.’

Just a little bit to much emptiness to my liking, you think, after reading this? Well, that’s the trick De Keersmaeker pulls with The Song. The reason why, I guess, strangely enough not thát many people left during the première. You keep on watching these dancers, for two hours; even without music. Because of course, they dance in these fascinating patterns that are só Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker. Their moves are exquisite, as always. A lot of solo’s and duo’s. A lot of (backwards) running in circles, by all of them together. You feel the influence of a video of a flock of starling they’ve seen. There’s a lot of little fragments, but they are held together by a unity of tone. And by the fact that all the dancers are intensively watching from side-stage what the others are doing.

Rosas_The Song1In the midst of all that, you get short moments of real excitement or wonder. The one in which they all perform a thrilling choreography on The Beatles’ Helter Skelter (OK, I’ve lied: for three minutes or so, there IS music in The Song). Or that solo of  Eleanor Bauer, dancing while she is singing Rocky Raccoon. (I guess it’s not a coincidence that all the songs used in this performance are coming from The white album, that radical and experimental Beatles-album. At other moments, you hear a dancer singing While my guitar gently weeps, or Blackbird.)

It’s strange, I think, while I’m writing this: there’s nothing and at the same time there’s a lot. Because I still haven’t said anything about the other important presence on stage: that of a ‘foley artist’; someone who makes noises. Céline Bernard plays a big part in this performance. With one shoe she imitates the sounds a dancer’s feet make. With her hands in a sort of liquid on the floor, she makes the shrieking noises a dancer’s sneakers produce.  And there’s more of this, throughout The Song.

The Song is not a performance that gets under your skin, as other De Keersmaeker’s performances sometimes do. But that’s OK, because it tells you something else. That after 25 years, the Belgian choreographer is not afraid to take risks, to try new things and new collaborations that take her talent and skills in a new direction. The road is wide open. The future is unknown. I’m curious.

‘The Song’, at Théâtre de la Ville, Paris, untill July 3. Then to Athens, Vienna, Berlin and Stockholm. Belgian première is on September 17th, Kaaitheater, Brussels. Tour schedule here.

(photo credit: Herman Sorgeloos)

3 Responses to “Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker creates beauty out of emptiness in new Rosas-performance ‘The Song’”

  1. Delphine Says:

    Thanks for this post. The Song is a remarkable performance indeed and I follow your experience… but not until the end: it surely got under my skin, more than any other Rosas piece has ever done before. (Fase, Small Hands and Zeitung come close, but I’m not sure if they would win the skin-test). I always enjoyed the sparks of life and play within the structures of the previous pieces and I always thought I could enjoy them exactly because of the structures. But I found The Song so ultimately refreshing and lively by the grace of the absence of a top-down structure. It was so pure. I thought they could fly.

  2. […] which it was created: Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s recent performance The Song (read review here). Some of AVJ’s video’s and prototypes look rather bland too, in comparison with her […]

  3. This ballet “The Song” was the worst I have ever witnessed and when I saw it in Brussels on the 19/9 many people walked out. We are tired, oh so tired, of being fed worn-out concepts (I cannot even call them ideas) in the name of avant-garde ballet. Why is ADK so revered? The repetiton was endless.The set was cheap, the music was cheap, it was all cheap and shabby. Shame for the dancers…

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