Published on 09.11.2017, 16:36


Even if it bears the undeniable “Rosas” signature, Zeitigung represents a rather singular instance within the company’s oeuvre. Conceived as a fresh interpretation of the previous piece Zeitung (made by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and Alain Franco in 2008), this newly conceived retake offers a wholly original approach of the company’s choreographic “repertoire”. Neither a simple “rework” (as with Rain, or more recently Rosas danst Rosas), nor a total “re-composition” like Verklärte Nacht or A Love Supreme, Zeitigung evokes notions of variation, revision, and difference. In an overtly visible way, Zeitung’s original choreography shimmers through in the dance of Zeitigung, like a basso continuo in a musical score; its principles and assumptions, however, have now generated a new set of formal inventions. Alain Franco provides a hermeneutic reading: “Works have in themselves a potential to redevelop ad infinitum”, he claims, “it is  not always necessary to rewrite a text –  sometimes it suffices to simply let a new reading bear its artistic fruits.”

Zeitung (and, therefore, Zeitigung with it) drew its vitality from a few simple compository principles and formal questions. In 2008, whilst Rosas’s residence at la Monnaie/de Munt was nearing its end after a total of fifteen years, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker described her own position as that of standing at a crossroads. “New questions” she claims, “were now being raised, concerning the relation between dance and music, the meaning of movement, the relationship between improvisation and composition, the different modes of registering movement in the body, and so on”. Alain Franco offered a conceptual and musical framework for this choreographic examination, relating it to questions on the evolution of harmony in Western thought in the light of music by Bach, Schoenberg and Webern. Zeitung functioned as the balance sheet for this enquiry, which was concluded in the form of an open answer – a dossier that is now open to consultation once again, after a ten-year gap.

De Keersmaeker has always been renowned in the dance world for drawing inspiration for her choreographies on a grammar of regulatory, spatial or temporal patterns, and on the structural and compositional characteristics of musical pieces. For Zeitung, she decided to distance herself from these previous practices, however: the performance caters for several improvisational moments, the resources of which were largely explored during the work process by the choreographer and the dancers. “The entire question”, she claims,  “is whether there actually should exist a boundary between improvisation and planning or, rather, where the limits between the two are to be situated. Does not the difference ultimately lie in the intention with which the dance is performed –which would imply that improvisation and writing are even more interwoven than previously thought?” For the compositional vocabulary, the dancers and the choreographer started with the head and the shoulders or the pelvis as the centre of the body. Subsequently, they tried to provide spatial translations of all sorts of contrapuntal characteristics found in the musical score (canon, fugue, etc.). Each dancer then added his or her individual reaction, based on his or her own experience when basing themselves on these two principles. As such, the result was what De Keersmaeker called a “written improvisation”: a form of dance in which unanticipated movements emerge in the heat of the moment; movements that, after a given period of time, unfold into a set of collective phrases that can be collectively transmitted and communicated to the other dancers.

Nearly ten years later, a group of eight young dancers has developed for Zeitigung new material from its own improvisations, based on these same anchor points, which can be clearly seen at the beginning of the performance. This time, however, the attempt to discover other possible answers to the question of what choreography drove De Keersmaeker even further than in previous cases. She entrusted one of the dancers themselves, the young choreographer Louis Nam Le Van Ho, with the task of reworking the original material, and asked him to devise a new choreography. The P.A.R.T.S. alumnus shifted his focus from De Keersmaeker’s aesthetic questions, to the question whether there existed a tension between both scripts: “How could two methods of writing dances coexist”, he wondered, “and how do you bridge the distance between them? I wanted to find out whether movement is something one can actually appropriate, and what it meant, in contrast, to “sign” an artistic work?” As it seems, it is the method of ‘choreographic counterpoint’ that marks the most salient difference between the two choreographers. According to De Keersmaeker “seven of the eight dancers undertook their training at P.A.R.T.S., which automatically means  that they have shared the intense experience of working together for these three years. Louis Nam based his contrapuntal principles on the very same experience, emphasising the physical immediacy of direct contact with each other – the physical impact, so to speak.” It is a statement duly corroborated by Le Van Ho: “I began with the immediate relationships between the dancers”, he states, “while Anne Teresa deploys a more abstract and formalistic approach to writing, as though she were composing her own music. I wanted to produce a tapestry of counterpoints that would find its origin in the choices made by the dancers themselves. Each of them would then individually incorporate a given movement, a set of choreographic lines that imply a specific set of ‘rules’. The counterpoint only emerges when these dancers meet and develop a relationship with each other, adapting themselves to the other, and coming up with solutions to problems that are the result of their internal differences.”

Starting off from these results, De Keersmaeker also took another look at Zeitung’s original score, which thereby remains part of Zeitigung in largely rewritten form. All in all, this re-composition implied that the creative process could not start from scratch, but rather became a matter of merging, scrapping, elucidating and questioning existing parts of the choreography. The questioning and searching attitude at the origin of Zeitigung remains quite palpably present in the performance itself. Without ever arousing, even for a fleeting moment, the impression of a certain whimsicality, the dance has an exploratory and experimental character to it: different constellations of dancers alternate at a rapid pace, as though they never take the time to entirely enjoy the situation on stage. At times reflective and cautious, whilst also energetic and passionate, the young men carve their way through the available space. The dancers map out their path, as it were, by making grand gestures with their arms and legs, following diagonally rotating axis. Out of the contrasts between the individual and the collective, arises a compelling, contrapuntal dynamic; at times, the dancers move in perfect unison with one another, followed by a sudden uncoiling of a canon, or a mirror arrangement. Certain themes are everrecurring, of course albeit sometimes in a different form, thereby inviting the spectators to join in the counter-intuitive experience, in which the longevity of the unwavering choreographic game makes it seem that a coherent set of movements is playing out before their eyes. While the lines of the different dances are being interwoven, at the same time it appears as if the piece’s physical tapestry is in the process of unravelling; at times, this happens literally like when the dancers mark out a pattern or trajectory using coloured ropes. De Keersmaeker emphasises that this is the first time the organisation of space in accordance with geometric patterns has been expressed this explicitly in her oeuvre.

In Zeitigung, the same geometric and choreographic principles applied in Zeitung serve as a starting point for the instances of improvisation and re-composition; that is, the musical score has no proportional or transparent relationship with the dance, unlike other Rosas performances. The choreography in Zeitigung reflects a determinate structure of musical counterpoints, yet in its general form the choreography does not follow the music: the two do not evolve in parallel, but are likely to cross paths and intersect. Alain Franco introduces an element of doubt into this History; an element very much inherent in the music selected. “In this specific case”, he claims, “we are dealing with a form of historical consciousness, a philosophy of the history which did not yet exist in Bach’s time. The manner in which humans interact with the past, and the role they take on in that history, has changed a great deal since that time. When Webern was composing his music, the cultural Zeitgeist was marked by a sense of disillusionment and uncertainty when it came to themes such as ‘History’.” Franco tries to verbalise this evolution in the use of new musical scores, by choosing and sequencing the pieces of music that are often seen as embodiments of the ideas of that era. Once again, he has opted for compositions by Bach, Webern and Schoenberg; now, however, the selection is rendered complete by the addition of work by Brahms. While Zeitung effectively skipped over the 19th century Romantic period, this era is certainly crossed in Zeitigung. “As such, the musical dramaturgy of Zeitigung, still manages to approximate a turn-of-the-century sensibility, which was only visible in Zeitung through its conspicuous absence.”

The reality of Zeitigung fluctuates and meanders, never offering any solid footing to the dancers. Yet its absence does not prevent them from entering this area. On the contrary, the choreography seems to convey a different message: “who would not want to explore a universe filled with such endless possibilities?”

Floor Keersmaekers, October 2017