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Insights of an Eco Artist

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08: Contemporary Currents - Kinesthetic Narratives: The World of Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker

Today, we explore the captivating world of Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker, a visionary artist whose choreography transcends boundaries. At the heart of de Keersmaeker's work lies a fusion of personal narrative and universal themes, creating a tapestry of movement that resonates with the essence of humanity.

Today, we explore the captivating world of Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker, a visionary artist whose choreography transcends boundaries. At the heart of de Keersmaeker's work lies a fusion of personal narrative and universal themes, creating a tapestry of movement that resonates with the essence of humanity.

Throughout this episode, we will explore the intricate threads of de Keersmaeker's choreographic journey, delving into two interconnected themes: the exploration of time and space,and the profound connection between music and movement.


In 1980, after studying dance at Maurice Bejart’s Mudra School in Brussels and NYU Tisch School of the Arts in New York, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker created Asch, her first choreographic work. Two years later came the premiere of Fase, Four Movements to the Music of Steve Reich. De Keersmaeker established the dance company Rosas in Brussels in 1983, while creating the work Rosas danst Rosas. Since these breakthrough pieces, her choreography has been grounded in a rigorous and prolific exploration of the relationship between dance and music. She has created with Rosas a wide-ranging body of work engaging the musical structures and scores of several periods, from early music to contemporary and popular idioms. Her choreographic practice also draws its formal principles from geometry, numerical patterns, the natural world, and social structures to offer a unique perspective on the body’s articulation in space and time.



Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker's Work/Travail/Arbeid begins with a fundamental inquiry: Can choreography exist within the framework of an exhibition? To explore this question, Anne reimagined her stage production Vortex Temporum (2013)—set to the music of the late French composer Gérard Grisey—for a museum environment, departing from the traditional theatre setting.

This venture into museum spaces is not entirely new for De Keersmaeker; in 2011, she presented the solo Violin Phase, a segment from her inaugural piece Fase: Four Movements to the Music of Steve Reich (1982), in MoMA's Donald B. and Catherine C. Marron Atrium. 

However, with Work/Travail/Arbeid, the artist envisions choreography as an exhibition. Dancers from De Keersmaeker's company, Rosas, along with musicians from the Ictus ensemble, are not merely transplanting dance into a museum setting; they are reconceptualizing dance within the expansive space of a museum. The original hour-long piece has been expanded into a nine-hour cycle, with each hour featuring different choreography and combinations of seven dancers and seven musicians.

Visual aspect

At the WIELS Contemporary Art Centre

Remaining true to her minimalist origins, the setting remains unembellished (save for the addition of a clock). Bathed in natural light, the ambience subtly shifts with the passage of time and changes in weather. Dancers and musicians navigate predetermined paths through the space, skillfully accommodating the presence of audience members, making minor adjustments to their trajectories to avoid collisions, occasionally making gentle contact when approaching from behind to indicate their presence. While there's physical interaction, the performers refrain from acknowledging the audience, maintaining the characteristic neutral gaze of contemporary dance.

Slight history in performance art.

While the terms ‘performance’ and ‘performance art’ only became widely used in the 1970s, the history of performance in the visual arts is often traced back to futurist productions and dada cabarets of the 1910s.

Throughout the twentieth century performance was often seen as a non-traditional way of making art. Live-ness, physical movement and impermanence offered artists alternatives to the static permanence of painting and sculpture.

In the post-war period performance became aligned with conceptual art, because of its often immaterial nature.

Now an accepted part of the visual art world, the term has since been used to also describe film, video, photographic and installation-based artworks through which the actions of artists, performers or the audience are conveyed.

More recently, performance has been understood as a way of engaging directly with social reality, the specifics of space and the politics of identity. In 2016, theorist Jonah Westerman remarked ‘performance is not (and never was) a medium, not something that an artwork can be but rather a set of questions and concerns about how art relates to people and the wider social world’.

Comparison aspect:


Rite of spring- ballet- untraditional/traditional aspect.

The ballet made its debut in Paris in 1913 and resulted in near-riotous behavior from the audience – many of whom were outraged by the “primitive”  choreography and nontraditional music.  This was, in part, due to audience expectations of seeing ballet as elegant and ethereal and Stravinsky’s transgression of this expectation led to his notoriety in the field. 

"They would be expecting to see something bright, colorful, exotic, with lots of leaping, lots of diaphanous costumes that would give you occasional lovely glimpses of gorgeous anatomy. That's not what they got. They got a very dark piece with people mostly moving on the floor, even writhing on the floor. They were all wearing very dark costumes that looked like animal skins and they had very puffy sleeves and hats and very odd, strange movements that they made — very angular, funny movements. And, of course, there was a score, which was at that time being very courageously played, but which must have been right on the edges of what was comprehensible to the musicians and the public."



Despite achieving significant success, De Keersmaeker maintains that "the work is never done." Perhaps this is why, at an age when many professionals contemplate retirement, she shows no signs of slowing down. 

De Keersmaeker observes, "The question of stopping is never raised when we talk about painters and writers." she says. “I think for choreographers it is raised because it’s so much related to the body, and the body is really where you see the passage of time. You do think about different things when you are 20 than when you are 60. I think the most challenging and most beautiful is the transmission to future generations, so that you can create both continuity and differentiation.”

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