Outside dance circles, Rosas is best known as the company whose choreography Beyoncé ripped off in her ‘Countdown’ film clip. To those in the know, however, the Belgian company have been creating groundbreaking work for almost three decades under the helm of choreographer and dance dominatrix Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker.
This month, she brings Rosas to Sydney for the first time, off the back of her much-hyped remount of 1982’s Fase, set to the music of Steve Reich, at the opening of Tate Modern’s new performance space, the Tanks.
While De Keersmaeker made her name with choreography that married precise dance forms to minimalist music of the time (including the aforementioned Beyoncé-endorsed piece of choreography, Rosas danst Rosas, created when she was just 23), recent years have seen her turn to early music for inspiration. Commissioned to create a work for the 2010 Festival of Avignon, she mined that city’s history for musical cues and discovered a polyphonic 14th-century musical style called Ars Subtilior, which arose in the aftermath of the plague and somehow became a reflection and a refuge from the chaotic transition from the Middle Ages into the Renaissance.
“It's highly expressive and sort of contains everything that I've always been passionate about,” says De Keersmaeker. “It has a quite intricate, complex structure, but one which goes for a very high emotional intensity.”
The resulting pieces – En Atendant and Cesena – take De Keersmaeker’s interest in the relationship between music and movement to a new level, literally marrying and mixing them. The former will feature eight dancers, three musicians and a singer, against a set designed by Belgian artist Michel François; the latter is a collaboration with British-born Belgian artist Ann Veronica Janssens (who also has a large-scale installation of mist and light and a suite of reflective ‘aquariums’ in this year’s Biennale) and early-music collective Graindelavoix. “The singers dance, the dancers sing,” says De Keersmaker, admitting it took four months of intense rehearsals to perfect the piece.
Across three decades of work, De Keersmaeker says she’s become more choosy about her music, but her core passion remains the same: creating a collective experience.
“With a live performance, with a large amount of people sharing a time and a space, we reflect on who we are, what remains – [there’s] a basic sort of astonishment; a questioning of the world we live in and our humanity. I think that's a necessary and beautiful thing to do, these days.”