No clear-cut reprise, but not a complete rewrite either: Zeitigung might be the most original example of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s ever continuing search for new approaches to the Rosas repertoire. Ten years after the premiere of Zeitung, the choreographer starts off with the same musical building blocks – an anthology of two centuries of German classical music, now performed live by pianist Alain Franco – but she also invited dancer-choreographer Louis Nam Le Van Ho to bring his own flavour to the source material. A conversation with the three creators, in between the folds of a never-ending creative process.
After Zeitung and Re:Zeitung, this is the third time you are working with the same basic material, and similar concepts and questions. Might one explain this act of ‘reclaiming’ old work simply through Rosas’ intense focus on repertory, or is it rather something particular, that is self-evident to the original piece itself? Does Zeitung, as a piece, simply demands reworking several times, maybe even perpetually?
Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker: A lot of these questions apply to the different approaches one could take concept of a ‘repertoire’. After sticking to the original writing, as in the revival of Rain and Rosas danst Rosas, and after re-writing the entire piece, as we did with Verklärte Nacht and A Love Supreme, it is a completely new experience for me to juxtapose my own writing with that of someone I’ve given a creative “carte blanche”. Different pieces have different statutes. Certain pieces I certainly don’t intend to put back in the repertory. Regarding other pieces, I don’t feel comfortable with other people touching them. Some other pieces, however, lend themselves to processes of unfolding and alteration. I think Zeitung is one of those. At the time, a lot of questions came to thought, since Rosas found itself on a professional turning point as a company. It was the first piece after we left De Munt / La Monnaie, after working with Ann Veronica Janssens – with an aesthetics that can be summarised, in a rather simplified manner, as “less is more”. Questions arose about what the relationship between dance and music is all about, about the identity of movement, the relationship between improvisation and writing, about the way movement was generated in the body … I here proceeded in parallel with Alain, who offered a framework based on a reflection on time, with the music of Bach, to which I now return on a constant basis. I wanted to see if those parallel lines would finally come to cross or not.
Alain Franco: I feel rather comfortable with the idea that working with art concerns an ever-evolving continuity. I feel close to works by artist precisely because of this way of thinking, keeping in mind the continuity of material and of what we call a ‘work of art’. It is intimately connected to the openness which is part of every mental procedure: to never achieve one’s intellectual goal fully. To draw a line to literature, we could be talking about intertextuality. Yet in this metaphor, I like the idea to keep working on the reading of existing texts (rather than on re-writing them), similar to textual work of hermeneutics.
Louis Nam Le Van Ho: I agree. Choreography, or dance, is hardly a “thing”, as it is always changing, and has a natural continuity, because of the different people who are working with it. For Zeitigung, this continuity lies at the very heart of the work itself. The questions Anne Teresa mentioned, are still on the table, and there remain an infinite number of possible answers. In that way, the work is simply never-ending, so it makes sense for it to be revived once again.
Do you start from the same set of basic questions when writing the second part of the new piece?
AF: It is important to mention that Anne Teresa didn’t invite Louis Nam to make an “avatar” of her work. It was a clean transfer, actually – the point was to create something new entirely. This gesture is especially interesting in face of the choreographic tradition as a whole: the question is not to copy the original, but to re-think the material from the point of view of an aesthetic legacy – instead of a merely physical, bodily legacy. She didn’t give him the movements, she gave him the material.
LNLVH: Exactly. The questions we just mentioned lie at the core of the original choreography, yet, as far as I am concerned, my work for Zeitigung is much more about the friction between the two scores, the original and the re-interpretation. The new score reacts to material ATDK has already created, trying to find out what happens when two ways of writing exist side by side, and how to make bridges between two different types of writing. That by itself raises the question about what choreography is, and how to differentiate one’s own writing from someone else’s.
Was it your experience of working together with Deborah Hay during the creation of Zeitung, Anne Teresa, which first gave you the idea about involving someone else in the possible re-creation of the piece?
ATDK: The experience of working with Deborah Hay was mainly one of bringing in someone whose method is the total opposite of what I do. I had been busy developing strategies combining dance and music, organising time, sculpting and planning, as in a laboratory, trying to distillate the parameters on how to create flow, how to create a certain readability, how to attune the individual to the collective, … Deborah’s reference points were the diametrical opposite. I am interested to find out if any rules could exist in formality and in a degree of abstraction that go beyond individual perception. For Deborah, everything is possible, and individual perception is always the ultimate reference point. I found it an interesting experience: it opened quite a lot of new avenues for me. Equally, in this case, working with Louis Nam has inevitably entailed me questioning myself, re-writing some parts of the score. Yet apart from the effect it had on me, working with Deborah also had a liberating effect on the dancers as performers. A different approach could trigger things for which I didn’t have the tools. So, I would say yes, one could say that this is an important factor when inviting another choreographer.
I assume that introducing new music means re-thinking the musical dramaturgy of the piece as well?
AF: There is one key point, also often mentioned by Anne Teresa: Zeitung was built on the idea that we would design a big arch that would span the 19th century, in other words: that would “overjump” the question of romanticism – which is a very interesting, but rarely addressed question in dance. In Zeitigung, the underlying idea is to have a sequence that will push that arch down in the middle of the field it was bridging before, to Brahms and Schumann. To summarize, Zeitigung serves to develop something that remained suppressed in Zeitung. In this piece, we give it space and a musical and a choreographic reality.
ATDK: Indeed, the Zeitung project skipped the 19th century, and in general I never worked with romantic music, besides for Verklärte Nacht. But a long talk between Alain and me lead to the conclusion that if I would ever do it, Brahms would definitely figure at the top of my wishlist.
AF: Zeitung was communicating something that was “present through its absence”. It was sensible, but not effective. With Zeitigung, we dig deeper.
Contrary to Zeitung or Re:Zeitung, no recorded music will feature in the piece this time. The only music played will be performed live on stage by you, the pianist. Why is that?
AF: Even for orchestral pieces, I’ve put together a piano version. I had different ideas about why to do this, but the strongest one, and maybe the most important one, is what I mentioned before: I wanted to point out that it is about the act of studying something, not only about the work. This implies that you go as far as you can in making things, instead of taking them. You remain committed to that task.
The cast for this re-creation consists almost entirely of PARTS students. How does this relate to your experience of working with PARTS students for Re:Zeitung? Is there something they have in common that you might attribute to their education?
ATDK: It is true that most of the cast members were in Louis Nam’s class at PARTS, which means they had quite an intense experience of working together for three years. There is a continuity in the things they learned together and questioned together. This was an important factor for me.
LNLVH: For example, when you ask these dancers to compose their own movements, it is much easier to bring that material together and then create a unitary whole. All of the dancers share a common ground. When you talk about movement, you have the same references, and you can really hold a dialogue on common terms.
AF: To me, the professional question is never only about the people. Somehow it is something that always seems to get defined at those moments when you don’t expect it. You feel a certain direction has been taken which is beyond your control. It would require a lot of time to figure out that specific phenomenon: to see to what extent the participants of a project all contribute, or whether it is rather a grand idea originating in a more hierarchically stratified process. It is really connected to the working structures one adheres to: already from the first day, you start with a new spirit.
ATDK: Talking about working structures and dance students, I might add that, as the director of PARTS, I am aware of the fact that, these days, it is far from easy for young choreographers and dancers to find the right circumstances to work in. These young creators have to find their way with their work in difficult conditions. For me, to work with Louis Nam was also a way to bring those two elements together.
LNLVH: When Anne Teresa proposed to work on a piece she wanted to revive, I knew most of the people involved in the project from school. As such the circumstances to work in were extraordinary. But most of all, it is such an extraordinary gesture. This is something you don’t refuse. You simply embrace it and give your full consent.
Interview by Floor Keersmaekers, July 2017
Published with the kind permission of Rosas (www.rosas.be)