A DO-IT-YOURSELF GUIDE TO DANCE MAKING by Melissa Marotto

Trisha Brown Company, For M.G. The Movie, 1991 photo © Mark Hanauer

One of the most prolific choreographers of present day contemporary dance in Europe is Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker (b.1960). Her company ROSAS, made its debut in 1983 and in 1995 De Keersmaeker opened P.A.R.T.S. (Performing Arts Research and Training Studios) in Brussels, BE crystallizing her influence on dance for years to come. Although the school is not an accredited institution, auditions are packed with dancers lining up to attend what is easily recognized as the premier contemporary dance conservatory in Europe.
De Keersmaeker’s most recent production, En atendant, with stage design by Michel François, debuted at the Festival d’Avignon last July and continues to tour in 2011. The title, at first appearing misspelled, is deliberately so, linking old French to that of the 14th century French composer, Ars Subtilior whose music she chose for the piece. De Keersmaeker was a flautist before becoming a dance extraordinaire and her relationship with music far precedes that of movement. Her extensive repertoire reflects a strong union between song and step, resulting in her choreography almost always being set, as is the music, not based in improvisation. En atendant’s point of departure seemed to be a phrase from the first section, which was then exhaustively elaborated throughout the rest of the piece. Using the phrase as a template a dance can develop much like a film in iMovie; cut, paste, repeat, set to music, use the space, add costumes, lights, a dash of drama and voilà!
The choreographic tools De Keersmaeker uses to create her work resemble those of Trisha Brown (b.1936) whose principles are so easily recognized in her piece, Accumulation (1971). Trisha Brown is an original “Judsonite” (a member of the Judson Dance Theater, New York City 1962-64,) and one the founders of what we now know as “postmodern dance.” Accumulation was a solo performed by Ms. Brown in which the dance is made as part of the performance. She builds a sequence by repeating movements, adding on new material, and continuing to start over. The format is as straightforward as: A, AB, ABC, ABCD, etc. Grounded in the orthodox conceptual methods of the era, this structurally clear piece is an exceptional crash course in contemporary dance making. Brown’s Accumulation shows how a dance piece can be designed from one phrase much like what we’ve seen from De Keersmaeker’s En atendant.
The influence of Brown in De Keersmaeker’s En atendant seems apparent. The latter, however, despite an illustrious pedigree, was a non-event in choreographic history. The piece felt as basic as the single phrase it was born from and ended arbitrarily with a solo in the nude as the lights slowly dimmed. The work lacked trajectory and dynamism. It didn’t jet set; it hovered and over-stayed its welcome by missing the hard fast edit it deserved. Ground-breaking dance, like all art forms, should stimulate and even confuse an audience, lead viewers to study its construction, leave people curious. Brown’s Accumulation accomplishes this because audiences are made to keep-up, keep track, stay active. De Keersmaeker’s En atendant didn’t utilize her dancers to their full capabilities nor did it reference her adept choreographic skills evident in her signature work Rosas danst Rosas (1983). The importance of studying a past master like Brown is paramount, but it is possible, at least here, that the minimalistic approach that worked then, may not be enough for today’s audiences.

Trisha Brown photographed by David Seidner

Trisha Brown, photograph: Delahaye

Photo: Tina Ruisinger

The Song / Rosas Copyright Herman Sorgeloos

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