Rosas dance piece is continuous exhibition at Wiels


Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s new choreography-cum-exhibition removes the dance performance from the black box of the theatre and reassembles it in the white cube of the Wiels arts centre

This is not a dance piece

When Brussels contemporary arts centre Wiels approached Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker about a possible retrospective of the seminal Flemish choreographer’s 30-year career, both parties knew this wouldn’t be a simple stroll down memory lane via archival footage and celebrity testimonials.

After three years of development, the exhibition Work/Travail/Arbeid isn’t a retrospective at all, but rather a summation of De Keersmaeker’s minimalist practice, a code-bending cross-section of a dance performance that reveals the inner workings of her art.

This continuous choreography-cum-exhibition is also among the marquee events at this year’s edition of Performatik, and it’s an appropriate cornerstone to the Performatik edifice. The biennial festival aims to bridge the gap between theatre and the visual arts through the inherently intersectional medium of performance art, and that’s exactly what De Keersmaeker does here.

Work/Travail/Arbeid removes the dance performance (in this case, De Keersmaeker’s 2013 stage piece Vortex Temporum) from the black box of the theatre, dissects it and reassembles it in the white cube of the museum. In the process it offers both artist and audience a fresh angle on theatrical performance.

A spatial approach

This sort of root-and-branch rethink is overdue. Let’s face it: Even avant-garde art has become a bit predictable. We have a good idea how any stage piece – including the most radically contemporary – is going to unfold.

The audience waits outside a door. The door opens. The audience is ushered into the space and assumes its customary position, usually seated. The curtain opens, and the performance begins. That’s when it starts to get interesting. Indeed, it’s only from this point that one work can even be distinguished from another. Here we find out if this is a classical Prokofiev ballet or a gritty, abstract flail fest set to Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music

No two experiences will be the same

Regardless, when the performance is over, protocol returns with a vengeance. The audience invariably applauds. The performer bows several times, waves a hand in gratitude to the technical crew, then retreats to the dressing room.

The alternative that De Keersmaeker proposes in Work/Travail/Arbeid is to proceed spatially instead of temporally, according to the logic of the exhibition. Dancers are spread out across the entire third floor of Wiels’ repurposed brewery. Each individual step is rehearsed in endless repetition, with the following step existing simultaneously in an adjacent space.

The perpetual motion of the entire choreography at all times requires two casts of dancers tagging in and out of Work throughout the seven-hour days of the five-day weeks of the nine-week exhibition.

The initiative thus belongs wholly to the audience. Spectators come and go as they please, viewing any given slice of Work from the angle of their choice and moving on to the next at their own rhythm. No two experiences will be the same.

De Keersmaeker herself will be monitoring all this from a workspace in the same building and developing a sequel of sorts to be premiered at the Kunstenfestivaldesarts in May. And, since work is never truly finished, a condensed nine-day version of Work travels to Paris’ Centre Pompidou and London’s Tate Modern in 2016.
Until 17 May at Wiels, Van Volxemlaan 354, Brussels
Photo by Anne Van Aerschot

Flemish dance

Flemish choreographers are considered some of the best in the world, and the region is known for the number of top choreographers based here. Contemporary dance has been flourishing in Flanders since the 1980s, when a handful of choreographers known as the "Flemish wave" drew international attention with radically innovative works.
Names - Pioneering Flemish dance choreographers include Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, Alain Platel, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Wim Vandekeybus and Jan Fabre.
Funding - Dance companies Rosas, Ultima Vez, Les Ballets C de la B and the Royal Ballet receive the lion’s share of available government funding.
School - Founded by De Keersmaeker and based in Brussels, P.A.R.T.S. became the first professional school in Belgium focused on contemporary dance.
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