The Twelve Days of Dance


“I hate themes,” says Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, a direct response to my question about what threads might be running through December Dance.

Eva Dewaele performs in W. Forsythe’s timeless Artifact during December Dance
Flemish dancer Eva Dewaele performs in William Forsythe’s timeless Artifact during December Dance

Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker programmes a veritable history of contemporary dance in Bruges

“I hate themes,” says Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, a direct response to my question about what threads might be running through December Dance.

The Brussels dame of modern dance is the curator of this year’s edition of the annual festival in Bruges. The programme includes well-known names such as De Keersmaeker’s own company, Rosas, alongside less-established troupes, presenting contemporary dance inspired by everything from hip-hop to classical ballet, with earlier works showing one night, Belgian premières the next.

“I wanted to have a wide selection, with many performances of historical importance in order to offer a perspective of contemporary dance that helps people gain an intense and broad outlook,” says De Keersmaeker. All the choreographers and performances chosen take dance seriously, combining “craftsmanship and reflection” to create something new or different.

Works in the festival span several decades. The earliest is by American choreographer Trisha Brown. Her 1979 Glacial Decoy is part of a mixed bill that also includes a work from the 1990s and her 2009 piece, L’amour au théâtre.

One choreographer whose work De Keersmaeker had particularly hoped to include in the festival was Pina Bausch, who died in June this year. Before Bausch died, De Keersmaeker had gone to great lengths to secure one of her works – unfortunately without success. The programme does pay tribute to the German choreographer, however, through French choreographer Jérôme Bel’s Lutz Förster, a solo work Bel created in honour of Förster, a dancer who worked with Bausch for many years.

De Keersmaeker’s ideal festival programme would also have included a recent work by William Forsythe. Still, the American choreographer’s Artifact, created in 1984 for the Frankfurt Ballet, is on the bill.

Aside from periods, styles of dance are also extremely varied. Bel’s The show must go on is extravagant and rebellious, backed by the music of Queen, Tina Turner and other rock bands. Brazilian Bruno Beltrão uses the language of hip-hop and street dance as inspiration for his latest work H3. And then there are works that use classical music by composers like Bach, Beethoven and Jean- Philippe Rameau.

De Keersmaeker was approached about being this year’s festival curator by Samme Raeymaeker, the artistic coordinator of December Dance. “My first reaction was ‘I’m a choreographer, not a programme planner’,” she says. “But a festival is an exceptional opportunity to bring together work by choreographers and creators who are close to your heart and share them with an audience.”

It also allows you to include repertoire that would be much more difficult to fit into normal programming during the year, which is what makes December Dance so valuable for an audience.

De Keersmaeker’s own work is also part of December Dance; her latest piece The Song will be performed, and De Keersmaeker herself will dance in Rosas danst Rosas, the production that launched her company in 1983.

This new performance of a piece created more than a quarter-century ago ties in directly with De Keersmaeker’s idea of bringing together historical performances, enabling today’s audience and dancers to look back and see how the work fits into the history of contemporary dance. It also allows spectators to reflect on then and now and how things have changed in the intervening time.

“The performance obviously has traces of 1983, of everything that happened at that time. But I do not think that the piece has lost its relevance,” the choreographer says. “Our perception obviously changes over 25 years. The world is no longer the same, and you cannot clear your head of all that has happened in dance during that time.”

De Keersmaeker has also put her imprint on the festival’s programme by including students, past and present, from PARTS (Performing Arts Research and Training Studios), the dance school she set up almost 15 years ago. Current students will dance as part of December Dance Platform on 5 and 6 December, while former students Charlotte Vanden Eynde and Salva Sanchis will present their own work.

When De Keersmaeker looks at a dancer or performance, she is searching for several things. “A good dancer is someone who combines natural expression and sharp reflection and an extremely articulated physicality.” A good performance needs to have an interaction between the performer and the audience, allowing communication in both directions, she says. “A performance that uses dance as a tool to reveal other things, questions my reality and expresses a desire for change is a good dance performance to me.”

December Dance also features debates, film, a photo exhibition and a seminar for dance professionals. There will be an opportunity to hear more about De Keersmaeker’s views when, along with other artists, she speaks at a forum on the final day of the festival.

In between everything else, De Keersmaeker hopes to catch some of the performances. She will be seeing some of the works for the first time because they hadn’t had their premières when she chose them. What will the curator herself being attending?

“I’ll be looking out for the new work from Nature Theater of Oklahoma and for Charlotte Vanden Eynde,” she says. “And I haven’t even seen Self Unfinished by Xavier Le Roy yet. And then there’s Jérôme Bel’s Lutz Förster…well, the whole programme really. It will be an intense period in Bruges.”

And that’s exactly how a relationship with dance should be.

December Dance
Until 13 December
Across Bruges

The Twelve Days of Dance

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