Rosas danst Rosas — Image via

Rosas danst Rosas

Walker Art Center

Before this past week, though choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and her company Rosas had made several visits to the Twin Cities, local audiences had never had an opportunity to experience their seminal 1983 work, Rosas danst Rosas, one of the most influential pieces in the history of contemporary dance. That state of affairs was brought to an end Wednesday through Friday at the Walker Art Center with three performances in which the company recreated the piece that gave them their name, demonstrating that it has lost none of its vitality and provocative potential with age.

Rosas danst Rosas has reportedly sparked some walkouts in its time. Presumably most of them have happened during the first of its five movements, in which the piece’s four dancers, unaccompanied by music, slowly make their way from one corner of the stage to the other, spending most of their time on the floor where they make repetitive gestures. One could see why audiences accustomed to conventional dance moves would be frustrated by this approach, but with expectations aside, it’s fascinating to watch, and one eventually realizes that it’s dance after all, just in a different dimension than usual. It’s also fascinating to listen to, as the dancers’ alternately sharp and relaxed breathing creates its own syncopated score.

Over the next three movements, which take place against the backdrop of Thierry De Mey and Peter Vermeersch’s rhythmic, minimalist soundtrack, the energy level rises as the dancers establish a vocabulary of additional repeated gestures — some recognizable, like the flipping back of hair or an acknowledging glance, and some more abstract — that take on new meanings over time. The second movement primarily takes place on four sets of chairs, on and around which the dancers sit, stand and lie. In the third movement, each dancer in turn comes forward and confronts the audience from within a horizontal strip of bright light, while in the fourth, all four dancers are almost constantly in motion, driving themselves to apparent exhaustion.

That exhaustion, while undoubtedly real, also emerges as another element of the choreography, with gestures of its own that are acted out in the spaces between movements. This vocabulary of fatigue reaches its peak in the brief fifth movement, in which elements of earlier movements return, but with much of the energy drained out of them. It’s a fitting end to a piece in which every movement seems simultaneously spontaneous and calculated, assertive and uncertain. Among many other things, Rosas danst Rosas is an opportunity to experience those dichotomies, not as an intellectual exercise but viscerally. At times, it is almost as if the dancers are alternately inviting the audience in to and pushing it away from their own experience of the dance.

Now danced by a rotating cast (De Keersmaeker herself took a turn in Wednesday’s performance), Rosas danst Rosas seems destined to endure, and one hopes its first appearance in the Twin Cities will not be its last.

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Eric Prindle

administers Bad Entertainment. He is also an attorney who leads a team of legal marketing copywriters at FindLaw. He is not Eric Prindle, the mixed martial arts fighter.