Get to Know WEST SIDE STORY Choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker
For the first time in its 60-plus year history and six productions on Broadway, West Side Story - a musical whose iconic dance numbers have an instant recognizability in both the musical theater world and in culture in general - will not include the original Jerome Robbins and Peter Gennaro choreography. This Ivo van Hove-led revival of the classic has thrown away convention and brought in the talents of a choreographer iconic in her own right to usher this musical into the modern age.
Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker is one of the most lauded and prolific choreographers in the world of contemporary dance. She has been awarded by countries all around the world for her work - the U.S, Japan, the UK, Italy... She has been named Baroness de Keersmaeker by king Albert II, Officer in the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, Member of the Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Science and the Arts, Commander in the Order of Arts and Letters, and has been honored with the Golden Medal of the City of Lissabon and the Austrian Decoration for Science and Art.
And if you have no real knowledge of the world of contemporary dance, you are almost guaranteed to have seen De Keersmaeker's work, even if you hadn't realized it. The choreographer accused Beyoncé of stealing her choreography from her pieces 'Rosas danst Rosas' and 'Achterland' for her 'Countdown' music video.
But 'Rosas danst Rosas' and 'Achterland' are just two in a very long list of interesting and prolific pieces from the Belgium-born choreographer. De Keersmaeker's choreography pulls inspiration from music of all periods including classical, jazz, and more modern sounds, and heavily features geometric principles and numerical patterns in order to showcase the unique and particular ways bodies move through space and time. While West Side Story may be De Keersmaeker's first Broadway musical, her dance history features an expansive variety of groundbreaking pieces.
Let's take a look at some of Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker's past works!
Fase, Four Movements to the Music of Steve Reich
Rosas danst Rosas
De Keersmaeker established the dance company Rosas in Brussels in 1983, while creating the work 'Rosas danst Rosas', also known in pop culture - as mentioned above - as one of the inspirations for Beyoncé's 'Countdown' music video. Take a look and see if you can spot the similarities.
During the eighties, Rosas was supported by Kaaitheater of Brussels, and De Keersmaeker created a series of successful works. One of which was 'Mikrokosmos', which received a Japanese Dance Award for the best foreign production in 1989.
'Achterland', created in 1990, was one of the works produced in collaboration with Kaaitheater, and in 1994, the film version of the work was offered a Dance Screen Award in Lyon. 'Achterland' is also one of the pieces that De Keersmaeker claimed Beyoncé pulled from when creating the video for 'Countdown'.
From 1992 until 2007, Rosas was in residence in the Brussels opera house De Munt/La Monnaie. One of the works created during this fruitful time was 'Drumming', choreographed to Steve Reich's composition of the same name. This piece premiered in 1998 at the Impuls Festival in Vienna. Drumming was prized with the Golden Laurel Wreath for the best choreography in Sarajevo in 1998.
'Rain' is another piece De Keersmaeker set to a score by Steve Reich in 2001. 'Rain' and 'Drumming' were both done with Ictus contemporary music ensemble, and featured complex geometric structures in point and counterpoint.
A Love Supreme
In the early 2000's, De Keersmaeker highlighted the use of improvisation within choreography in tandem with jazz and Indian music in such pieces as 'Bitches Brew / Tacoma Narrows', set to the music of Miles Davis, and the piece above, 'Raga for the Rainy Season / A Love Supreme' (2005).
One of De Keersmaeker's works which further highlights her choreographic sophistication and use of geometry within her art is 'Work/Travail/Arbeid'. This work in it's original form was titled 'Vortex Temporum' and featured a one-to-one ratio between the Rosas dancers and the live musicians. In 2015 it was adapted to a durational exhibition format at WIELS in Brussels under the title 'Work/Travail/Arbeid'.
Golden Hours (As you like it)
It was also in 2015, that Rosas premiered 'Golden Hours (As you like it)', using for the first time a body of text (Shakespeare's As You Like It) as the score for movement, highlighting the relationship between text and dance and allowing the music (Brian Eno's 1975 album Another Green World) to recede into the background.
The Six Brandenburg Concertos
'The Six Brandenburg Concertos' was the most recent work of De Keersmaeker's to premiere prior to West Side Story. This piece, set to Bach's six Brandenburg Concertos premiered in the fall of 2018.