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The body is the house: De Keersmaeker

INTERVIEW! Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker introduces Brian Eno to Shakespeare in latest work "Golden Hours (As You Like It)", coming to HAU Mar 19-21.

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Photo by Anne Van Aerschot

Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker introduces Brian Eno to Shakespeare in latest work Golden Hours (As You Like It), coming to HAU March 19-21.

De Keersmaeker is intense. This intensity – a focused severity – means that she consistently produces some of the most interesting and innovative contemporary dance in Europe. It also means that she can be a little tough to talk to. Her Brussels-based company, Rosas, is still a powerhouse, pushing boundaries and delighting international critics after more than three decades on the scene.

Golden Hours (As You Like It) bears some clear resemblances to Rosas’ previous work: minimalist formalism with an emphasis on geometry, gender trouble and music as a choreographic principle. But this time it’s popular music: the song “Golden Hours” from Brian Eno’s album Another Golden World. And for more-or-less the first time, De Keersmaeker uses a narrative.

The text from Shakespeare’s comedy As You Like It, projected on the walls of the theatre, forms the underlying framework for the choreography. She could easily rest on her laurels, but instead, De Keersmaeker is singleminded and unflagging in her dedication to the work. “You’ll have to excuse me…” she offers almost as soon as the interview has begun, “…my dancers are waiting.”

Can you tell me a little bit about how you use Shakespeare as a score?

The dancers follow characters from the piece and try to embody the language in its specific aspect – in its musicality. There is clearly an underlying narrative, but there’s not a necessity to understand the piece. As You Like It has two main themes. On the one hand, there is the basic opposition between life at court – you might say urban life – and what you could see as a return to nature and the natural order of things. On the other hand, it’s very layered; it’s a piece within a piece. Especially with regard to gender.

Both that and the Eno song are so much about time, as well.

The space where you experience time the most is in the body. The body is the house where you get up every morning. You realize how the body changes with time, your birth and your mortality. In several of Shakespeare’s plays, very beautiful thoughts are expressed about the passage of time, the feeling of disappearance and the feeling of loss.

You’ve done so much in your career and you’re still innovating. There’s a line in “Golden Hours” that goes, “Perhaps my brains are old and scrambled.” How do you keep from feeling like that?

Well, I think that dance and making performance is my most direct relation to the world. It’s my way of breathing, of thinking. It’s part of my very nature. It’s about communication. I do love dance. Not in a romanticist way, but as an art form which doesn’t leave traces. Working is for me like a form of play and of searching. I consciously took Brian Eno’s pop music – he wrote this when he left Roxy Music and went his own way, just before he started making ambient music. He clearly stated that he wanted to not shy away from emotion. The lyrics of the song, the poetry, might seem nonsensical. It has lightness but melancholy at the same time. He works with electronic pop technology, but at the same time his music has a hand-crafted quality, built layer by layer.

Do you hear “Golden Hours” as a deeply sad song?

I think melancholic is the right word. I wonder if it’s a typical British quality. In Shakespeare’s time, the very notion of melancholy was really popular, a sort of existential sadness. It’s not dark and heavy; it has a kind of transparency. It’s a very delicate emotion, which I really like. There’s always something slightly humorous or funny – not hilarious, but it makes you smile.

You’ve been working with the principle “My walking is my dancing”… can you explain that?

As a starting point for dance, walking is a very normal movement which is identical between dancers and non-dancers. It organises your space; it also organises your time. It’s inherent to the human body – animals are on all fours; human beings walk. So it’s about the verticality of our spine. It’s the basic layer of all movement in my recent choreographies. Walking is a way of drawing space.

GOLDEN HOURS (AS YOU LIKE IT) Mar 19-21, 20:00| HAU1, Stresemannstr. 29, Kreuzberg, U-Bhf Möckernbrücke

Originally published in issue #147, March 2016.