'It will only be a good piece if we genuinely dance it together'
Rosas dancers Cynthia Loemij and Thomas Vantuycom are both involved in the reprise of Bartok/Beethoven/Schönberg. Loemij joined Rosas in 1991 and is teaching Verklärte Nacht to a new generation of dancers for this repertory evening, but she will dance the duet a few more times herself too. Vantuycom graduated from PARTS in 2014 and joined Rosas for the museum presentation Work/Travail/Arbeid. During the repertory evening, he will dance both in Grosse Fuge and Verklärte Nacht. Between the performances of the new Rosas production The Six Brandenburg Concertos, we invited them to reflect with us on Rosas’ almost forty-year history. A conversation with two generations.
Cynthia, you have been a member of Rosas for almost thirty years. What was the first piece that you danced with the company? And how has Rosas evolved since then?
CL: The first production I danced in was Achterland. I was replacing Fumiyo Ikeda. At that time, the company consisted of a small group of nine dancers, who all had permanent contracts. The group gradually expanded with many freelancers who danced both with the company and elsewhere. Fumiyo started making her own creations, for example, and I also worked on my own pieces with Mark Lorimer. This semi-fixed structure made it increasingly complicated to align everyone’s schedules, and the company ultimately reverted to its former – and current – structure, with more permanent contracts.
The form of the company was of course also reflected in the places where we worked. We used to have one studio for everyone, with two administrative assistants. Everything was smaller and simpler. On average, we would perform one creation and two repertory pieces at the same time. Since we moved to our current location, the school has been founded and Rosas became a much bigger organization. Rosas’ activities are now very diverse: we perform far more pieces simultaneously – both creations and repertory pieces –, we rehearse constantly, and sometimes the PARTS students rehearse with us. As a result, our schedule occasionally explodes. (laughs) It is very different than it used to be, but it is also a great pleasure to be able to do all these things. For the past few years, besides the group that works on Anne Teresa's new creations, Rosas has also had a repertory company. But I still feel as though we are one company.
Thomas, you are a member both of the creative division and the repertory division. What is your experience of the difference between the two?
TV: The divisions are actually blended to some extent. Especially the male dancers are active in both divisions. For example, many of the male dancers from the repertory division are also performing in the Brandenburg Concertos. But it is also difficult to make a clear distinction between the creative and repertory sides in terms of the pieces we perform. A work like Zeitigung, for example, is an adaptation of Zeitung and has both a repertory aspect and a creative aspect. We created some new material ourselves and we replaced some of the original material with new pieces. In a certain sense, A Love Supreme was also a recreation. But we also dance pure repertory work in which the pieces remain unchanged, such as Rain. The repertory evening Bartók/Beethoven/Schönberg is also a good example. The performance consists of parts of Quartet n°4, Grosse Fuge and Verklärte Nacht, which were taken from the productions Bartók/aantekeningen (1986), ERTS (1992), and Verklärte Nacht (1995, with a new version from 2014), respectively.
How has the dance material evolved?
CL: The ‘early works’ are very much written on Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s body, created based on how she moved. That is very clear in the body language and theatricality of Bartók. Gradually, her interest shifted to the language of her dancers, and she started to anchor the basic phrasing of the productions in their contributions. Take Mozart / Concert Arias, for example, in which everyone made their own phrases. All the phrases were combined in this one production, bringing together many different styles under the umbrella of one theme. Grosse Fuge is also part of that evolution. That was the period in which Wim Vandekeybus became well known. In this period men started joining the company, and there was a lot of rolling around on the floor.
In later productions, Anne Teresa returned to one movement phrase that she made herself, or in collaboration with someone else. In the most recent piece, the Brandenburg Concertos, Jason Respilieux’ phrase is the basic phrase. You could think of Verklärte Nacht as a little side-step to Romanticism. Anne Teresa made the basic phrase herself, but the duets were written by the dancers who were involved at the time.
To be clear, I am talking about the material for the movements. The choreography, the writing in space and time, is always by Anne Teresa. She determines the rhythm and the composition of the piece, while a dancer can suggest movement material within that choreography.
TV: In the reprises, I have noticed that Anne Teresa prefers to distill things down. For example, we dance Grosse Fuge with fewer dancers than in the original cast. That is not only for practical reasons; I think she is interested in presenting a somewhat ‘cleaner’ version. Over the past few years, she has paid increasing attention to the principle ‘a dancer – an instrument’, and she is now applying that to some of the repertory pieces retrospectively. We also applied this principle more strictly in A Love Supreme, and the piece has become more ‘correct’ as a result.
Talking about distillation: Verklärte Nacht was originally much grander, with sets and more dancers. In 2014, De Keersmaeker revised the production into a duet on an empty stage.
CL: It is true, there is nothing left. The sets are gone, the leaves are gone, all the dancers are gone… (laughs) Every time I dance the piece myself, I still see all the other people onstage with me. I imagine how at a certain point, all the women come onstage in all those different dresses. Due to its transformation from an ensemble piece to a duet, it has become much more intense. In the original version, I only danced the solo and a few small passages here and there, but now I dance the entire show. The original duets were danced by different people, but now it is that same couple who do everything.
Does the piece still make sense to you as a dancer?
CL: Yes, that hasn’t changed. The new version is also closer to the narrative of Dehmel’s poem, which is about a woman telling her husband that she is pregnant by another man. By removing the sets and the other dancers, the production has been distilled down; it is more correct, as Thomas says. And the dance now also contrasts strongly with the orchestra: you have that tempestuous music versus an empty stage with only two people.
How is the repertoire passed down to a new cast? Are they taught by the dancers from the original cast?
TV: Not necessarily, sometimes the choreography is taught by somebody who learned it from another dancer. For example, I am currently working on Grosse Fuge with Mark Lorimer, who learned it from Thomas Hauert. He has danced it so often that it has become his own role. The learning process is also supported with videos, and often by comparing various recordings to avoid the incidental elements of one particular recording of a performance.
CL: Personally, I think it is important to involve the dancers from the original cast, if possible. It gives extra weight to the dancer who will dance the reprise. The original cast members have more stories about the creative process, about how the movement materials developed, and the meaning and ideas behind the movements. Those are the things that diminish the fastest, but they are very important for the ‘flavour’ of the material. You can learn passages, but it is important that you also learn the complete context of the movements. For example, Mark has come in to consult on the duets in Verklärte Nacht because he first made those duets and there are specific and personal elements that are important to him. I will also be assisting on Bartók, for example. Ultimately, of course, it is up to the dancer to bring their own background and perspective to bear on the material. There is always a tension between the choreography and its interpretation by the dancer.
Is there a difference between the way the different pieces are transferred? Is De Keersmaeker stricter with certain pieces than with others?
CL: When I learned Bartók, I was taught by Roxanne Huilmand and Fumiyo Ikeda, and Anne Teresa was also closely involved. It was really a transfer of the way they had originally danced it. Later on, we taught it to the opera in Paris and we are now teaching it to the repertory company. Given that the dancers in the repertory company learned Rosas danst Rosas from Fumiyo, who was in the original cast, they have developed a language and a sensitivity that fits Bartók perfectly. It is a very similar process: dancing together, listening to one another, a certain kind of intensity, a sensitivity to timing.
TV: I do have the sense that Anne Teresa is more attached to how things originally were for these kinds of pieces, both in terms of quality and aesthetic. I don’t think she wants to deviate from it too much, precisely to present that repertoire as it was originally. I don’t think it would be the same if someone were to join the cast of the Brandenburg Concertos, for example.
CL: That’s true. I think it is related to the writing. It demands absolute rigour in the performance. Something is lost if you reduce the quality of a piece like Grosse Fuge; the way you jump and roll. Or the way you move in Bartók. I think it diminishes the power of the performance. It is very repetitive and unisono. If the movements are not perfectly synchronized and exactly the same, it affects the quality.
TV: On the other hand, that makes the pieces very enjoyable to dance. That is very much the feeling I have with Grosse Fuge: it is a piece that must genuinely be danced together. It is a very fast-paced piece and the dancers very much depend on one another. You have to be at the right place at the right time. It will only be a good piece if we genuinely dance it together.
A conversation with Rosas dancers Cynthia Loemij & Thomas Vantuycom by Eva Decaesstecker (Kaaitheater)