Thirty one years after its world premiere, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s Rosas danst Rosas made its Midwest debut at the Walker Art Center this fall.
A frantic, buzzing energy filled the front lobby as I made my way to the box office to collect my ticket for closing night of the run. At the window, an attendant added names to a lengthy wait list—the show was sold out and people without tickets waited, hoping to snag a seat.
Rosas danst Rosas runs for one hour and forty-five minutes with no intermission. The five movement composition was developed by Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker; her co-creators Adriana Borrellio, Michèle Anne De Mey, and Fumiyo Ikeda; and composers Thierry De Mey and Peter Vermeersch.
Certain sections of the piece involved musical phrases composed by De Mey and Vermeersch that ranged from maddening, to harsh, to lighthearted. Other movement sections were performed in silence, and still others to audible, patterned breaths.
In Rosas, sound and movement seemed to be intricately interwoven. Both elements took on a minimalist style, incorporating repetition of very short phrases that change gradually. The result was both infuriating and hypnotic. It is mentally and physically exhausting to witness extreme repetition and slow-moving change. I could only imagine what stamina it must have taken for the four dancers on stage and the four musicians on the recording! If one can settle in and trust that the performers will be able to pull through, watching Rosas is a trance-like experience. Although, it was difficult for me to let go of the anxiety that the repetition and nuanced shifting had built up in my body as the piece progressed. Instead of relaxing into my role as a viewer, I felt extremely tense during and even for quite some time after viewing the work, even having visceral reactions to certain movements.
Rosas danst Rosas gained increased visibility after the release of a music video for American pop star Beyoncé Knowles-Carter’s song, “Countdown,” the content of which was heavily derived from stage and dance film versions of Rosas. Some, including De Keersmaeker, considered the piece plagiarized. Whether or not “Countdown” counts as an act of plagiarism, it strikes me as absurd that the video’s creators incorporated elements of Rosas danst Rosas. The piece seeps into you over 110 minutes. Snippets could never evoke the same hypnotic or vexing effects, and “Countdown” certainly doesn’t. Moments in Rosas that require incredible stamina, focus, precision, and perseverance are blips on the screen in “Countdown.” Rosas danst rosas must be considered as a whole; disjointed mimicry of brief sections cannot achieve this. In fact, it ends up detracting from the power of the movements.
I had hoped to attend the post-performance talk scheduled for after the last bow but, without notice, the fire alarm was pulled and the Walker Art Center had to be evacuated. Maybe we were in a trance, maybe we didn’t believe that there was a fire, but most of us lingered, totally lacking a sense of urgency as instructions to leave the building boomed over the loudspeakers.
Once the fire trucks appeared, I came to my senses a bit and started my walk home.
I couldn’t imagine a better ending to my evening.