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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Internet Danst Rosas: Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker for the YouTube Generation

by Claire Frisbie

"We look at each other, and we nod to each other, as if we agree to dance together. We come back to the center. We turn to the other person, and we also nod.” —ATDK on YouTube

So begins movement two of iconic Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s seminal piece Rosas Danst Rosas. Created in 1983, this repetitive, minimalist choreography established 23-year-old De Keersmaeker as a promising, important artist, and put her on the map for audiences worldwide. Set to a hypnotic, percussive score by Belgian composer Thierry De Mey, Rosas Danst Rosas was admired for its seemingly mundane gestures arranged in complex combinations. It was celebrated as a feminist piece, but also deemed difficult, overly repeating, and dark.

De Keersmaeker made her US debut at BAM as part of the 1986 Next Wave Festival with Rosas Danst Rosas—which translates to “Roses dances roses”—and name-checks De Keersmaeker’s company, Rosas. The New York Times review described the chair sequence as “a ritual expressing the agony of waiting. Each dancer kept crossing her legs, turning her head expectantly, holding her head despairingly in her hands, sagging forward and twitching back to attention."

De Keersmaeker and Rosas return to BAM for the eighth time this weekend, but we brought Rosas Danst Rosas back a little bit sooner. Last Friday, dozens of BAM staff members performed our own version of phrases from the piece in various locations around our campus.

But this idea was hardly ours—we are just some of the thousands of people participating in the Rosas Remix Project, an online open call from De Keersmaeker to celebrate the 30-year anniversary of her famous piece by creating our own version.

Modeled after the practice of so many independent musicians who upload parts of their songs to the internet for DJs to remix, De Keersmaeker and Rosas broke down the choreography of the second movement in four YouTube videos, and posted them online along with De Mey’s music, inviting the world to make their own dance “remixes.”

An underlying irony of this Rosas Re:Mix Project is that two years ago, Beyoncé was chastised by the dance community for doing something very similar to this—adapting the Rosas Danst Rosas chair sequence—in the music video for “Countdown.” But Ms. Bey didn’t acknowledge or credit her sampling, which makes all the difference. This brought up myriad debates about appropriation, inspiration, and artistic plagiarism. De Keersmaeker did see a positive side to the controversy, however, stating in a 2011 interview that she was “glad that Rosas danst Rosas [could] reach a mass audience, which such a dance performance could never achieve, despite its popularity in the dance world since [the] 1980s.” She then cites an earlier video of Belgian teenage girls performing the choreography to Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” that she had thoroughly enjoyed. Perhaps this was the inspiration for Rosas Re:Mixed?

The response to the project has been overwhelming—over 1500 people in over 30 countries have submitted several hundred videos so far. Some follow the original four-dancer model, but there are also solos, and one features as many as 80 people. Some are shot on iPhones, others by obvious professionals. Many are from dancers and dance companies, but lots of teenagers (who weren’t even born when the original piece premiered) gave it a go, as did a fifth grade class in Oakland, and even a wooden figurine in a stop-motion version. There are plenty of entries from Belgium and the Netherlands, where De Keersmaeker is practically a household name, but Brazil also has a strong showing, and some beautiful adaptations hail from India, the Philippines, and Malaysia.

The movements translate so beautifully from the stage to the street, classrooms, subway stations, escalators, cornfields, and fountains around the world, lending entirely new tones and meanings. The same gestures that evoke frustration or anxiety in the original work become sensual, cheeky, or defiant in adaptations.

That a challenging contemporary dance piece can invoke so much internet hype 30 years after its premiere is both shocking and incredibly refreshing. To call this a meme might be reductive, but not entirely inappropriate. De Keersmaeker has latched onto the participatory, narcissistic, creative nature of YouTube, and applied it to her pre-internet choreography, thus introducing it to an entirely new audience, and showcasing social media at its very best. Rosas Remixed is like a high-brow Harlem Shake, an avant-garde version of Ghana’s azonto craze.

The call for remixes was originally supposed to end on October 1, but the company has kept it open due to the overwhelming response, and continues to receive new remixes every day. We highly recommend taking the time to peruse all of the entries on your own (WARNING: there are over ten hours of videos, and they suck you in!), but here are a few of our favorites:


  1. En Atendant is the BEST dance piece I have seen in BAM, it is incredibly beautiful, words are so poor to describe it. I think this season BAM is really revolutionarily renewed. I feel challenged and shocked but deeply pleased every time walk out of the theatre. Good job!!!

  2. I would like to say that this blog really convinced me to do it! Thanks, very good post. dan holzmann wikipedia


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