A Chunk Of Infinity
At Volksbühne Berlin, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker is premiering her choreographic interpretation of Bach’s "Die sechs Brandenburgischen Konzerte"
"Kaboom” it all went. Thus one could describe the events around Volksbühne Berlin. In April, the short-time Director Chris Dercon left his job, after long protests against his appointment and a heated public debate that will go down in Berlin’s history as the "Theaterstreit”. For dance and its access to a big stage – which is rare in the city but came as a promise with the appointment of Chris Dercon and his programme director Marietta Piekenbrock –, the sudden end of the Dercon era proved unsettling. As the first guest artist after Dercon’s demission, the Flemish choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker presented a double bill at Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz in April: "Vortex Temporum” to the music by Gérard Grisey and its museum version "Work/Travail/Arbeid”. Already long in the planning back then was the world premiere of De Keersmaeker’s "Die sechs Brandenburgischen Konzerte” which will take place at Volksbühne in September. For the fifth time, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker is working with Johann Sebastian Bach’s music. In April, tanzraumberlin talked to her about Bach’s composition and about her company’s relations with Berlin; in August, we got an update on her choreography for "Die sechs Brandenburgischen Konzerte”.
When did you start working on Bach’s "Brandenburgische Konzerte”? What’s the scale of the work?
I started working on them last September. It is a big challenge because I’m choreographing all the six concertos simultaneously. They will be performed on one evening. It is the fifth time I work with Bach after 2017’s "Mitten wir im Leben sind/Bach6Cellosuiten”. Still, I admire his genius. I think they put one of the "Brandenburg Concertos” in the capsule that went to outer space on the Voyager spacecraft, as an example of the high points of what humanity approaches. The closer you get to Bach’s music by analyzing it and by getting a sense of how he constructs and writes it the scarier it gets. It is a unicum in the history of Western music.
How would you describe the fascination of Bach’s work?
There are a whole number of things. His music is always about clarity in its total form and in every detail. It is about counterpoint: The different voices communicate with each other. The art of Johann Sebastian Bach is the art of rhetorics, he knew the classical tradition and the art of convincing very well. His music is very structured. It is like architecture: incredibly constructed but at the same time reflecting human experience. As a listener you recognize all possible human emotions, from joy and jubilation to anger, sadness, revenge, empathy, courage, discourage – you name it. This music is anchored in the very human experience and its chaos. At the same time, it expresses an unreserved longing for harmony. Bach’s music embodies abstraction in an existential way. It’s like a chunk of infinity.
Under which circumstances did Bach compose or rather: collate the "Brandenburgische Konzerte”?
Bach wrote them in a period in his life when he was in Köthen. He had a fantastic orchestra and his patron, Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen, was a big music lover. It also was a period in his life when he lost his first wife. Bach had 20 children 11 of which died. He had very big sense of the Vergänglichkeit – vergankelijkheid as we say in Flemish. But nevertheless the "Brandenburg Concertos” are of extreme vitality and invite to optimism about the future. There’s such a vital drive. Bach’s art is a reflection of cosmic order – religious music or, as he puts it, Soli Deo gloria – but it is always about movement, external or internal. His music is also physically moving and invites to dance.
Bach’s compositions are dance music, basically?
Pieces like the cello suites or the "Partitas” for violin or piano consist of a succession of various baroque dances: allemande, sarabande, minuet, gigue… But also certain chorals and arias from the "Matthäus Passion” or the cantatas are geared to dance forms. In the "Brandenburg Concertos”, simple Gigues and Polaccas are part of the composition.
Do you feel that in "Brandburgische Konzerte” all your experience in transposing music into dance is converging?
Well, I would say, a certain amount of modesty is more appropriate. But let’s hope so. There is a lot of craftsmanship and know-how that comes together. I take my previous experience of working with Bach, in "Toccata”, "Partita”, "Mitten”. Also, there are a whole lot of people that assist me. The dramaturge Jan Vandenhouwe and Bach specialist Kees van Houten analyzed the concerti. Amandine Beyer, the violinist I worked with for "Partita 2”, is going to conduct the B’Rock Orchestra. I am very happy to work with a woman conductor for the first time.
How much rehearsal time did you invest?
Six months. More than for a normal creation.
Finance-wise, this process is made possible by the co-producers and the touring of your company Rosas?
Rosas is able to survive because of a combination of repertory and new creations, which means that there’s a lot of pressure on the touring schedule and on the dancers. Our subsidies represent only 25 per cent of the total income. So the pressure of performing is enormous. We are also very much dependent on co-producers and reliable partners.
What’s the situation for Rosas in Berlin? Here, most of your works were shown at Hebbel Theater and its successional institution, HAU Hebbel am Ufer.
With Rosas we first performed in Berlin at Hebbel Theater before the fall of the Wall.
In 1988, when Nele Hertling reopened the theater?
Yes. The relationship with the city is going on for thirty years. But, other than in Paris, London, Brussels, or Amsterdam, the combination of finding partners and who has good stages is difficult in Berlin. We always had a very loyal partner in HAU but with certain restrictions: the stage at HAU1 is too small for certain productions.
You did change venues and perform at Volksbühne, invited by Chris Dercon and Marietta Piekenbrock. Did HAU’s director Annemie Vanackere agree to that?
Yes, we had very open conversations about these choices. We performed "Mitten wir im Leben sind” at HAU last December and there are plans for the future, too.
Volksbühne’s interim director Klaus Dörr has honored his word to comply with all contracts his predecessors had signed before leaving. But will there be a further cooperation with Volksbühne after "Brandenburgische Konzerte”?
Volksbühne was the first Berlin theater ever that offered us a co-production. But at the moment we cannot and don’t want to make any further statements on that subject.
So let’s see about the actual work, then. How do you approach the "Brandenburgische Konzerte” artistically? In earlier choreographies, as in "Vortex Temporum” or "En Atendant”, you linked one instrument or voice to a single dancer.
These strict choreographic systems are not readily applicable to a large-scale cycle like the "Brandenburg Concertos”. I had to come up with a new system. At the foundation of my choreography, as always, is a geometric floor plan that is composed of circles, straight lines, pentagrams and spirals. I’m using the pentagram as a base figure. Measure by measure we try to compensate Bach’s musical counterpoint with a choreographic counterpoint. In the end, the dance has to remain an autonomous partner with regard to the music and never become enslaved or entranced by it.
How does your performance reflect the structure of Bach’s six concerti?
I wanted to pay close attention to the overarching form of Bach’s cycle. The choreography of the first concerto lays out the ingredients we are using to compose the entirety of the piece. In the first part of the first concerto, I let the entire group of dancers walk the bassline in unisono – one note, one step; making the music visible and following the principle of ‘My walking is my dancing’, a theme which I’d already explored in previous performances. In the "Brandenburg Concertos”, all dancers walk in a straight line, backwards or forwards, from a frontal perspective. By using a very simple set of musical canons, I introduce the first visual counterpoint a while later, and then, in the slow section of the first concerto, the three-dimensional dancing material on which the entire performance is based.
How do you develop the choreographic material from there?
In the second, fourth and fifth concerto, I attempt to come up with a visual representation of the standard concerto form with its typical interplay of soloists, ripieno – when the composer places a small group of soloists opposite the rest of the orchestra – and bassline. Equally, we offer a depiction of the separate structure of the third concerto consisting of three violins, three violas, three cellos and basso continuo. Spurred on by the famous anapest rhythm (short-short-long), which dominates the entire first section of the third concerto, the principle of ‘my walking is my dancing’ then changes into the more audacious principle of ‘my running is my dancing’. In the second allegro of the third concerto, our intention was to unleash a true visual whirlwind, a vortex bending the straight lines from previous sections into spirals and circles which had to, at least symbolically, stand for a notion of the ‘infinite’.
In describing Bach’s music, you mentioned a kind of productive tension before: between structure and abstract thought on one side and emotional depth on the other. I can see that in your work, too. How do you go about those aspects?
I’m a formalist. And I don’t make a separation between body and mind. You can call it "cosmic abstraction”. I like dance because it is embodied structure. When you work with dance you work with the body and you use the human body in all its aspects – mechanical, sensuous, emotional, social, intellectual, spiritual – to define something which I think the music of Johann Sebastian Bach defines, too: an order that goes beyond us.
|vorheriger Beitrag||Inhaltsverzeichnis||nächster Beitrag|