Brussels is more often associated with politics than it is with culture, but the city's rich architecture is home to many museums and performing arts venues. With an increasing number of activities and festivals throughout the year, the city sets the spotlight on art and culture.

Théâtre de la Monnaie
Théâtre de la Monnaie

 

In February and March the focus is on the contemporary dance scene with the festival Brussels Dance!, an initiative led by 11 cultural hotspots across the city. For 2 months, Brussels turns into a  capital of dance with daily performances in numerous cultural venues, making Brussels Dance! one of the biggest dance festivals in Europe. It’s a reason enough to take a closer look at the Belgian capital’s contemporary dance scene.

An introduction logically starts at De Munt (or la Monnaie), the historic opera house. The theatre is now mainly used by the opera company, but dance and ballet have in the past called the stage of La Monnaie home. Interestingly, the theatre used to have contemporary companies as resident troupes rather than a classical ballet emsemble. Several members of the Petipa family left their mark in Brussels in the 19th-century, but the enthusiasm of the public for traditional ballet performances diminished in the 1950s. In 1959 contemporary dance entered the stage of La Monnaie with Maurice Béjart’s Ballet du XXième Siècle the theatre’s resident troupe until 1987.

Rosas rehearsing <i>A Love Supreme</i> © Anne Van Aerschot
Rosas rehearsing A Love Supreme
© Anne Van Aerschot
In 1988, the Mark Morris Dance Group became the resident dance company for three years and the third and last contemporary company to call the opera house home was Rosas (founder: Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker which resided in La Monnaie from 1992 till 2007. The theatre is now without a resident company, but dance performances by various visiting companies are programmed. Besides, the historic theatre itself is well-worth seeing and opera lovers can get a glimpse of the backstage areas during a guided tour through the impressive workshops where everything from costumes to wigs, shoes and stage sets are handmade. Currently the opera is undergoing refurbishment and the auditorium is scheduled to reopen in September 2017 but the workshops are still open to visitors, whilst the performances moved to an alternative stage.

Anna Teresa de Keersmaeker © Hugo Glendinning
Anna Teresa de Keersmaeker
© Hugo Glendinning
Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker’s company Rosas is still based in Brussels. The company has nice studio facilities in a peaceful and beautiful part of the city, but with their extensive tour schedule they are often out of town. De Keersmaeker herself grew up in Belgium and studied at MUDRA, the school founded by Maurice Béjart. After a couple of years studying in the USA she returned to Brussels and her breakthrough on the international dance scene soon followed. Her choreographies are performed all over the world and received many awards. From the 23rd February to the 4th March the company will be in Brussels for a series of performances at the Kaai theater during the Brussels Dance! Festival.

One of the most notable facts of Brussels’ dance scene is the absence of a professional dance school in the city (P.A.R.T.S. aside). After Béjart left Brussels MUDRA was closed down and the city found itself without a professional dance school again. Whilst working at La Monnaie De Keersmaeker established the school P.A.R.T.S. which nowadays shares the building with the dance company Rosas. It is an interesting school. The structure and the programme of the school are different than most other schools for professional dance education. There is only one group of students at a time, which means that new students can enroll every 3 years. Each new group of students can start their own story here from scratch. This year 1200 students applied for the school, of which 46 students were enrolled. Together they represent more than 20 nationalities. Auditions are organized in different countries so as to give talented international students unable to travel the chance to audition as well. Upon graduation, a few of the students join Rosas, and others spread their wings and go and work for different companies all around the globe.

Rosas rehearsing <i>A Love Supreme</i> © Anne Van Aerschot
Rosas rehearsing A Love Supreme
© Anne Van Aerschot

During the Brussels Dance! Festival I discovered that Brussels has a lot more dance to offer than that at La Monnaie and Rosas. It soon became clear to me that Brussels has a very diverse and international dance scene. The city attracts many young dance makers from all over the world who find here a unique quality of life and a network of open and daring venues connected in their diversity. The international character and openness of the city are key elements in the growing success of Brussels in the dance field. Most of the companies work with dancers from different nationalities and different backgrounds. And the fact that it is relatively easy to find spaces to rehearse, create and perform attracts young choreographers to the city as well. The festival represents artists and companies with connection to the city of Brussels. And, just to give an idea of the scale of the independent dance scene, there are different performances almost every day for two whole months.

Last but not least, the cooperation of 11 venues is at least as unique as the programme is diverse. Famous stages in Brussels stand alongside alternative, even non-institutional venues. Some of them regularly showcase dance whilst others are more often associated with theatre or function as cultural centres. Next to the classic theatres, historical buildings turn into performing venues and look absolutely splendid. A fine example is the maison du spectacle La Bellone; a 17th century baroque villa with its courtyard covered by a glass roof now a creative space with a unique atmosphere. Or the fabulous old chapel Les Brigittines, now a dance centre, dedicated to the art of movement.

The Brussels Dance! Festival not only gives an insight into the dance riches of the city, but also into the many creative spaces and unique theatres of Brussels. There is much to discover in this city for lovers of contemporary dance and other art forms alike.