Anna Teresa de Keersmaeker and her influential contemporary dance troupe, Rosas, have been engaged in an extended international tour, with a selection of her seminal early works. This three-year journey ends this week in New York, where, ironically perhaps, de Keersmaeker’s choreographic journey had begun, some three decades ago.

<i>Fase</i> de Keersmaeker © Stephanie Berger
Fase de Keersmaeker
© Stephanie Berger
The first in the series of Rosas’ four early works performed here as part of the Lincoln Center Festival, is Fase, Four Movements to the Music of Steve Reich. As its title suggests, the work is comprised of four parts, set to four Reich’s minimalist pieces, each composed for a different instrument: piano, voice, violin and clapping hands.

Seeing this work 32 years after its creation – and performed this evening by Tale Doven and de Keersmaeker herself – with its vibrant, elemental energy, is not only a testament to the enduring power of the choreographer’s work, it also invites those of us who were unable to see the work when it was first created to consider just how radical in its restraint her approach had been. It may also appear as a bit of a revelation to those of us – present company included – who are much more familiar with de Keersmaeker’s more recent choreographies, serving as a bit of a time warp, with the requisite “aaah” moment, discovering early evidence of a trailblazing talent in the making.

On the surface, there is an incredibly modest amount of actual, devised vocabulary in each of these pieces: phrases are brief and simple – swinging limbs, half-turns, head and arm gestures, jumps – a metaphorical equivalent, one could argue, to an infant repetitively practicing its first syllables. But don’t let the apparent sparseness of these phrases deceive you, as each piece very quickly reveals an inherent complexity, which lies in de Keermaeker’s deeply intuitive hearing of Reich’s music, in her intelligent layering of these kernels of movement, and imaginative variations on those simple themes. 

This work’s staying power is that of a breathtaking simplicity, and what an unforgettable treat it is to experience de Keersmaeker dancing – still passionate, joyful, rigorously committed, after all these years – there is a thrill to it, akin to witnessing a musical genius practicing her craft. Something mesmerizing, masterful, and endlessly inventive is bound to surprise you even when you think you are just listening to the scales.

*****