Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, choreographing, Mozart

the music

Sketch, stage design
Sketch by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker for the stage design of Così fan tutte.

Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker is staging and choreographing Mozart’s opera Così fan tutte, to run at Paris’s Palais Garnier in September.

Why did you choose Paris and the Palais Garnier for this production of Mozart’s Così fan tutte?

It was Stéphane Lissner, director of the Opéra National de Paris, who asked me if I would like to do it. I had already done several opera productions: Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle, at the Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels in 1998; and Toshio Hosokawa’s Hanjo in 2004. There was also Mozart / Concert Arias, with my company, Rosas, in 1992. Opera is the art I love most in the world because it brings together theater and music, but I was really trying to move away from it. However, Così fan tutte is my favorite, along with Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione di Poppea, and that’s what persuaded me.

How do you see this choreography with respect to your creative journey? As an answer to questions that have surfaced in previous works? Another way of looking at them and exploring them in more depth? A way of shifting them to another arena?

My career as a choreographer since the 1980s has been bound up with music from all eras, with the exception of 19th-century romantic music, which I steer clear of. In 2010, I went back to early music from the late 14th century, ars subtilior, in a diptych, En Atendant and Cesena. But I also created Vortex Temporum to a score by contemporary composer Gérard Grisey. Music is the starting point for choreography because it provides the mood and feel of an era. Tackling Così fan tutte, a key work in the history of music, has been a huge challenge. I tried to capture the physical and emotional movements that run through the opera; making a complex narrative framework, all too often treated with a certain disdain, clear and legible; to reveal the genius of Mozart, who, through the gap between text and music, opens up depths that are rarely reached and reveals dimensions we didn’t know existed. In this work, he manages to make the human divine and the divine profoundly human, something no one else except Bach has done.

La musique livre la trame du temps. Elle est au départ de l’écriture chorégraphique.

You’ve opted for abstraction and geometry: an empty stage without sets, with shapes traced on the floor. Why is this?

Space has remained empty in all my recent choreographies. I now tend to reduce the stage decor to a minimum, to showcase the dance and the movement. Less is more. Since the end of my residency at the Théâtre de la Monnaie, I have worked with visual artists like Ann Veronica Janssens and Michel François, then once again with Jan Versweyveld [she has been partnering with the latter since 1997, including on Così fan tutte]. They create abstract decors by playing on light and geometrical space. I like to compose on this area of the stage left bare. The innovative feature of this production of Così fan tutte is in the use of whiteness, its brilliance, with the decor defined solely by the color of the costumes and the bodies onstage. The whiteness doesn’t have a clinical feel to it, it’s a means of expressing lightness and transparency.

How did you come up with the couple of a singer shadowed by a dancer?

One of the biggest challenges was to prevent this duplication from appearing superfluous or descriptive. It was about letting dance hear the music differently, defining the space between it and the text. Dance must highlight and emphasize the movement that is in the music, but which is not always discernible or decipherable. I used the same kind of formalism you find in concerts, the semi-circle opening up to the public. A singer is placed next to their dancer, with symmetry between the men’s and women’s sides, but Despina is positioned on the men’s side, and Don Alfonso on the women’s. I unified the group of singers by using a highly codified physical language, and they make only slight movements. But apart from these few ground rules, there is no systematized pattern in the singer-dancer relationship: it varies from scene to scene.

Would you say that thanks to its architecture, this piece of music gives some clarity to our most unsettling, confusing emotions?

Yes, I think so. One example is the dissonant four-note chord that coincides with the word “desire” in the air “Soave sia il vento.” It expresses the intensity and complexity and discordance of what the young people are experiencing and feeling just then. In a more general sense, it is the organization of time, harmonic space, the content of the text and rhythm that are filled with these kinds of tensions. This is what makes Così fan tutte so great. I discovered it 35 years ago, and studied and listened to it closely. This work had been such a part of my life for so long before I finally staged it, and it has shaped my exploration of the relationship between dance and music.

Così fan Tutte Du 12.09 au 21.10.
Palais Garnier. Place de l’Opéra, Paris.
Tél. +33 (0)1 71 25 24 23.


Così fan tutte

Du 12.09 au 21.10.2017

Palais Garnier. Place de l’Opéra, Paris. Tél. +33 (0)1 71 25 24 23.

Saillard Olivier


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