Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s Work/Travail/Arbeid

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The starting point for Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s Work/Travail/Arbeid is a simple question: Can choreography be performed in the form of an exhibition? To answer that question, one of today’s most important dancer/choreographers reimagined her stage performance Vortex Temporum (2013)—choreographed to the eponymous work by the late French composer Gérard Grisey—for a museum space, away from a conventional theater setting.

Work/Travail/Arbeid is not De Keersmaeker’s first project to be performed in the museum space; in 2011 she performed the solo Violin Phase, part of her very first piece Fase: Four Movements to the Music of Steve Reich (1982), in MoMA’s Donald B. and Catherine C. Marron Atrium. But with Work/Travail/Arbeid the artist imagines the choreography in relation to the practices and protocols of an exhibition. The dancers from De Keersmaeker’s company, Rosas, and the musicians, from the Ictus ensemble, are not simply bringing dance into a museum; they are reinterpreting dance in the space of MoMA’s Marron Atrium in the form of a five-day exhibition, accessible continuously to the audience during public hours. The original hour-long piece has been expanded to a nine-hour cycle, with each hour offering different choreography and combinations of seven dancers and seven musicians. (Vortex Temporum is originally a sextet for piano, flute, clarinet, violin, viola, and cello.) Throughout her career De Keersmaeker has focused on the relationship between music and dance: rather than allow the dance to simply illustrate the music, De Keersmaeker uses music as a defining structure. The relation to music in Vortex Temporum, for example, influenced how she reconceived it for the exhibition. Time and harmonic space are expanded and condensed, creating the vortexes of time suggested by the work’s title.

Work/Travail/Arbeid is an itinerant exhibition, first staged at WIELS in Brussels over nine weeks in 2015; then at Centre Pompidou over nine days in a large square space with glass walls, which invited the city itself into the work; and then moving to Tate Modern in London, in the long rectangular space of the Turbine Hall. Each space presented different challenges of adaptation and reconceptualization, a dynamic that continues with the version being re-choreographed and re-created for the unique dimensions of MoMA’s Marron Atrium.

In each of those cases the result is a project that transforms the very material conditions that have long been essential to dance—and in particular the rigorous structure and choreographic language for which De Keersmaeker is known—into an entirely new form of exhibition. The expanded duration of Work/Travail/Arbeid reveals new insights into the complex conceptual, technical, and physical labor that is essential to the practice of dance.

Organized by Ana Janevski, Associate Curator, with Martha Joseph, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Media and Performance Art; produced by Lizzie Gorfaine, Performance Producer, with Kate Scherer, Assistant Performance Coordinator.

Generous funding for the exhibition is provided by The Modern Women’s Fund and by The General Delegation of the Government of Flanders to the USA.

Piano provided by Steinway & Sons.

Additional support is provided by the Annual Exhibition Fund.

The exhibition is organized by The Museum of Modern Art in collaboration with Rosas, Ictus, and WIELS Contemporary Art Centre.