Rosas: performance under pressure

Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker is one of the world’s most critically acclaimed choreographers, and the work she and her company Rosas create is constantly in demand. But with that success comes pressure, as general manager Luk Van den bosch explains

They say you can’t go home again, but that’s not a theory Rosas general manager Luk Van den bosch subscribes to: he recently returned to Rosas, some 11 years after departing. Why? Because, he says, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker simply kept asking. ‘I left Rosas in 2005 to become managing director of Toneelhuis in Antwerp. While I was there Anne Teresa kept asking me to come back. Then recently she said, “Okay, now I’ve asked you four times you really have to do it” – so here I am.’

Van den bosch has certainly timed his return well, with Rosas taking on a number of exciting projects. Right now De Keersmaeker is in Paris directing Così fan tutte with Paris Opera, which premiered on 26 January and runs until 19 February. At the same time Rain, De Keersmaeker’s highly successful piece set to music by Steve Reich, is touring all over the world into the summer of this year.

Rain © Anne Van Aerschot

But what is next for the company? That, says Van den bosch, is entirely centred on whatever De Keersmaeker decides: ‘It is very important that she is in the centre of the organisation. Everything starts and ends with her. Whatever she wants to create, we support her in that. She picks the dancers, selects the music, chooses her artistic partners, decides whether it will be a big show with a few productions or a small one that tours a lot…it all comes down to her.’

Once the choreographer has made her decisions the rest of the team then reaches out their hands to support her plans. ‘As soon as we have her idea we begin putting the elements together, selling the production and planning the tour,’ says the general manager. ‘It takes about two years from the first idea to the final show, so right now we’re looking at schedules for 2019 and 2020.’

Although De Keersmaeker can go in whatever direction she wants, there is one caveat: the company must make enough money to survive. Out of a total €5m budget as much as €3.4m comes from touring and artistic partnerships, so it is critical that new pieces are financially viable.

‘We depend a lot on touring, so we have to plan carefully. Right now Anne Teresa is working on Così fan tutte, which is a big show that can’t really tour much. That means whatever we do next must be able to tour a lot of times, or else we won’t make enough money.’ A Rosas show can play as many as 70 times in a year, and the average production will be performed 140 times in total.

This reliance on touring has both advantages and disadvantages. ‘It means we can do whatever we want, which is a good place to be,’ says Van den bosch. ‘But it also creates a lot of pressure – the success of the future is always the success of the last production.

Cosi fan tutte
Cosi fan tutte © Anne Van Aerschot

‘Anne Teresa is responsible for the whole company: the workers, the infrastructure, the artistic output – everything. Sometimes I talk to her about this and I can tell she feels this pressure very personally. Added to that is the fact she sets very high standards for herself. Of course, every production cannot be equally successful, but there has to be a certain standard of quality in all her work. It is a lot to ask from one person.’

This means the rest of the company has to help alleviate the pressure wherever possible. ‘Not every decision needs to go through her. Instead, we try to get in her head and think “What would Anne Teresa want?” and make a decision on her behalf. We try to create an atmosphere here in Brussels that makes her feel at home so she can focus on creating her work, which is very important.’

Another important path for the company is forging partnerships. Continues Van den bosch: ‘They give us a base to work from, so when we start a new show we know we have certain guaranteed places on the tour. Companies and venues like Théâtre de la Ville, Kaaitheater, Sadler’s Wells, Concertgebouw Brugge and La Monnaie will put on one of our shows every year, which gives us a solid start to any tour. And we’re always looking for new partners and relationships to keep the company alive.

‘For me though, this is not a problem. I love dance, and I think Rosas is one of the most beautiful companies you could imagine. So I’m always inspired, because I love Anne Teresa and her work. Coming back here was definitely not a difficult decision.’

This feature was published in the February issue of IAM. To subscribe to the magazine click here.