Fase Blog V2

From the Archives: De Keersmaeker's Fase

By Katy Dammers

Jul 3, 2014

Beginning this summer, The Kitchen staff will be presenting selections from our archives, much of which has remained entirely unseen for decades. Taking up subjects ranging from dance and music to exhibitions and talks, this continuing series will occasionally be accompanied by rare photographs and footage unearthed as we prepare to transfer these invaluable documents to the Getty Archive for their preservation. Please check in often to see what gems we uncover!


In 1981, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker traveled outside of Europe for the first time to study dance at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, where the twenty-one-year-old choreographer quickly became fascinated by minimalist music and dance’s blatant rejection of narrative, the dominant choreographic structure in her native Belgium. By the end of the next year, she had created Fase, four movements to the music of Steve Reich, which is recognized today not only as one of De Keersmaeker’s seminal works but also as a landmark example of contemporary dance’s interaction with musical composition.

As a highly structured dance examining speed, force, and physical exhaustion through a pedestrian vocabulary of movement and repetition, Fase was inspired by Reich’s unique experimentation with “phasing,” a technique in which two instruments begin and repeat a musical passage in sync, but gradually slip out of unison as one increases speed or subtly shifts the phrase. While she was in New York, De Keersmaeker created dances for two of the composer’s pieces, Come Out and Violin Phase, describing her project from the start as a remarkable fulfillment of her desire to “focus on pure dance and movement.” On her return to Brussels, she followed suggestions from Reich’s musicians to choreograph (with her frequent collaborator Michèle Anne De Mey) the opening and closing sections of Fase to the composer’s Piano Phase and Clapping Music. De Keersmaeker’s finished piece premiered at the Beursschouwburg in 1982 (with live accompaniment by Reich’s musicians), stunning critics with a debut performance that paved the way for the foundation of her company Rosas in 1983.

De Keersmaeker and De Mey last performed Fase together in 1998, when the duo appeared at The Kitchen, where Reich himself saw the work for the very first time. “Of all the choreography done to my music,” he would note in one interview, “this was by far this best thing I’d seen. The way that she used the phasing principle…; the brilliant use of lighting in ‘Piano Phase,’ so that their shadows are like alter egos; the way ‘Come Out’ picked up the implicit violence in the piece — it was all analogous to the music. On an emotional and psychological level I felt I’d learned something about my own work.” 

Critics similarly celebrated De Keersmaeker’s Kitchen performances, which were decidedly at odds with the day’s prevailing artistic currents in dance. “Few people have spent sleepless hours yearning for the return of '70s minimalism in dance,” wrote Deborah Jowitt in the Village Voice. “But when you see such a sterling example, it sweeps your mind clean of all the dance theater excesses.” Presented as part of the Lincoln Center Festival next week—and appearing in New York for the first time since its production at The Kitchen—Fase will no doubt once again prompt a new self-awareness among dance audiences today.

For more information on these upcoming performances of Fase, featuring De Keersmaeker with Rosas member Tale Dolven, please visit the Lincoln Center website.

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