Music and geometry have always been central to the work of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker. In Mystery Sonatas / for Rosa, these interests form a bond through a symbol—the rose. With a long history of symbolism in art history and literature, the rose often represents secrecy and mystery. ‘Sub rosa’—Latin for ‘under the rose’—refers to ‘that which is not spoken’, but here we can consider this through the lens of ‘that which is danced’.

De Keersmaeker’s oeuvre is full of partnerships with musical compositions, and now she establishes another with the “Mystery” or “Rosary” sonatas of Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber. Written around 1676, the Mystery Sonatas is a musical translation of the fifteen Sacred Mysteries of the life of the Virgin Mary. Composed with the intention of serving a religious practice, these sonatas assisted the recitation of the rosary beads. Just as the rosary is typically divided into three ‘decades’, Biber’s Mysteries are divided into three cycles: five joyful, five sorrowful, and five glorious sonatas.

Although the music is intrinsically filled with biblical narratives, it is simultaneously an invitation to dance. Found inside are musical dance forms such as gigues, allemandes, and courantes. This dancing nature combined with a cyclical and numerological approach, makes Biber’s work a terrain rich with inspiration for choreography. Similar to other works of De Keersmaeker, a ‘basic phrase’ provides a foundation, this time created through memories of the past. Circularity, repetition and petal-like patterns allow for transformations to unfold with the music.

In this choreography, roses are not simply at play because of their beauty, but because of their resistance—with every rose comes its thorns. The dancing body, as an individual or a community, becomes an act of resistance, while Biber’s music, rich in virtuosity and narrative, opens a door to it.

Intriguingly, this music enlists the technique ‘scordatura’, where the violin is tuned in a way that what is played according to the score is not what will be heard. This highly virtuosic technique is performed live by violinist Amandine Beyer, along with her ensemble Gli Incogniti. They share the stage with six dancers as they move chronically through the sonatas.

This work is dedicated to women of resistance—Rosa Bonheur, Rosa Luxemburg, Rosa Parks, Rosa Vergaelen, and Rosa, the 15-year-old climate activist who died in the Belgian floodings of 2021.

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