Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker rarely makes incursions into pop culture. Excepting her recent choreography for West Side Story on Broadway, her lush mathematical dances have kept to palaces of the postmodern. But, in 2011, conspicuous chunks of two early works materialized in the Beyoncé music video “Countdown.” In the media kerfuffle that followed, the “little-known Belgian choreographer” (as one news anchor had it) quipped that schoolchildren could have done better with the purloined steps. Then, with her encouragement, they did. Children—along with hundreds of other people around the world—sent in homemade videos the length of a song. The project was called Re:Rosas!, after one of the dances that Beyoncé had admired.
On March 17, the same day that President Trump got around to admitting there was a pandemic, De Keersmaeker’s company Web site announced it was relaunching Re:Rosas! for these “times of isolation.” To participate, all you needed was a chair—plus the will to reconfigure the choreography’s mesmerizing structure and gestures for the absurd and dire situation at hand. An understated poignancy suffuses the videos.
To participate, all you needed was a chair.
The cast tends to be small: no bigger than a quarantined household. Besides a chair or two set inside or out, we glimpse the mise en scène of circumscribed lives. The harp in a Montpellier living room (No. 467). The flaming orange shrub on the margins of an unkempt Philadelphia lawn (No. 463). The dilapidated inner courtyard of a Milan apartment building, potted plants hanging from the barred windows (No. 514). As Italy’s massive death toll crosses one’s mind, the Milanese edition of Re:Rosas!—an ode to boredom, impatience, hedonism, and routine—provides an anchor and relief. It, too, is real.
Compare that salutary reality check with the 15-second dance challenges that proliferate on TikTok, which admit the world beyond the screen only to raise the performer’s status. The reigning exemplar at the moment is Drake’s TikTok bait “Toosie Slide,” at nearly 75 million YouTube views since it dropped a month ago. The rapper wanders around a Toronto mansion the size of Versailles, with a whole room dedicated to his trophies. “Toosie Slide” nods to La ’Rona in its opening shots: not a car on the highway, not a person on the street. Drake’s getup is also plague-appropriate: a black balaclava for a face mask, black gloves (“No sequins,” he boasts), and a camouflage jacket because we’re at war with the killer bug. But it’s the rapper’s status as a winner that rings the loudest. It is painfully out of tune. As the sick die, often from a lack of resources, Drake is celebrating extreme personal wealth.
The currency of Re:Rosas! is not profit or loss but old-fashioned belonging, with a lexicon that suits the task. Movement motifs include waiting with chin in hand, collapsing after waiting, combing a hand through the hair in a relic of fruitful vanity, stroking one’s torso (who else is going to do it?), and nodding in complicity at the empty air or perhaps a favorite spider plant.
The Spaniard in entry No. 469 crosses a leg with exquisitely contained impatience before glancing right and left as if someone were coming to the rescue (if only). In Episode 481, a pair of Parisians use the Re:Rosas! steps to mark time—from sunrise to sunset, as you can see through the windows, and from once cheerful faces to harried mugs barricaded behind hospital-blue masks. In a game of monkey see, monkey do, a French mother and her tot volley moves back and forth (No. 498). The smiling mother nods, the daughter nods; the mother bobs, then the smiling child. Meanwhile a girl looks on, fidgeting extravagantly. And who isn’t? —Apollinaire Scherr