De Anatomische Les

by Jaap Flier, former dancer and former artistic director

Photo JAAP Flier, ensemble: Ger van Leeuwen

De Anatomische Les by the American choreographer Glen Tetley premiered in 1964 and turned out to be very influential. Not just for me personally, but also in terms of the artistic direction in which Nederlands Dans Theater was heading. The photograph shows the moment when the doctors pull the sheet off the body and are about to perform the dissection under the guidance of Dr Nicolaes Tulp, the doctor who appears in the famous painting by Rembrandt – The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp. Unlike the scene in that painting, the dead body comes back to life. At least in our imagination. You see the surgeons gazing down on a body – a fragile body with a past and a story. I had to climb on top of a wooden bench for this role and contract and release my muscles to revive myself – both mentally and physically. The moment I tumbled off the operating table, the man’s past was resurrected: his childhood, adulthood and eventual old age, his loves, and, of course, his death. I danced this man’s life – including all his milestones, emotions and memories.

I found Glen Tetley very inspiring to work with and I owe him a great deal. Benjamin Harkarvy had invited him to teach modern techniques to the dancers of Nederlands Dans Theater. I was enthralled by his visit, although I’m not sure if I’m talking about Glen as a person or his technique. Probably both. Glen’s approach to dance was radically different. He was schooled in a classical tradition, but had a very solid foundation in modern dance. A beautiful dancer himself, very powerful and charismatic, who turned out to be just as talented as a choreographer. In De Anatomische Les classical elements – the idea of reaching heavenward – are intertwined with contemporary ideas, embodied by the bare feet and the primordial, earthy style reminiscent of Martha Graham. Glen and I were like-minded and connected in our approach to dance. A style of dance that would leave its mark on Nederlands Dans Theater for many years to come.

Jaap Flier, ensemble. 'De Anatomische Les' by Glen Tetley. Photo: Ger van Leeuwen.

From: Nederlands Dans Theater | 60 – EAN 9789462622425