After turning to the theatre (cf. the Medea production), Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker ventured into the world of opera. Ottone, Ottone opened in 1988 and was De Keersmaeker’s first ‘large-scale’ project: based on Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s interpretation of Claudio Monteverdi’s opera L’Incoronazione di Poppea, it was performed by a cast of 16. The transformation of the original libretto and score into a sort of contemporary or, if you like, postmodern ‘opera-ballet’, resulted in an adaptation that was in places exceptionally moving. The basic story was as it were, obscured by a duplication, and on occasion a triplication, of the characters, and by the addition of new characters, who apart from this enter into highly diverse relationships with each other (also in psychological terms). The piece portrays with an uncommon hardness the microcosm of life in Nero’s Roman court, accentuated even more in the reworking for the second tour in spring 1989. In this miniature society sincere feelings are constantly undermined by calculation and the misuse of power. Just like De Keersmaeker’s previously staged play by Heiner Müller, Ottone, Ottone revolves round the theme of betrayal between man and woman in a context pervaded by political concerns.
Ottone, Ottone is literally a very colourful spectacular with a bitter undertone. The video film-maker Walter Verdin made an extremely intriguing film adaptation in two parts (1991), which, in its own right, can be interpreted as a comment on De Keersmaeker’s directing. The first part of the film is characterised by extreme cutting: the dance performance is edited into a tangle of fragments with multiple changes of character, which makes it more difficult to follow the ‘story’. In the second part it was chosen to allow a coherent narrative to unfold in greater movements/longer scenes. From a choreographic point of view, Ottone, Ottone contains a huge abundance of new material, partly as a result of the method used in the working process. Because of the size of the group, in addition to De Keersmaeker’s direct choreographic work, ‘tasks’ were often used as a way of working. Dancers made separate variations on the material (reversals, combinations, etc.) or thought up new sequences of movement, while De Keersmaeker, together with the other dancers, looked at the material they had created. In her turn she added her own sequences to these autonomous contributions from the dancers; and of course she was also responsible for the ultimate composition, forging together into one great whole the varied pieces of the puzzle assembled by the group.