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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

William Forsythe, contemporary master

by Rhea Daniels

With the majority of choreographer William Forsythe’s professional work happening in Europe, anytime he brings his company to town is an exciting opportunity to see what this contemporary master has been up to. On the occasion of The Forsythe Company’s return to the Next Wave Festival with Sider we highlight some of Forsythe's productions at BAM.

Forsythe debuted at BAM with Ballet Frankfurt who performed EIDOS : TELOS in 1998. The piece cemented Forsythe’s status as a contemporary master and an heir to Balanchine. The dance pulls established ballet structure apart and reassembles it with onstage musicians and bits of quirky deconstructed ballet vocabulary. It truly seemed to transport ballet into the modern era.

A spotlight on walls manipulated by the dancers, a thrashing rope, slashing through the space made Enemy in the Figure (2001) a darkly atmospheric experience with a dangerous edge.

Performed at BAM in 2001, Quintett (1993) was a love letter to Forsythe’s terminally-ill wife, Ballet Frankfurt dancer Tracey-Kai Maier. She died of ovarian cancer in 1994.

In Woolf Phrase (2001), the text of Virgnia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway was translated into movement by Forsythe.

The 2003 Next Wave Festival marked the final appearance of Ballett Frankfurt at BAM. On the program was his One Flat Thing, reproduced. The stage production was extended into a pioneering online project in which Forsythe dynamically visualized the relationships between the mechanics of movement, space, and time. (Aside: this was the first piece I ever saw at BAM and it also marked my first time to Brooklyn—mind blown apart on several levels that September evening).

Ballet Frankfurt dissolved in 2004, and in 2005 Forsythe founded the Forsythe Company with a group of dancers committed to pushing the boundaries of contemporary dance even further. The company made its debut at BAM with Kammer/Kammer, (kammer means room in German) in 2006. “I am approximating Catherine Deneuve.” says Dana Casperson, a lead performer, to an onstage camera in the piece. On-screen and off-screen love affairs and musical duets are at the centerpiece of this stage-bending and hilarious mixed media work.

(N.N.N.N.) (2003)

Duo (2003)

The Room As It Was (2003)

Three Atmospheric Studies (2007)

The title of Decreation, at BAM in 2009, comes from an essay by Anne Carson. Time-lapse video adds dimensionality and poetic layering to the text and movement. Roslyn Sulcas of The New York Times called the piece “…a kind of machine for creating storms of the soul and ruthlessly dissecting them.”

The Forsythe Company last appeared at BAM in 2011 with I don't believe in outer space. Featuring a soundtrack by Thom Willems (also a collaborator for Sider), it’s an amazing display of the almost insane virtuosity of the Forsythe dancers on the theme of the randomness of human existence. (No ping-pong balls were harmed in the performance of this piece.)

In the words of Forsythe himself: “Choreography is a curious and deceptive term. The word itself, like the processes it describes, is elusive, agile, and maddeningly unmanageable. To reduce choreography to a single definition is not to understand the most crucial of its mechanisms: to resist and reform previous conceptions of its definition.” Here’s to Forsythe’s continued resistance of definition!

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