Is William Forsythe at a turning point? Ousted in 2002 from his innovative directorship of Ballett Frankfurt, Forsythe has now set up his own company. It was certainly a turning point in his career, but – still based in Frankfurt, and with a roster of dancers from his previous company – there seems to be as much continuity as change. And that showed in the company’s programme which opened Dance Umbrella, comprising pieces that had all been made during his tenure at Ballett Frankfurt.
that jigsaw quality of different worlds that overlap and interlock
The value of this programme was not to see in which direction the company may be heading, but as a fascinating exposition of some of Forsythe’s varied choreographic interests. The first two pieces, both from 2002, seem almost like variations on the same compositional ideas. The Room as it Was reminded me, inescapably, of that famous TV advert for Ariston washing machines, which cleverly overlaid different scenes of people crossing the same room, neatly fitting them together within the same frame. The Room as it Was has that same jigsaw quality of different worlds that overlap and interlock as the eight dancers enter, cross and exit the bare stage. Here’s a man who crouches and slithers like Gollum; there’s a woman twisting her limbs like strands of rope, rolling and sickling her feet. A couple drifts past, hand in hand, treading carefully as if walking on eggshells. As the piece builds, so their separate worlds coincide and intersect, seemingly more by happenstance than design: a couple burst into a slap-happy game of pat-a-cake, brief duets of twined limbs and knotty lifts flower and fade. One thing unites the dancers – their gasps and puffs as they perform their disparate manoeuvres, providing a breathy human soundtrack.
N.N.N.N is also set on a bare stage, features the same huffing and blowing, and again has the feel of a studio compositional study; but it’s more coherent and more theatrical. The four men are again very distinct individuals, but they share more motifs – pendulum limbs and piston arms – and a certain swinging, bouncy dynamic. And whereas the energies of The Room as it Was seemed constantly to be dissipating, here they are harnessed and channelled more tightly, in ragged bursts of activity that break out across the ensemble.
Of Any if And is a complete contrast. Dating from 1995, it’s the oldest work on this programme and the most directly related to the style and thematics of classical ballet. Made after the death of Forsythe’s wife, it’s a profoundly romantic duet, performed with the sinewy, virtuosic control and long-limbed extensions of ballet technique – albeit angled, tipped and skewed in the manner for which Forsythe has become known. Instead of classical confluence and consort, Forsythe emphasises the gaps and the dissonances between the partners. Fabrice Mazliah and Dana Casperson circle and chase each other around the stage, elusive presences whose connections are fluid but not synchronous. He gazes at her through the frame of his arms, as if trying capture her image through a window. As she soars and flows in supported lifts, she spirals into a different plane from him, spinning out of reach even as they move together. If this is togetherness, it’s an acute portrayal of the spaces that togetherness brings – and all the more moving for it. The set, too, indicates fragments and missing pieces: ranks of hanging placards descend from and rise to the roof, each displaying a single word. It could be the random associations of fridge-magnet poetry; I thought it was lines of poetry read backwards, with words missing – perhaps even those very connecting words of, any, if, and.
If classical pas de deux induce romantic yearning for a vision of plenitude and harmony, here that yearning is evoked by fragments, enigmas and dissonances; which is how love is
And there is one further enigma: throughout, as Thom Willems’ score marks time with soft, tolling chimes, two shadowy figures sit at lecturns towards the back of the stage, whispering so that we hear their voices but not their words. They could be alter egos, or witnesses, or angels passing judgement. If classical pas de deux often induce a romantic yearning for an idealised vision of plenitude and harmony, here that yearning is evoked by fragments, enigmas and dissonances; which is how love is.
One Flat Thing, reproduced (2000) is another contrast, its drama not rising from emotive subtext but forged by sheer physical brio. The bare stage is set with a tight grid of twenty metal tables over, under, between and through which the whole company of dancers slips, rushes, dives and slides, often at breathtaking speed. Imagine a kind of geometrical pattern of ice floes; then think of the dancers as waves breaking through or gushing between them, spiking limbs jetting out like spray. There’s an almost tidal sense of splash and tug to the ensemble composition, given extra dynamic edge by the split-second timing required to execute its complexity and speed among the metal tables. The composition is also expert at using layers, levels and perspective. It’s breathtaking, entertaining and rather brilliant.