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Flash Reflections, 11-9: Forti-tude
The Importance of Being Simone Forti

By Asimina Chremos
Copyright 2001 Asimina Chremos

Paul Ben-Itzak: Simone Forti is in New York for three nights starting Thursday. We are having the show reviewed, by Chris, but I would also like to get something up this week to goose people to the show. I know you're quite familiar with her work. Would you be interested in writing a primer Flash? Something along the lines of, why Simone Forti matters to young choreographers/dancers, such as yourself?

Asimina Chremos: Why does Simone Forti matter to me? Simone Forti has had a huge, positive, even liberating impact on my approach to dance as an activity and an experience. In the late '80s, I had recently left a ballet company, had entered a college dance department, and was beginning to explore the world of Modern Dance. I took a two-week summer improvisation workshop at the Naropa Instititute with Simone, Barbara Dilley, and Nancy Stark Smith.

For Simone's class, the students split into groups and did explorations of outdoor spaces, and then showed little site-specific compositions. I remember sitting in a stream with the water up to my waist, wearing a brown cotton leotard that changed color when wet. I performed a repetitive action of waving my right cupped hand under the surface and scooping it up to throw an arc that started near my right hip, arched high over my head, and splashing down somewhere several feet to my left. I don't quite remember what my classmates were doing in this dance, but the sheer sensual pleasure of performing this action remains strong in my memory, along with the deep green light coming through the tree leaves, the rich browns of the stream banks, and the sun-glistening gleams.

Several years later, I was wheeling around a large and crowded room at the American Dance Festival in Durham, moving through space like an awkward, flightless bird, dodging others of my kind, who soared and flopped, folded and unfolded through the space. Simone was teaching and she had talked about the structure of the arm, and likened it to a wing.

I went to New York to see my friend Eric Schoefer perform with Simone and several others, in a beautiful arboreal yard; perhaps it was Wave Hill. Was it Simone who poked her torso out of the leafy plane made by a low-hanging tree branch, smoothing her palms along the leaves like a 17th century lady at European court would smooth her broad skirt?

Just last year I was at a technical rehearsal of the White Oak Dance Project in Chicago, and Simone was doing a run of one of her dancing and talking improvisations with an object. The object she chose was a huge puffy blanket that was white on one side and black on the other. Appearing on the stage at ease in her comfortable pants and t-shirt, somehow she became a most graceful jellyfish, her movements and her use of the blanket creating the illusion she was underwater. Rolling along the floor, she flowed, expanded and contracted with utmost elasticity, flow, and beauty.

Simone is now over 60 years old. Whenever I begin to stress over being a has-been old lady dancer at 35, I think of Simone and my neurosis disappears. Simone embodies humor, curiosity, and wit as a dance artist. Her respect for the human body and the environment set an example of openness, acceptance, and possibility. Through her teaching and performing she offers students and audiences awareness of changing systems, gentleness, and joy.

This is not to say Simone is all butterflies and sunshine. Especially in her moving and talking work, she sometimes tackles situations of immense darkness. There is a practice I've seen her perform that uses newspapers and she moves and talks through news stories and current events.


(Editor's Note: Catch Simone Forti tonight and tomorrow at Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church in NYC, where she performs "Illuminations," a collaboration with composer Charlemagne Palestine. For more information, please visit the Danspace Project web site.)

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