featured photo

The Kitchen
Brought to you by
Body Wrappers; New York Flash Review Sponsor
the New York manufacturer of fine dance apparel for women and girls. Click here to see a sample of our products and a list of web sites for purchasing.
With Body Wrappers it's always
performance at its best.

Go back to Flash Reviews
Go Home

Flash Review 1, 12-21: In the Extremes, Somewhat Punishing
A Gambol with Forsythe, from the Pure to the Extreme, the Simple to the Boring

By Chris Dohse
Copyright 2001 Chris Dohse

NEW YORK -- William Forsythe, American emigre, is considered by many to define contemporary ballet. His work falls into two categories: pieces made for various world-class ballet companies that stay within the realm of the historic ballet concordance, and more experimental, challenging environments made for Ballett Frankfurt. His Brooklyn Academy of Music program this week provided an opportunity for New Yorkers to see two examples of the latter style that Forsythe made during the 10-year period when he didn't tour here (1988-1998), plus one new work.

In "Woolf Phrase," which premiered in March 2001, two figures stand at microphones, taking turns speaking. They drag the mic stands across the floor, burst into stream-of-consciousness dancing while various startling lighting effects (designed by Forsythe) take place. Without revealing the specific narrative of its source material ("Mrs. Dalloway"), the text parcels Virginia Woolf's prose. In the same indirect way, the dancers' phrases containing balletic line without precise quotation. Thom Willems's score, an ethereal susurration, recurs between dialogue.

She (Prue Lang) dances languidly, quiescently, while he (Richard Siegal) is matter of fact, canine. As the performers become increasingly percussive, loud and urgent, language drivels into non sequitur and the yawning mouth of the proscenium arch swallows the figures.

The 1989 "Enemy in the Figure" begins with the stark lighting (Forsythe) and harsh sound (Willems) of a horror movie. The floodlight in whose glare two dancers lounge becomes a twelfth character in the piece as it is manipulated around the wooden, curvilinear wall in the center of the stage, transfixing and obscuring the dance. The fractured material is willfully perverse, all fragments and isolations. Many times, figures lurk in the shadows, emerging only partially from hiding places to flick and coil a large rope lying on the stage floor.

I remember 1989 pretty well, and I don't understand what the dance is referencing. Is the audience being punished for something? Flailing alternates with what looks like jazzercise. It's all extreme: narcissistic mannequins or uber-marionettes in black costumes that deconstruct Balanchine's leotard formalism. This frenetic ballet lexicon on speed, guilty of spawning a generation of Karole Armitage and Michael Clark wannabes, becomes a bit boring, actually, as the 11 dancers literally throw themselves against the wall.

A small section of the stage floor is left open for "Quintett" (from 1993). Set to Gavin Bryars's haunting score, the piece pares Forsythe's vocabulary to its simplest forms. Five super-real bodies in a cool gray space dance between a lamp and reflector aimed at each other. The pit becomes an open grave into which the dancers retreat again and again between solo passages and partnerings.

After the barrage of "Enemy," the choreography's purity here is a relief, somehow surreally visible. We see its remarkable language of public and private agonies, its liquid port de bras in discourse with the tensile extension of ballet history. Forsythe resists ballet's rigidity, morphs its contours. The lamp's projection briefly becomes a video image of fluffy clouds (eternity?), as again and again a voice slurs, "Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet." One body dances alone in the lamp's beam (transience?), while one by one her comrades disappear beneath the floor and the curtain descends.

(Editor's Note: To read more about the work of William Forsythe, enter "Forsythe" in the search engine window on our Home page. To read more reviews by Chris Dohse, enter "Dohse." )

Go back to Flash Reviews
Go Home