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Flash Review 1, 10-10: Aufwiedersehen
At BAM, a Forsythe Testament

By Gus Solomons jr
Copyright 2003 Gus Solomons jr

NEW YORK -- Making its last appearance in its present form, under the direction of William Forsythe, Ballett Frankfurt opened this year's Next Wave Festival (September 30 through October 5) at the Brooklyn Academy of Music to wild ovations by audiences crazed with enthusiasm. Forsythe is world famous for his brainy choreography, conceived with intellectual rigor, realized with physically original movement, and danced with pathological commitment by his extraordinary company. Though Frankfurt's provincial politics may have ended his current gig, his brilliant choreographic talent should have little trouble finding a new one.

Forsythe presented four U.S. premieres at BAM, cannily programmed to build maximum impact. The first three ballets were restricted to only half the depth of the stage with casts of eight, two, and four dancers, respectively. Only the final ballet, the big finale, used the whole stage, fourteen dancers, props, and continuous sound. Forsythe, who also designs lighting and costumes for many of his dances, designed this evening to display the dancing: first unadorned, then in full theatrical array.

The four women and four men in "The Room As It Was" dance singly or in twos and threes, finding unlikely physical connections, touching in odd ways. Intricate encounters flash by fleetingly, so detailed they're hard to describe, but their fluency constantly surprises. Each moment suggests a new scenario in your imagination. When finally the black backdrop rises to reveal a taste of the upstage area with a couple there gently willowing their arms, the dance is over.

Physical invention is never in short supply. Dancers move vehemently and almost constantly, their vocalized breathing the most audible accompaniment. Visual cueing enforces unflagging alertness among the dancers. Thom Willems's subtle sound is frequently inaudible. Legs fly with equally facile articulation as arms; arms slice the air as forcefully as legs; and torsos are wracked and twisted by the whipping limbs. The extraordinary dancers are capable of transposing the same move from lying prone to jumping in the air. And they do it all with such nonchalance you don't realize how technically difficult it actually is.

In "Duo" Allison Brown and Jill Johnson move mostly in unison, side by side, falling momentarily out of sync into individual variations. Willems's sparse live piano music wafts softly from backstage, and electronic instrumental music occasionally issues from the house speakers. Working only at the front of the stage, the women in sheer leotards, black briefs, and gray socks are lit only by harsh fluorescent work lights.

"N.N.N.N." is named for a shape the four men (Cyril Baldy, Amancio Gonzalez, Georg Reischl, and Ander Zabala) in the piece make, when they line up each with a hand on the head of the next guy. Nothing deep about that; but the dance itself is a treatise on organization; it takes simple manual gestures: hands picking up and dropping arms or grabbing shoulders, for example, gradually elaborates their speed and complexity to frenzy, then makes a quick exit. The intricate macrame of knotted arms and bodies seems impossible to repeat, yet motifs are repeated, altered, and recombined into a giant jigsaw puzzle.

If "N.N.N.N." is an essay in organization, the final ballet, "One Flat Thing, reproduced," is the doctoral dissertation. After roughly dragging twenty metal tables into a precisely spaced grid, the dancers proceed to climb over and under them and glide along the aisles between doing acrobatic phrases that repeat and recombine endlessly, increasing in intensity. Out of the chaos of activity, suddenly order emerges: everyone simultaneously extends a right leg diagonally upward, or several couples are suddenly doing identical moves but in different locations. Both the dancing and Willems's music build to a nearly unbearable crescendo before the tables are again dragged to the rear and the lights go out.

One of dance's brightest and most challenging minds, Forsythe may be out of a job in Frankfurt -- Frankfurt's loss -- but surely won't be unemployed for long -- our gain. And we can't wait to see more of his brain-teasing, kinetically aggressive dances.

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