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Flash Review, 9-30: One Big Company, reproduced
The Forsythe Saga, Book Two

By Josephine Leask
Copyright 2005 Josephine Leask

LONDON -- The Forsythe Company made its UK debut at Sadler's Wells and kicked off this year's Dance Umbrella season with four not so new pieces: "The Room as it Was" (2002), "N.N.N.N." (2002), "Of Any if And" (1995), and "One Flat Thing, reproduced" (2000). Director-choreographer William Forsythe has retained 18 of the original dancers from Ballett Frankfurt, disbanded in 2004, and this 'baby' company looks reassuringly like a miniature version of its parent. Although critics in London were disappointed by the lack of shiny new work to match this fledgling company, when I saw it September 23 I thought the choice of Ballett Frankfurt pieces retained the spirit of the former company while bringing out the best in the new one. (Except for "Of Any if And," Ballet Frankfurt performances of this program have been previously reviewed on the DI by Gus Solomons jr and Laurie Uprichard.) As none of the above works require big sets, expensive costumes or huge stage space the result for the viewer was a far more intimate, intense experience than what one would have lived through with Ballett Frankfurt. I also now understand how Forsythe with this more 'user friendly' size company will be able to venture into more experimental areas of choreographic research.

While the articulation of the body is an amazing thing to watch in "The Room as it Was" and the choreography distorts the dancers in a way that makes them look fascinatingly grotesque, "Of Any if And" and "One Flat Thing, reproduced" were the more sensational pieces of the evening. In the duet "Of Any if And," two actors sit at lecterns and whisper words, while random written words suspended above the stage periodically cascade downwards, coming to rest just above the heads of the two dancers. This relentless barrage of textual signifiers contrasts with the calm fluidity of the dancers, Marthe Krummenacher and Ionnis Mantafounis in the performance I saw. "Of Any if And" is an intense exploration of the relationship between movement and text, an analysis of systems of signs, physical, written and spoken. But what is interesting is that the written text is fragmented and fleeting while the movement is enduring and rooted. Text usually dominates movement in theater but here the physical body and 'chemical' relationship of the two dancers share the stage equally with the presence of the text.

Krummenacher and Mantafounis convey other multiple meanings with their movement as they twist and weave around each other then suddenly break apart, or pause in suspension and the physical language builds and falls away just like the written text. The choreography, while highly articulate and at times fast and furious is nevertheless softer and more conventional than much of Forsythe's demanding and analytical work. Thom Willems's score is haunting and tragic and helps create a feeling of aching sadness as the rain cloud of text continually descends and ascends over the dancers. Sometimes the random words seem to suck the life force out of the physical bodies, and sometimes as spectators we try too hard to match up meanings to the many different signifiers on stage, which leaves us ultimately feeling empty. To try and decipher meaning is often futile.

Finally, "The Room as it Was," with its anarchy and its adrenalin rush typical within Forsythe's work and enhanced by Willems's pulsating score was a great contrast to "Of any if And." The large group of dancers used in this piece rushes at the audience like a pack of wolves with their props, identical tables, and a sea of flat rectangles on legs, and then performs on top, underneath and around them with the ferocity of terrorists completing exercises in a training camp. While the look of this piece is subversive and edgy, the order and precision within the choreography is awesome.

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