Flash Review, 10-16: Split decision
Deconstructed by Forsythe's "Decreation"
|Dana Caspersen and members of the Forsythe Company in William Forsythe's "Decreation." Photo courtesy Brooklyn Academy of Music.
By Maura Nguyen Donohue
Copyright 2009 Maura Nguyen Donohue
NEW YORK -- William Forsythe is an artist of our times, and in "Decreation"
he reflects the multiplicity of our modern conversations -- the mediated,
triangulated, frustrated efforts to commune with other like-minded
souls in the multitasking mayhem that has become our daily lives. There were many moments as the piece unfolded that I resented the expansiveness of the Howard Gilman Opera House at the Brooklyn
Academy of Music, where the Forsythe Company performed "Decreation" on October 8, wanting to have a more intimate experience with a work that held various centers of focus. Though only a few rows back in the orchestra, I still felt too much separation from the subtle
shifts and ripples of the dancers as set against the onslaught of
"Decreation" is a hard pill to swallow. Without the
mythological grandeur of "Eidos:Telos," the thrilling, shadowy chaos
of "Enemy in the Figure," the breakneck heartbreak of "Quintett," or
the stunning convergence of violence, narrative, visual perspective
and political statement in "Three Atmospheric Studies," it stands
apart from my collected experiences of seeing Forsythe live. It left
me thwarted. I'm used to experiencing awe and feeling challenged
after seeing his work. When I came across it in the
repertory of other companies, I used to think he was a maniacal
misogynist worse than Balanchine, forcing the female ballerina into
even further into dehumanizing territory. But after
10 years of witnessing seminal works performed by his masterful troupe (be it
under the name Frankfurt or Forsythe), I am not used to feeling so
conflicted, so simultaneously enlivened and disappointed. Forsythe
continues to remain at the helm of a shared voyage to explode out-dated notions about where the
boundaries of dance lie. He refuses to remain inside
easily definable and recognizable categories and would not satisfy my nostalgic desires for his previous works. I was fully ambivalent about "Decreation" immediately after I saw it; now, after some time to reflect, I find my ambivalence might prove his success. I was aggravated, sad, aroused, sympathetic,
inspired, and generally ill at ease. But even in the midst of my
strongest "is this really, really good or just plain bad?" moments, I
was never bored nor was I ever correct about what was coming next.
While the house lights remained up, the artists entered from the
upstage right corner and crossed the stage to assume various starting
positions around a stage full of askew chairs and microphones. Dana
Caspersen, longtime Frankfurt Ballet dancer and Forsythe's wife, began
a quickly shifting, tweaked-out, verbal outburst about hypocrisy and
compulsive sluts. Richard Siegel, another former Frankfurter,
crumpled at each joint, collapsing like a stubborn marionette as he
began to speak as well. We were assaulted with quick sonic bursts of
high volume, followed by grey tones as a discordant dinner party
ensued at an upstage table. I began to think that, aside from
Caspersen, there were too many mute females amidst several complaining
men addressing one another via the strategically distanced
microphones. I mentally backed away from Anne Carson's text and read the
argument in the bodies as different women wandered through the stage
in the twisting and unsettled manner of many a Butoh dancer.
The articulation of the body became increasingly more compelling as the
text washed over me like acid rain and I pondered the degeneration of
a central nervous system. The bodies decayed as the performers
engaged in the endless bouts that are love's quarrels. I could feel
myself soaking in the icky round-after-round rehash sensation of an
all-night argument. The phrases "I hate this" and "This is very
irritating" were delivered by the cast and spoke both to content and
form, moving forward in a rematch and matching an indignation growing in the
audience. Then the commentary drew laughter from the audience and we
became part of an endless feedback loop of repetition, accumulation
"Decreation" challenges even the most intrepid viewer with rapid
shifts between seeming brilliance and elementary experimentalism. As
one woman stated to her friend on the steps of the theater, "It was
like a Happening! And I didn't even like Happenings when they were
happening." Knowing that all of the choreographic project students from Hunter College, where I teach,
would be seeing this work, I kept considering how off-putting this particular piece could be to anyone
unfamiliar with Forsythe's history and expansion. Or with a history of the
avant-garde; Futurists, Dadaists, the Living Theater and many of
their counterparts had long ago established methods of harassing audience
members with discordant, piercingly-loud sounds and violent, absurd images.
So, this wasn't necessarily new, but what once upon a
time could be seen as a rebellion against form now showed itself to be
a rigorously designed system that had been intricately calculated and
considered. In other words, painstaking effort and
incredible amounts of training and technical expertise were needed to effect
haphazardness. I decreed "Decreation" a carefully
crafted illusion of disaster and chaos.
|Richard Siegal and members of the Forsythe Company in William Forsythe's "Decreation." Photo courtesy Brooklyn Academy of Music.
But, just in case I'd been drinking the Kool-aid for too long, I
decided to eavesdrop on the HC choreographic projects class, a week later, as they shared their
responses with one another. Round by round, here are are some of their comments:
"I've never been to a performance before where I've felt so many
emotions at one time." Ding!
"I was annoyed with the repetition and cacophony; but I
liked that it was so crazy and I couldn't focus anywhere." Ding!
"I felt all different emotions and it was consistently hard to focus;
but I didn't want to blink in case I missed something." Ding!
"I cried four times. It was one of the most honest, harrowing,
inspirational things I've ever witnessed. I couldn't show a normal
response and applaud at the end because I didn't have a normal
"I was very frustrated throughout and yet entirely into it. Time
moved so quickly." Ding!
"It was the most brilliant theatrical production I've seen. It was
like a life created on stage. This thing happens to all of us but
he's such an amazing traffic cop -- the chairs, the camera, everyone
moving everywhere. He made an hour feel like five minutes." Ding!
And the winner is... William Forsythe, by split decision.