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New Forsythe?


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#1 Alexandra

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Posted 28 October 2003 - 12:01 PM

I thought I'd post this as a topic, to try to lure people out. Nysusan had posted about it, but wanted to write more after she'd seen it again (hope I'm not misrepresenting you!) Anna Kisselgoff's reviews the piece in the Times this morning. We had a piece by Gia Kourlas on the DanceView Times (it's there now on the front page -- www.danceviewtimes.com And the NY Times link is on today's Links. And I hope everyone realizes that when I post links to reviews it's not to say "this is what it is" but to give those who may not have seen the ballet or program under discussion something to read about it, as well as to help provoke discussion.)

So, what did you think?

#2 Alexandra

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Posted 28 October 2003 - 10:12 PM

Hey, come on! 60 people have read this post, as I type this -- none of you saw this program? What did you think?

#3 zerbinetta

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Posted 29 October 2003 - 05:50 PM

Jeesh! Orders from Headquarters, eh?

Not seeing this until next week. Herein lies the problem. ABT normally does a 2-week season at City Center; this year it was expanded to 3 weeks but with 2 weeks worth of repertory, so unless one wishes to see more than one evening of New Works (or the dreaded "W" program) one tends to stick with the oldies but goodies.

#4 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 05 November 2003 - 06:21 AM

Saw it last night (and saw many Ballet Alertniks there)

The work is more in the vein of the work he did in Paris, Pas./parts than of older work like Enemy in the Figure or newer work like Woolf Loops (was that the name of the Woolf piece from '01?). It's dark rather than light, but abstract and experimental more than hostile. It has a certain purity to it.

My own feeling is the work is overlong, and as a work itself, less interesting than some of his other works (In the Middle or China Dogs) but also less violent.

As usual with Forsythe, I leave his works less pondering the ballet itself but its relation to the canon. I wonder what Forsythe will mean, if anything, to ballet. I also wonder if this is truly what this generation's classicism looks like. If so, it's interesting how episodic we are. Maybe it's because of TV, but it seems we've given up on the idea of beginnings, middles and ends in ballets. The sections of the Forsythe, like most of his work, could be interchanged with no change in the ballet and no one seems to find this out of the ordinary.

I also wonder if his ballets will change the performance of other ballets (remember the comments about how MacMillan's ballets changed how Ashton was danced?). I worry about that, but I also have to say that worry is not borne out by experience. The companies I've seen that acquired one or two Forsythe ballets have danced their other repertory better rather than worse. It's emotionally cleansing for the dancers, it seems, and importantly, the Forsythe isn't cut off from the vernacular culture in a way that, sadly, other parts of ballet have been in the way that a peninsula becomes an island over time simply by the force of the tides.

I think it's important that ABT acquired a Forsythe work, and I think the dancers will respond to it well. I'm interested to see what Forsythe means to ballet over the next two decades.

#5 Alexandra

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Posted 05 November 2003 - 09:19 AM

Just curious, but what is it about Forsythe that brings the word "classicism" to mind? His works use ballet steps -- and distorted ballet steps, and other steps -- but the corollary to my oft-stated theory that if your native language is classical ballet, then you can incorporate anything in the world in your ballets and it will still be classical ballet, if your native language is Not Classical Ballet, then you can use the whole lexicon, in alphabetical order, and it will always be something else.

(This isn't to say that a company should or shouldn't dance the works; I have no objection to ballet companies doing Forsythe, nor to watching it.)

We've had two Forsythes in DC this season -- In the Middle and Steptext, both very similar in that they give a backstage view of ballet -- and I was also struck by their episodic nature. I wonder if this is a comment on the current stage of ballet, or a more sophisicated approach to what, in lesser hands, looks like MTV-mindset (can't construct anything longer than four minutes). It could be taken as a witty comment, too -- since so many performances these days are rehearsals, why not just put a rehearsal on stage and be done with it!

#6 nysusan

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Posted 10 November 2003 - 12:21 PM

Time to reflect on the Forsythe work. I liked this piece the first time I saw it, and kept liking it more with subsequent viewings. I liked Forsytheís sense of musicality, the edgy way the movement burst forth from the music. Sometimes the dancers seemed like electrons circling a nucleus, sometimes like meteors whirling thru space, sometimes like the energizer bunny when itís battery has run down. The feeling I got from this piece was dynamic, kinetic. It was so vibrant and filled with bursts of energy. It brought me back to physics class and made me think of potential energy in a ballerinaís slowly unfolding developee that suddenly springs out to itís final position, and of kinetic energy in Stiefelís manic solos.

It was filled with abrupt beginnings & endings, and constant changes in speed & direction. Sometimes the dancers movements seemed to be aimless & random, sometimes they developed into patterns, sometimes they wound down and sometimes they ended abruptly. These abrupt stops and starts, the redirections and emergence of patterns (or not) and the dead ends gave the piece a very metaphysical feel to me, like form emerging from chaos.

I thought the ABT dancers all took to the choreography wonderfully (though Iím not familiar with Forsythe, so I donít know if it looks different on his own company). I especially liked Stiefel & Herrera. Herrera seemed more free and relaxed than she ever looks to me in the classical repertory. Itís like she was able to really come into her own once the weight of having to be a ďclassical ballerinaĒ was lifted from her shoulders.

At the very least, this piece captured my attention, drew me into it and made me think about it. A very welcome addition to the repertory.

#7 Big Lee

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Posted 10 November 2003 - 09:35 PM

I saw the Forsythe last night for the first time, and I kind of wish I could see it three or four more times. I found it to be a very difficult and complex piece that was at times texturally so dense that I didn't know where to look. One thing I did notice was that there seemed to be a core of three dancers who were on stage for almost the entire work and were for me a kind of anchor to keep my attention on. I think nysusan's science metaphor was rather apt - there was a kind of chaos becoming form thing going on.

I definitely enjoyed the work and was fascinated by it, though it is difficult to describe or even express my feelings about it. I think for me it would requires more than one viewing for me to start to grasp.

I don't know much about Forsythe's history, and I wanted to ask Alexandra what she meant about Forsythe and his native "dance" language. Is he more considered a "modern" choreographer who wandered into the land of ballet?

#8 Alexandra

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Posted 10 November 2003 - 10:09 PM

Lee, I think some would say that Forsythe is a ballet-trained choreographer who wandered into the land of modern dance, and others would say he's got a modern dance viewpoint/sensibilities who moved into ballet, and still others would say, well, he's eclectic. Leigh studied quite a few of Forsythe's works and wrote about an article assessing him for Ballet Review a few years ago; I hope he'll see this and respond.

#9 zerbinetta

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Posted 11 November 2003 - 12:22 AM

Ah well, I did promise to post about the Forsythe, so ..

I just wish I liked Forsythe as much as I appreciate his craft & technique, but don't see any humanity in those works I've seen so far. They are too much about alienation & disaffectation. His works are not at all pretentious or untruthful but seem to be all about bodies, kinetics & competition; souls do not enter the equation.

One can look at Agon & see those strengths which Forsythe possesses but Oh what a difference!

#10 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 11 November 2003 - 04:43 PM

Forsythe is ballet trained - at the Joffrey School in the 70's, to be specific, but that is a more eclectic repertory than NYCB or ABT at that time, and I think that's relevant. But no, I don't think you can call him a modern choreographer who wandered into ballet. He started in ballet and his dancing career was in ballet companies (off the top of my head, but I think possibly Stuttgart?)

Forsythe's relationship to ballet seems to change with every piece he does. This work is from 1998, and I think made right before Pas./parts, both of which to me seem to be pieces which utilize more ballet than some of his other works. This one was made on his own company, Pas./parts on Paris Opera Ballet.

As for what about Forsythe inspires the use of the word "classicism?" Call me a relativist (again!) but I'm a believer that history is written by the victor. If this is what this generation wants to label as their high, classical art, then it will be even if we think it isn't remotely classical. And I think that is very possibly his ambition. I used the word classicism because I think that is how he intends it to be put forward.

#11 Alexandra

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Posted 11 November 2003 - 05:08 PM

This is one bio (from the Netherlands Dance Theater page-

Born in 1949 in New York, William Forsythe was interested early on by modern dance, rock and musical comedy. He subsequently studied ballet on scholarship at the Joffrey Ballet School and the School of American Ballet taking additional classes with Maggie Black, Finis Jung, Jonathan Watts, Meredith Baylis, William Griffith, Leon Danelion, Mme. Periaslavic, Mme. Boskovitch, Nolan Dingman, Pat Wilde and Christa Long. In 1970 , he joined the Joffrey Ballet II and later Joffrey 1, before being engaged in 1973 by John Cranko to join the Stuttgart Ballet. ....

During this time, William Forsythe discovered Pina Bausch, forged links with JiřŪ Kylian, and returned regularly to New York, where he remained in touch with intellectual and marginal movements.

.

During one period, Forsythe's work was very influenced by Bausch, and I think it's significant that "he was interested early on by modern dance, rock and musical comedy." Nothing wrong with that -- but it's not the same history as someone whose introduction to dance was in a ballet class. (And, as Leigh pointed out, the Joffrey at that time also had a very eclectic repertory.)

I feel much as Zerbinetta does about Forsythe's work -- there's definitely a craft and a mind at work, but the emotional range is limited. If the works aren't pretentious, the program notes sure are! And the works I've seen are so episodic that I can't tell how much craft there is, in the sense of structure. I haven't seen a work that develops a theme, or that is more than fragments of athletic movement that hang together.

That said, his dances can be exciting because they are so physical, and you can sense the dancers' excitement to be performing them.

#12 Paul Parish

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Posted 11 November 2003 - 06:56 PM

If I can get around to typing it in, I'll post a review I did of his company ten years ago when I really enjoyed the performance. But for now, I'll mention that it seems really important to me that Forsythe was (in his own words) "the best rock-and-roll dancer in my high school" -- his concerts have the loose look of a crowded dance floor, where people don't pretend to be doig anything but all dancing at he same time -- they're not exactly dancing together, they're doing they thang --

he's really investigated the German material -- Laban's theories of swinging, and the possible ranges of movement, and hte possibilities of moving in several directions at he same time -- which were already implicit in African-American polyrhythmed, multicentered dancing, which those of us who loved to dance rock and roll were doing without knowing there was anything theoretically interesting about it....

It's a huge over-simplification to say that when hte postmoderns wee getting interested in walking and rolling over and other everyday movement (doubtless under hte influence of marijuana, which can make the taste of peanut butter fascinating), the example was set for Forsythe to get interested in what good club dancers were pulling off....

There is FANTASTIC dancing going on in nightclubs....

#13 Big Lee

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Posted 11 November 2003 - 09:44 PM

Thanks for all the info Alexandra, Leigh and Paul. For some odd reason I thought Forsythe was considerably older than he is.

I like the dance club metaphor too - it makes me think differently about the textural density that I perceived in the work. Rather than the idea that all of the different dancers cohere into some sort of unity I had difficulty grasping, perhaps instead there is no real unity, only like stars in the sky we project constellations on.

I really think there is something to Forsythe - I immediately loved the Kylian but the Forsythe has made me think much harder.


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