Choreographer and Director: William Forsythe
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
There are few creatives who can genuinely say they have fundamentally changed their art form, and even fewer who have done it in their lifetime. Choreographer and director William Forsythe radically reconfigured what ballet could look like, drawing on simpler classical styles to create something modern, fluid and expressive. Semperoper Ballett bring their celebration of Forsythe’s work to London for the first time, and in 30-years it hasn’t aged.
A little over two hours, All Forsythecombines three of the choreographer’s best-known works that combine his trademark rapid movements that emphasise the strength of the dancer, with layered scenes filling the stage with pockets of activity. The evening opens with In the Middle Somewhat Elevated first performed in 1987 in Paris, designed for nine dancers to a soundscape of metallic scraping, crashes and music by Thom Williams and Lesley Stuck.
There is a relentlessness to this 25-minute piece as combinations of dancers create a series of elongated, twisted movements, lifting directly from recognisable ballet shapes but extending the lines and bending the body further to heighten the effect. There is no time for posing and posturing as the follow through leads directly into the next shape, but Forsythe’s adds drama to the choreography, superbly performed by the Semperoper company, by staggering the pieces given to each individual – like a song sung in the round, each piece is out of sync but creates an overall harmonious effect.
Neue Suite is a more parred back affair, using the music of Handel, Berio and Bach to underscore eight mini-partnerships to explore relationships and unity. Tonally softer than the opening piece both musically and in colour palette, you can see Forsythe’s new technique slowly dominating the way in which the couples are presented. The opening pas de deux to Handel’s Concerti Grossi Op.6 represents the more emotional narrative and forms of classical ballet, but as a new pairing takes to the stage every few minutes, the approach becomes more playful, with faster movements and greater flexibility, like beautifully poised rag dolls exploring their shape.
The show concludes with the more radical Enemy in the Figure from 1989 which Forsythe continues to tinker with. Everything in this final piece feels more contemporary, focusing on the creation of tone while experimenting with the effects of light and shadow. It’s complex, if haphazard effect is interesting, at times seeming like an elaborate caper, almost a frenzy of inmates running amok, each moving to their own beat, while later with all eleven dancers together, Thom Williams’s music has a primal feel, bringing out a tribal quality in the performance.
There’s less to cling onto here for the uninitiated, and feels like an exploration of effect, to be experienced on its own terms rather than seen as a coherent comment or narrative. With a monochrome design, Forsythe utilises differently levels of light, with activities happening on the barely visible edges of the stage, as well as creating an effect from the dancer’s own shadows. Likewise, the use of different costume materials adds to the orchestrated chaos, mixing bare legs with shiny loose fabrics and plenty of fringed trousers that imply Mr Tumnus in repose, but emphasise the speed and vitality of the performers in flight.
One of the hallmarks of Forsythe’s work is the relative gender equality in his choreography, where male and female dancers are often given the same movements, rather than the pose and hold model of more formal ballet, and Semperoper Ballett are a spectacular company displaying seemingly endless stamina and control that emphasises the effect that Forsythe has had on the artform. Much of this work retains its hypnotic quality while marvelling at the speed and contortion of the dancers. Hard to believe its 30-years old when All Forsythe feels so modern.
Reviewed on 23 June 2018 | Image: contributed