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BALLETT FRANKFURT - William Forsythe, choreographer - at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, NY, Sep 30 - Oct 5, 2003

by Rajika Puri
October 5, 2003
Brooklyn, NY

BALLETT FRANKFURT - William Forsythe, choreographer -
at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, NY, Sep 30 - Oct 5, 2003

by Rajika Puri
October 5, 2003

Walking into the Howard Gilman Opera House on Thursday October 2, one sensed that this was a specialized audience - one which knew what they were about to see, and would not have missed it for the world. The only other time I have felt this kind of excitement in the air, and in the same theatre for that matter, was a night that Mikhail Baryshnikov presented his program 'Fast Forward', a homage to the pioneer artists of the Judson Church group of the sixties. Word had gone round that on that Thursday night original members of the group - Trisha Brown, Lucinda Childs, Yvonne Rainer, David Gordon, Deborah Hay and Simone Forti - would themselves perform.

Ballett Frankfurt had opened two nights ago, so this was not opening night either, but the buzz came from the numbers of dancers, choreographers, and cognoscenti of the performing arts world, who had turned out in force. Seated behind me was Baryshnikov, too. I was told he was there for a second time.

There were at least two reasons for the momentousness of the occasion. One: this was the first time Ballett Frankfurt was perfoming in New York after the announcement early in 2002 that the city of Frankfurt had decided to disband the company. Thus this run was known to be its last performances in New York. Two: the American born choreographer of this company, William Forsythe, is a man credited with having changed the face of classical dance.

Watching Forsythe's work is like watching the creative process. The four pieces which he brought to BAM, "The Room As It Was", "Duo", "(N.N.N.N.)", and "One Flat Thing, reproduced" are particularly fascinating because they carry an air of not being presented as 'theatrical pieces'. There are no obvious sets, the costumes (except in the case of Duo) seem like workout clothes, one can barely hear the music of Thom Willems (Forsythe's long time collaborator) and the subtle lighting suggests the neon lights of a studio, rather than those of a theater. (Sets, costumes, and lights, are designed by Forsythe himself.)

Dances - and dancers - unfold. They wrap themselves round a thought, make it visible through a movement that flows from one body part to another, or from one body to another, making a whole that gives the impression of being impromptu, just thought of at that moment. At the end, of course, one is aware that the whole has been carefully crafted, but the most compelling pieces have a quality of improvisation because the timing of the movements and the energy they propel are taken off each other. These dancers truly work as a team.

The first piece, 'The Room As It Was', would perhaps be the most difficult for a newcomer to Forsythe's work to get into. Eight performers walk on separately, or as a couple, start interacting with a movement idea or with a colleague, and then walk off, or recede upstage. The coherence may not be evident, but the inventiveness is fascinating.

'Duo,' on the other hand, shifts from counterpoint to unison. Synchronized by the audible breaths of two dancers (Allison Brown and Jill Johnson) they shift from awkward rag-doll like poses, performed as if to see what 'that' would feel like, to classically symmetric stances and moves. Surprisingly, it is the loose-jointed, non classical, poses which convey most of the strange beauty.

The two 'pieces de resistance' are undoubtedly '(N.N.N.N.)' and 'One Flat Thing, reproduced'. The first is a wonderful quartet for four men (Cyril Baldy, Amancio Gonzalez, Georg Reischl, Ander Zabala) in which they pass gestures - a hand, an elbow, a knee or even a full body - from one to another. Every now and then all four of them land up with a hand placed on another's back, a formation which to Forsythe looked like the letter 'N' - hence the name of the piece.

I overheard someone say that it was the most wonderful dance for men she had seen. "The way it captured men - boys - and how they comport themselves, play, it should have been called 'Testosterone'"! No question it was a delightful complement to the earlier Duo, which had to do with 'female-ness'.

'One Flat Thing, reproduced' also brought the house down. Accompanied, in this case, by pounding rhythms, and performed between, on top of, under and around 20 cafeteria type tables, this was some finale. Each performer did something so fascinating that one wished to follow only him or her at any one time - except that there was too much else going on at the same time.

As with all the pieces in the program, what the dancers do seems more like 'movement' in the larger sense, than 'dance'. They explore the body and the things we do everyday. Of course, these are NOT everyday bodies. A Forsythe dancers who has really 'got' what this seminal choreographer intends, is able to move his or her ballet trained body in an organic way, head following the spine, weight following a passing gesture, and energy passed fluidly from one side of the body to the other, from up to down - or down to up. A treat to watch.

We can only hope that Frankfurt's loss will be someone else's gain. William Forsythe, and the work he does with dancers, is far too precious to disappear. Much as we would like to see him based in his home country, the likelihood is that he will stay not only in Germany, but in the very state that the city of Frankfurt belongs to: Hesse. And this time he will not allow himself to be susceptible to the vagaries of politicians who would actually give up a world famous ground-breaking company to go back to tutus and a nineteenth century repertoire.

As one of the twelve thousand who sent letters to the mayor of Frankfurt when I heard of this in Hamburg last May, I know that his fan club will only grow, and wish him continuing success.


Ander Zabala, Cyril Baldy, Georg Reischl, Amancio Gonzalez in '(N.N.N.N.)'
Photo courtesy of Jack Vartoogian and BAM



Ballett Frankfurt in 'One Flat Thing, reproduced'
Photo courtesy of Jack Vartoogian and BAM

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