Magazine article Pointe

Forsythe & Company

Magazine article Pointe

Forsythe & Company

Article excerpt

Ballett Frankfurt dancers on what makes the company tick

"I think choreographers should be there to serve great dancers." says William Forsythe, artistic director of Ballett Frankfurt. Most ballet dancers are likely to be familiar with the opposite idea, but Forsythe's way of thinking is part of what makes dancing at Ballett Frankfurt a uniquely stimulating experience.

These days not every member of this German company has a ballet background, but ballet is a connecting thread. Forsythe, a kid from Long Island, NY, now has free rein of a major German opera house with dancers from all over the world, including many from the U.S. Take Alan Barnes, for example. A 13-year BF veteran, he is the rare ballet dancer who started out in modern but then found that ballet was what he wanted to do all the time. Or Jodie Gates, who came from the Joffrey and Pennsylvania ballets and has been with BF for nearly two years. Natalie Thomas, a recent arrival, studied ballet in the U.S. but danced elsewhere in Europe before finding a place with BF only last year while Demand Hart has returned to the coMany after dancing with Nacho Duato's Compahia National de Danza in Madrid, Spain. During BF's recent performances as part of Brooklyn Academy of Music's Next Wave Festival, Forsythe and these four artists took the time to speak with Pointe about the ideas that motivate this highly unconventional company.

While Forsythe looks for dancers who are "intellectually curious, the dancers relish a working atmosphere that is physically and mentally demanding. His work is completely one-on-one Gates says. "He's got all of these fabulous artists. He want's to see what can we bring and then he takes from the palette. We all have the opportunity to bring ourselves along with him."

Thomas agrees: "The company has this amazing environment of really wanting you to experiment and to expel yourself from your shell. I don't think it's changing you, I think it's kind of finding you."

For the dancers, the result is twofold: They fulfill a commitment to their colleagues--and Forsythe is considered a colleague--while staying connected to personal inspiration. "You have a lot of responsibility, as a person, as an artist, every time you go out onstage," says Hart. "It's not just the question of meeting the technical requirements of a particular performance--or even that technique is the focus of your aspiration."

Where technique fits is a key point for Forsythe: "You need people willing to understand that technique is a very dynamic source and not an end. Not that they just arrive there, but that it is just the beginning." In other words, the point of technique is not being able to do eight pirouettes but gaining the physical knowledge of what makes them possible. For Forsythe, ballet offers access to "little tiny bits of information: fingers, angles and especially epaulement. That's an added layers of coordination, " he continues. "If you don't have epaulement mastered, you won't understand how the head functions in relation to the arms when you move into more contemporary material."

And understanding physical relationships--in whatever style--is an ongoing discovery. "If someone wants to dance here," says Barnes, "they have to be open to all types of dance, all types of ideas."

In Europe, new works are called "creations," and at BF, making a new work is a collaborative experience, although there is no single way that the process is accomplished. The 1989 Enemy in the Figure was developed through improvisation. But for Quintett (1993), the dancers learned from a tape of Forsythe dance the solos; the duet material was then worked out by the cast using a system of movement analysis developed over time at BF. The one constant in the creative process is that Forsythe determines the final content. When called for the dancers get collaboration credit in the program.

At BF, there's a sense that dancers are not just performers, but that they also bring more to the table than the facility of their bodies. …

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