Magazine article The Spectator

Subversive Approach

Magazine article The Spectator

Subversive Approach

Article excerpt

Ballett Frankfurt (Sadler's Wells)

Throughout the 20th century, great and idolised masters such as Michael Fokine, George Balanchine, Anthony Tudor, Frederick Ashton, John Cranko and Kenneth MacMillan have secured ballet's artistic and cultural credibility by taking full advantage of the malleability of its technical vocabulary and syntax.

William Forsythe has gone a step further. Some colleagues might frown at my listing his name alongside those of the much-revered gods of 20th-century choreography. For many, indeed, Forsythe is the man who subverted the well-established and traditionally untouchable principles of classical dance, originally codified during the 17th century. Yet it is through subversion that he has managed to inject muchneeded new blood into a stale theatrical idiom. Unlike the other 'holy' masters who bent existing ballet canons to their requirements but never undertook a radical rereading of classical dance, Forsythe has approached the old vocabulary from an intentionally unconventional perspective. Such an allegedly subversive approach has enabled him to rethink the old rules regardless of those conventions which have ruled for more than three centuries and which his illustrious predecessors had seldom dared to question.

What Forsythe has created, therefore, is not merely another choreographic style that feeds on an existing formal technique but a new kind of technique which, in turn, feeds into his own choreographic style. He has created a sort of `anti-ballet' - but the word 'anti' should not be taken as derogatory. On the contrary, Forsythe `anti-ballet' is to contemporary classical dancing what the `anti-masque' was to the masque, in the early days of British court entertainment: an independent theatre form which could exist and be appreciated only alongside its counterpart, with which it shared some characteristic components.

Evidence that Forsythe has not rejected the fundamentals of ballet technique is found in his use of geometry as well as in the rather overt references to traditional ballet imagery that underscore his works. For instance, in Enemy in the Figure, presented as part of a triple bill by Forsythe's company, the Ballett Frankfurt, balletic solutions, and even what appeared to be balletic quotations from the classical repertoire, contrasted on several occasions with the angularity and the apparent jerkiness of the fast-moving action. …

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