Newspaper article International New York Times

William Forsythe's Wonderful Love Letter to Ballet ; 'Blake Works I' in Paris Looks at a Genre's Past and Moves It into the Future

Newspaper article International New York Times

William Forsythe's Wonderful Love Letter to Ballet ; 'Blake Works I' in Paris Looks at a Genre's Past and Moves It into the Future

Article excerpt

"Blake Works I," part of an all-Forsythe program at the Paris Opera Ballet, is set to songs by the English musician James Blake.

Sheer joy. That's the effect of William Forsythe's new "Blake Works I" for the Paris Opera Ballet, which had its premiere at the Palais Garnier here on Monday night. It was a moment as important as the premiere of Mr. Forsythe's "In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated" for the same company, in the same theater, in 1987. What Mr. Forsythe did then was radical: He moved ballet into new, utterly contemporary terrain. Almost 30 years later, he has done something just as startling with "Blake Works I": He has taken a long and loving look at ballet's past, and moved it into the future.

"Blake Works I" is the first ballet that Mr. Forsythe has created since 1999, when he choreographed "Woundwork I" and "Pas/Parts" for the Paris Opera. Benjamin Millepied, the outgoing director of dance, can count it as a major achievement to have brought Mr. Forsythe back to this company.

"Blake Works I" is the final piece on an all-Forsythe program that includes the magisterial "Of Any if And" (1995) and "Approximate Sonata" (1996), both set to music by Thom Willems. This new ballet is done to seven songs by the English musician James Blake, who writes delicate, poetic ballads over electronic keyboard and syncopated percussion. The choice of music, with its allegiance to popular culture and its narrative implications, harkens back to Mr. Forsythe's 1979 "Love Songs," set to songs by Aretha Franklin and Dionne Warwick.

But the mood of "Blake Works I" is entirely different from the mordant humor of "Love Songs": It is light, joyous, hopeful -- a celebration of the youth, spirits, talent and collective knowledge of a new generation of Paris Opera dancers, who have never, in my experience of the company, looked better than they did throughout Monday's performance.

That knowledge is built from years of detailed, specialized training. Even an 18-year-old ballet dancer has been learning his or her craft for thousands of hours, and that is what Mr. Forsythe brings to the fore here. Where "In the Middle" encapsulated the competitive, driven culture of the Paris Opera Ballet, "Blake Works I" shows its glorious technical heritage. Unlike most ballet companies, the Paris Opera draws its dancers almost entirely from its own school and teaching methods and particular combinations of steps are passed on from one generation of teachers to the next.

'Blake Works I" is full of the detailed use of beaten footwork (batterie), the constantly shifting relationships between head, shoulders and hips (called epaulement), the delicacy and the precision of this technique; there are combinations visible in the work that come from venerable Paris Opera Ballet teachers like Raymond Franchetti, Christiane Vaussard and Gilbert Mayer.

Mr. Forsythe also alludes constantly to ballet history. …

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