He's Back: After Four Decades in Germany, Choreographer William Forsythe Returns to the U.S.-And to His Ballet Roots

By Stahl, Jennifer | Dance Magazine, January 2017 | Go to article overview

He's Back: After Four Decades in Germany, Choreographer William Forsythe Returns to the U.S.-And to His Ballet Roots


Stahl, Jennifer, Dance Magazine


William Forsythe is a man of mystery. Just when you feel like you start to "get" what he's doing, he surprises everyone by going in a completely different direction. After revolutionizing ballet as we knew it in the '80s, he began experimenting with contemporary, dance theater and even performance art as he explored everything from the Iraq war to his second wife's death from cancer. Now, after a combined 30 groundbreaking years at the helm of Ballett Frankfurt and then The Forsythe Company, he's left Germany and directing behind. At 67, he's launching a new chapter by returning to where it all began: He's back in the U.S. and back in ballet.

Where is "home" for you these days?

In Vermont, way up at the tippy top. I moved from Germany and I'm here now. I'm slowly adapting myself.

How's that going?

It's totally interesting because American companies have an entirely different way of operating. If you have a board, there are opinions involved, right? Whereas in Europe, your funding is decided by politics--which can often be very mercurial and ill-considered, too. But I totally enjoy learning something new. And actually trying to figure out how I can be helpful-seeing if there are other strategies companies haven't thought of that I can assist with, thinking of funding as a creative field rather than a daunting uphill thing.

Do you miss having your own company?

I miss the people. I had the luck to work with these incredible artists and I just miss their persons, you know?

But I like being back in ballet right now. And working with ballet dancers. My biggest epiphany recently was when I walked out of Paris, and I thought, Ballet is Olympian. You can't fake it. There's no "sort of."

Your Blake Works I last year at Paris Opera Ballet had critics saying it "moved ballet into the future." How do you keep finding something new in ballet?

Well, that statement is a bit tricky because ballet is contemporary. Houston Ballet made me a T-shirt of this joke I said to them: "Somewhere, someone in the world is doing a tendu." Right now, this is the contemporary state of ballet. I didn't bring it someplace other than where it evolved on its own. I'm not working with special, extra-human ballet dancers at the Paris Opera. I'm working with the history of the Paris Opera, and their dancers and their traditions. I don't feel it's different than anyone else making a ballet now. And we're all friends--Justin and Alexei and Benjamin and Crystal. Everyone's trying to figure it out. People have these very different takes on it. We socialize and the conversations are very interesting.

Has teaching at the University of Southern California affected your approach?

What I really like about USC is that I get to practice legwork. The ideas that I was going to approach Paris Opera with, I got to practice those at USC all year before I went. The USC students are like my lab. They learn the work, and also how I'm making the work. I really enjoy teaching, telling them everything I know about the subject. I didn't expect how much progress they'd make in a year. This generation is extremely ... I'm thinking in German, I'm sorry. What is the word? Formed? Yep. Formed by popular culture, through YouTube and music videos. They apprehend new movement incredibly fast.

What do you hope to give to your students?

The same thing their parents sent them there for: self-reliance. I often put them in my position so they can understand why I said what I said, or why I'm seeing things the way I'm seeing them. …

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