Honoring William Forsythe ; Autumn Ballet Festival Focuses on Early Works of Influential Choreographer

By Sulcas, Roslyn | International New York Times, November 4, 2014 | Go to article overview

Honoring William Forsythe ; Autumn Ballet Festival Focuses on Early Works of Influential Choreographer


Sulcas, Roslyn, International New York Times


A program brought to the Theatre de la Ville by Dresden's Semperoper Ballett highlighted some of the American choreographer's important early works.

The choreographer William Forsythe is ubiquitous here this fall. He is the focus of the Festival d'Automne, with five companies presenting his work around the city over three months. The Paris Opera Ballet offered a Forsythe program over three weeks in September and October. The appetite for Mr. Forsythe's work in Paris, and the crowds that have flocked to the shows, point to the anomaly in his reputation. In Europe, where he has spent his whole professional career, he is an artistic giant; in his native United States he is regarded with far less reverence.

A program brought to the Theatre de la Ville by Dresden's Semperoper Ballett last week as part of the autumn festival showed two of Mr. Forsythe's important early works, "Steptext" (1985) and "In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated" (1987). They bracketed "Neue Suite," a compilation of pas de deux from five pieces created from 1987 to 2000. Mr. Forsythe was intensely focused on ballet technique during this period (since then, his work has moved in other, more contemporary, directions), and these works show why he has had the most significant influence on ballet since Balanchine's groundbreaking 20th-century extensions of classical form.

"Steptext" and "In the Middle" convey how Mr. Forsythe took Balanchinian precepts -- the off-balance extensions of academic positions, an athletic, no-nonsense virtuosity, the focus on clarity and speed -- and pushed them all further. Ballet's rules are investigated; What if movement is generated by a shoulder or knee rather than from the center of the body? Must the torso remain upright? What are the mechanics of partnering? What happens if conventional positions are extended beyond the conventional limits of a "correct" position?

All these ideas, but most particularly an exploration of partnering, are offered in "Steptext," a quartet for three men and a ballerina in lipstick-red body tights. The piece plays with ballet conventions: a dancer improvises on stage as the audience enters; the house lights stay on for awhile after the work starts; the ravishing score, Bach's Chaconne from the Partita No. 2 (in a recording by Nathan Millstein), is frequently cut off at climactic points. The ballerina becomes a powerful rather than passive figure. …

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