Dancers of William Forsythe’s Ballett Frankfurt arced, angled, and whipped about the opera house stage at the Brooklyn Academy of Music earlier this fall (October). At times they seemed to erupt in Terets-like dance passages. And though Forsythe’s densely complex movement style has a contemporary sensibility, ballet is always a shimmering, elusive presence.
Forsythe, the American-born director and choreographer of this German-based company, generally tours larger dance spectacles. But, for what was Ballett Frankfurt’s last season under his directorship, (the choreographer resigned last spring after officials in Frankfurt attempted to fire him) Forsythe brought four recently created pure dance pieces to New York.
Nearly all of these New York premiers were performed in silence. With few aural cues, one could sense both the dancers’ deep sensitivity to each other and to the events that unfolded around them.
The Room As It Was, created for eight dancers, rendered the stage a thoroughfare. Performers walked across the stage in groups of two or three, delighting us with their windmill arms, twisty torsos, and slithery hips. While the women danced on pointe, the movement did not focus on the intricate pointe work. Rather, the dancing dealt with extending lines and peculiar geometries. The interactions between the dancers built up to the final ethereal moment—dancers bathed in light and framed by a glimmering set.
Duo, which featured two women in sheer leotards, was the clearest example of Forsythe’s deconstruction of the ballet vocabulary. Here he plays with epaulement, ballet’s system of presenting the dancer to the audience through a series of coordinated foot, hand, head, and eye movements. In this highly patterned dance, the women’s focus turned inward as they careened across the stage.
N.N.N.N. began as a meditation on the weight of a hand. As the dancers in this all-male quartet discovered the limits of their bodies, they elicited laughter from the audience. This playful investigation included much distilled horseplay and embracing.
The final piece on the program, One Flat Thing Reproduced, contrasted the near silence of the other works. As dancers dragged twenty metal tables across the stage, a great roar resounded throughout the opera house. With dancers clad in practice clothes, the work had the feel of an urban "happening." The dancers wove at breakneck speed through the grid of tables, narrowly dodging one another. They threw themselves atop the tables only to disappear beneath them moments later. The ensemble vacillated between order and chaos, and, just as the movement reached a violent pitch, the dancers grabbed the tables and retreated upstage, creating a noise akin to an earthquake.
That Ballett Frankfurt, in its present form, will cease to exist after the spring is a great loss to the dance community. For over twenty years, Forsythe has created innovative works ranging from pure-dance ballets to kinesthetic installation art. He has also been at the forefront of devising pieces; his highly rigorous creative process changes with each work he makes. This certainly won’t be the last we hear of Forsythe—plans to develop an independent company are in the works. As for Ballett Frankfurt, those present at the BAM performances know that the company—under Forsythe’s direction—went out, quite literally, with a roar if not a bang.
SHANTI CRAWFORD is a choreographer and writer based in Greenpoint.