United Kingdom Semperoper Ballett’s All Forsythe: Sadler’s Wells, London, 21.6.2018. (JO’D)
Dancers: Christian Bauch, Thomas Bieszka, Kanako Fujimoto, Aidan Gibson, Svetlana Gileva, Gareth Haw, Chantelle Kerr, Julian Amir Lacey, Jenny Laudadio, Sangeun Lee, Alice Mariani, Skyler Maxey-Wert, Casey Ouzounis, Zarina Stahnke, Houston Thomas, Michael Tucker, Jón Vallejo, Denis Veginy, Natsuki Yamada, Duosi Zhu
In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated
Choreography – William Forsythe
Light Design – William Forsythe
Music- Thom Willems in collaboration with Lesley Stuck
Choreography, Set Design, Light Design – William Forsythe
Costume Design – William Forsythe, Yumiko Takeshima
Sound Design – Sebastian Rietz
Enemy in the Figure
Choreography, Set Design, Costume Design, Light Design – William Forsythe
Music – Thom Willems
For its debut at Sadler’s Wells, Dresden’s Semperoper Ballett presented a triple-bill of work by American choreographer, William Forsythe. The company has close associations with Forsythe. Its Artistic Director, Aaron S. Watkin, was ‘entrusted’ with the choreographer’s repertoire when he took up his current post in 2006. As he explains in the programme notes, Semperoper Ballett has become known as a company to watch for ‘Forsythe’.
The evening began, a little hesitantly perhaps, with In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated (1987). The audience was more receptive to eight pas de deux from the 1990s assembled for Neue Suite (2012). Enemy in the Figure (1989) met with standing ovations from the stalls.
In carapace-like leotards of shiny emerald green, the dancers of the first piece take classical ballet and ‘tilt’ it to the banging and crashing of Thom Willems’s electronic score. One dancer momentarily lost control; another appeared cautious. The work looked quite different, overall, from how it did when performed by English National Ballet on this stage in 2015. An explanation for this might be found in dance-writer Laura Cappelle’s interview with Watkin (published in the programme): ‘For me it’s not just about fireworks and technique: it’s a lot about quality, connection, breathing.’
Dancers of pas de deux in In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated share the stage with some other dancer, off to the side somewhere, drawing attention away from the central couple. While the dancers of Neue Suite may not be limited in terms of space, they are in terms of time. As the eight consecutive duets unfold, each pair somehow cancels out the pair that came before. This impression is reinforced by the different colours, or shades of colour, that each couple wears: a visual wiping of the slate.
The first three pas de deux are to recorded music by Handel. The shiny leotards of In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated have been replaced by softer fabrics of more generous cut. Movement is harmonious; lifts are languorous. The man ‘presents’ his partner as if they were in a nineteenth century ballet. The three duets that follow are to music by Berio. Its jagged strings give rise to movement less easily negotiated. Leotards for the women and see-through fabric for the men’s tops (in dark blue, purple and red) suggest emotional rawness. To Bach, the man takes hold of his partner by the foot or knee, and lies stretched out on the floor. The final pas de deux returns to Handel and harmony, in yellow.
If space and time are in short supply for the dancers of the first and second works, in the third they lack both and light as well. The stage extends to the theatre’s back wall, but most of the middle is taken up by an undulating, wooden partition. A single lamp, at floor level, is the only illumination. This is moved around by the dancers themselves. They are the object of the gaze; to an extent they control the gaze. They also manipulate a length of rope that goes from one side of the stage to the other.
The piece begins slowly, in a far corner. To the dull thuds of a Thom Willems score, its momentum increases and decreases. Wearing costumes of only black and white, dancers hook on to each other for pas de deux that seem to be no more than brief interruptions to their main activity of running in feverish circles, or sending waves of movement through the rope, or directing the light in different ways. The end is stillness and semi-darkness with strangely uneasy, rhythmic knocking by one of the exhausted dancers on the partition.