The William Forsythe Company
by Juliet Neidish
October 8, 2009 -- Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York
In a post-performance talk at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival, after the US premiere of “Decreation” (2003) performed by the Forsythe Company, William Forsythe spoke about his ongoing interest in the exploration of innovation. Mr. Forsythe explained that since Balanchine had mastered the marriage of music and movement in classicism, his own mark in the field would have to reside in a very different aspect of choreography. And indeed for over 25 years, William Forsythe has continued to push his work into new and different realms. His innovations have affected the way dancers generate movement, use their breath and voices, as well as the way choreography can communicate ideas in spaces both on and off the proscenium stage.
“Decreation,” a 65-minute piece for 17 dancers, is a riveting and powerfully constructed work. Inspired by the essay of the same name by Ann Carson, it deals with the fraught and searing nature of love relationships. Describing it in detail moment by moment would require a very big writing project. The stage is vividly alive throughout with singularly focused interactions that can also be meant at times to compete or clash with others happening peripherally and concurrently. The tools of this piece include movement, text, voice, and video/ acoustic technology.
The set consists primarily of chairs, a table, and microphones. “Decreation” is more than a dance piece. It is closer to the stature of a post-modern opera. In fact, Mr. Forsythe explained that, although he remains off-stage, he is actually conducting the piece with a light laser, thereby controlling its transitions and overall timing. Decisions are based on the stage flow in regard to audience attention span. Highly designed in its use of space and the interaction between performers, the dancing--comprised of solos, duets and trios--is largely structured improvisation. The movement evolves from Forsythe’s current and detailed theory of a body divided into planes, such as head, torso, legs, all of which can wind in different circles around the spine. This approach to movement, which can distort and fragment the bodyline, offers a perfect aesthetic to convey the concept of the fractiousness of the love relationship. And there is a hypnotizing mystery here. The body while looking deformed and broken, can also look lush and seamless. The qualities producing the movement--lightness, airiness and circularity--are nonetheless able to evoke a harsh, dark, and threatening violence.
The piece is also operatic because voice and sound are so integral to its conception. The dancers bring their dancerly qualities to this sonic aspect of communication. Although a piano score is played live on stage, by its composer David Morrow, it is the dancers who speak text, converse colloquially, and utter sound or pre-verbal monologues, all while they dance, sit, spar, or perform pedestrian tasks. These varying forms of communication, despite their intimacy, never stay between two people but bounce, relay, or finalize through or across a third party. This triangulation includes flips and transferences in conviction, gender, power, pitch, and emotion. When the dancers finally sit focused around the table, their clipped, percussive ensemble work is provocatively raw and shocking.
Although “Decreation” was first performed in 2003, it is very much alive and forward-looking today. I would venture to say that marked by its present company of dancers it is a different piece today than it was in its original. Many of the theoretical and technical concepts that Mr. Forsythe and his dancers have been working on in recent years seem to have come to their fruition in “Decreation.” Even some of the choreographic and theatrical conceits informing later pieces, such as the use of miked voice and amplified sound in “Three Atmospheric Studies” (2005), seen in New York City at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 2007, appear to have developed most powerfully as rendered in this current production.