First she weaves, then she lures, then she devours. For two weeks, a St Andrew's Cross Spider has lived in my back garden, at first spinning an intricate web on a door frame, then oozing white to form a distinctive X shape within which she centred her black and yellow self. In the past two days, the web has begun to fall apart, leaving little bits of her prey flapping in the wind. The web, and the intensity of the spinner, are as fascinating as they are repellent.
I'm not sure how many spiders, if any, lurk within the garden of William Forsythe's home, but spiders, traps, webs, criss-crossed lines, death and time passing are central to the choreographer's six year old work Eidos: Telos, presented by his Ballet Frankfurt at the Melbourne Festival. Forsythe does not need backyard wildlife for inspiration, of course. His source for this piece of work, one which fascinates, sometimes repels, and occasionally verges on the pretentious, is The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony, by Roberto Calasso. It's a book about Greek myths whose back cover carries testimonials to its brilliance from writers as illustrious as Simon Schama, Joseph Brodsky, and A S Byatt. I found it dense and difficult to read as a preparation for Eidos: Telos whose central section is inspired by Calasso's version of the myth of Persephone, the goddess abducted by Hades and taken to the underworld. Created in two parts over two years, Forsythe's dance work can be analysed ad infinitum and littered with more cross references than a doctoral thesis. But the point is, how does it resonate with a wide general audience not necessarily well versed in myth or in theories of movement? The Melbourne Festival audience was divided in its response, some not returning for the third of its three parts, others leaving in a daze of admiration.
While Forsythe can frustrate in his obscurity (he often speaks in riddles), there is no doubt he and his dancers have collaborated over more than a decade in creating a genuinely new movement vocabulary. The Ballet Frankfurt dancers show intense commitment and an interior focus that is compelling to watch. Their joints and limbs seem shimmery and rubbery. Movement is initiated by the edges of the bodies, an ear, a shoulder, a hip bone, a knee, rather than the central core - the spine. But ballet training and poise is always seen, reinforced by the position to which the dancers constantly return: one arm held up and slightly in front, curved inwards, elegant and calm among all the twisting, and heaving, collapsing, and folding. While Forsythe has translated'' Eidos: Telos'' as ``the image, the goal,'' it seems the work is concerned with time passing, or, as Forsythe has said, "seeing the end of the things".
In the first part, six dancers move in response to a metronome, a digital clock and Dali-esque clock scattered over an otherwise bare, pale grey stage. Dressed in simple tops, shorts or tights -the sole woman in a leotard - the dancers respond to, and seem imprisoned by, the music made by a violinist on stage. The violin's bow is mirrored in two taut lines running the width of the stage. The digital clock clicks over to more than 11 minutes, then fast tracks backwards, as the dancers extend hen retract their limbs, falling and spinning like triple-jointed feathers. This opening sequence has the manner of an exercise, emphasised by courtly gestures of the arms, and by one dancer using the violinist's shoulder as a ballet practice barre. Just as we become accustomed to the violin, three trombonists stride out from the side. The brass sounds an ominous note of things to come.
In part two, the violinist (Maxim Franke) is joined on a darkened stage by the Persephone figure, Dana Caspersen, bare-breasted and draped from the waist down in a saffron skirt. Forsythe has called this part ``a kick up the butt'', as Caspersen, delivers a monologue she wrote herself, based on Calasso's text. She talks of life in the underground with fierce intensity as she strides about the stage, manipulating bits of prey on a complex set of criss-crossed wires, stuffing orange cellophane into a light projector and moving in animalistic contractions, half sinister, half erotic, as she vents her anger. She is joined by the corps in vividly coloured and bustled long skirts. (Is this the decade of the puffy long skirt in dance, by the way? Choreographers Jiri Kylian and Nacho Duato also dress their dancers in silky, colourful, floor sweeping skirts.) The waltz of the corps - the dancing dead - recall kingdoms of the dead seen in 19th century ballets, and pretty ballet ensembles, such as Balanchine's Vienna Waltzes. The text spoken by one other dancer in this section is as vile in its obscenity as the dance is gracious. One man warns his enemies of impending humiliations as he continually moans ``I'm f....ing dead, man.''
The final part of Eidos:Telos is brilliant in its invention, speed and impact. The full company, in coloured-pencil-bright tights and shorts, moves to its own noise - slaps, sighs, squeaks, and the plucking of two cables strung at waist height - then in separate but related, ever-changing groups, to the electronically amplified music of the trombones, so strong, so loud, it vibrates through the audiences' bodies. Things fall apart, like the spider's web. Order seems to break into disorder then chaos, Caspersen reappears, sheds her skirt and emerges naked, less threatening now, a newborn about to start again.
Valerie Lawson’s review of Eidos: Telos, appears in Saturday’s edition of the Australian Financial Review. Posted by Brendan.