This evening’s Friends’ event, “What to look for in William Forsythe” was very much a companion piece to Saturday’s Enduring Images Insight day. Two of the participants at that earlier event, Kathy Bennetts and Noah Gelber, spoke to an audience in the Linbury Studio about Forsythe’s ballets. If anyone understands Forsythe, these people do. Kathy Bennetts, Ballet mistress at Franfurt Ballet since 1989, has staged, “In the middle, somewhat elevated”, 14 times on companies all over the world. Noah Gelber was in the premiere of “The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude”.
On this occasion we had Marianela Nunez and Nathan Coppen doing the final pas de deux from the former piece and Ernst Meisner working on the latter. The dancers were at different stages. Meisner, for example, had been learning on his own using a video to guide him. He worked with Noah first, since he had to leave in order to dance in a performance of Bayadere in the main House. Nunez and Coppen had grasped the essentials, and Bennetts concentrated on the finer points of their partnership such as the way they would grip each other’s hands. While Nunez and Coppen performed, Bennetts accompanied them humming what, to the untrained ear, was the most unhummable music. But, as she observed, if you can sing the music you can dance it! The dancers in Forsythe’s company are noted for their intense musicality.
In speaking about “The Vertiginous Thrill”, Gelber explained that it was a “crowning jewel of classicality”. In it Forysthe wanted to pay tribute to the rich traditions of ballet. Thus we have tutus, but not as we know them. Like other Forsythe work, the intention is to bring the artist out, using the choreography as a catalyst. In fact both pieces expressed classical technique with a twist. As Gelber demonstrated, Forsythe might take fourth position and turn and stretch it. Forsythe’s movements required more use of the hips and going beyond a position by taking it off centre. When referring to Nunez’s dancing, it was noted how in Forsythe’s work women were required to use the strength in their arms. In fact they were more like athletes than traditional ballerinas who are lifted and carried by their male partners. Forsythe finds dance sexist if it is merely a man standing behind a woman who is just looking beautifully posed. Forsythe, it was stated, continued where Balanchine had left off.
Franfurt Ballet dancers, Bennetts explained, do a generally traditional ballet class. It is lively and fast, and accommodates a group of dancers with widely differing experiences. Forsythe tends to choose dancers who are stretchy. Company members take a holistic approach, concentrating on eating right (bananas are constantly being munched) and doing breathing exercises.
It was noted that both pieces seemed abstract. Gelber explained that Forsythe wants both the dancers and the audience to be free to devise their own narrative. Forsythe’s aim is to engender a reaction, to challenge the audience and not to let those watching simply be “placidly entertained”.
The creative process for Forsythe is based on developing a combination of steps, which he puts together in various patterns. There is continual development, with constant changes and refinements often up until just hours before a work is premiered. Forsythe likes to keep his work “open” until the last moment. It seems that the dancers in Frankfurt are used to his way of working and can accommodate its tensions.
The discussion shifted away from the dance to the elements that surround his work - the costumes, the lighting and the set design. Forsythe had wanted to be an architect, and the way he stages his work illustrates this. Forsythe clothes his dancers in simple outfits, with the women in his company wearing little makeup and the men none. The intention is to focus on the shape of the dancer’s bodies. For “In the middle” Bennetts was looking for a particular shape – lean, long bodies with wide shoulders and backs belonging to people who could really move. (Forsythe had idolised Marcee Haydee.) It was also important to think about where a particular dancer was in their career when deciding if they were right to dance a certain piece.
Forsythe also knows precisely what he wants from lighting, even though sometimes the effect is discovered more by chance than design. He has even invented two types of lights in order to get the effects he wants on stage.
It was asked how exactly Forsythe came to name his pieces? It seems that “In the middle” was titled after the only prop that was on stage when the work premiered at the Paris Opera. These were a pair of golden cherries that were, as he described, in the middle and somewhat elevated. As to “The vertiginous thrill”, this was coupled with a ballet entitled “Approximate Sonata”, which Forsythe saw as two ballets in the manner of 20th century dance.
There is an earlier thread on Saturday’s study day. The Enduring Images bill will be performed on March 4th, 6th, 18th and 20th at 7.30.