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Ballett Frankfurt - 'Artifact' and 'Eidos:Telos'

by Luciana Brett

November 3-10, 2001 -- Sadler's Wells, London

In semi-darkness they appear, some briefly highlighted by isolated beams across the stage. One is seized by their beauty. The dancers’ movements are simple but their intensity is enthralling.

William Forsythe’s corps de ballet will leave you breathless. All thirty-two dancers dominate the stage with a bewildering dynamism. Pushing their technical ability to the extreme they execute the classical ballet vocabulary without apology. A traditional tendu exercise becomes a vision of power and gusto as men and women dancers, lined up and down the sides of the stage, brush their lean-muscled legs back and forth; their arms slice through a port de bras, not with delicacy or lightness but fierce rapidity, punctuating the air in mid-circle.

"Artifact," Forsythe’s four-act ballet of 1984, performed for the first time in Britain, is a work charged with magnificent images. Forsythe is responsible for almost everything; choreography, lighting, costume, design and much of the music. But it’s the sheer brilliance of his dancers which knocks you sideways. There seems to be nothing these bodies can’t do. At times they look almost unreal. In the third section a group of dancers take on Forsythe’s familiar, disconnected movement style. Joints look detached from their sockets. Bones appear loose; the mechanics of the entire skeleton display every move.

What makes "Artifact" such an original and inventive piece of theatre is the simple yet complex way in which Forsythe plays with the elements. Even the title suggests something carefully put together, hand-made, and this thinking extends beyond the stage into the auditorium. As the audience fill their seats and with the house lights still up, a dancer, painted a pale white from head to toe, has already started the performance. In part two, the curtain falls suddenly in the middle of a quartet with the music in mid flow. When it rises again the quartet has become a duet and the corps have lined themselves along the back wall. The process is repeated, each time revealing a new configuration.

Another aspect of the complexity of the work is the presence of two speaking narrators. A woman dressed in a corset and wig and an older man in glasses holding a loud speaker, wander between the unaffected dancers. Although conjuring up extra moments of drama, either muttering or baffling us with their tongue-twisting monologues, the meaning of their roles remains hard to fathom.

The enigmatic woman, however, has the last word. " Step outside!" she shouts, one clap of her hands and the lights go out.

William Forsythe’s "Eidos:Telos" leaves audiences overwhelmed with its extraordinary sense of mystery, madness and chilling beauty. This work literally stirs your whole physical being.

Above all, it is the middle section which casts such a spell. Here, any detached way of viewing theatre is demolished and instead our engagement is dramatic, the tension unforgiving.

Part two begins with an emotional and desperate monologue by the exceptional performer, Dana Caspersen. She is topless, a long, layered skirt covering her lower half. The set around her is complex: a suspended television, an enormous stage light hanging just off the ground, taunt slanting strings running from one end to the other, and a lighting design which changes your whole perspective of the stage space.

Forsythe’s combination of text, design and performance conjures up a frighteningly eerie atmosphere. Caspersen’s solo at times becomes quite horrific to watch. She looks inhuman as she screams, convolutes, undulates on the floor like a possessed animal. Utterly spellbinding, she’ll seize even the coldest heart.

Later, the rest of the company enter, waltzing through her space with grace and fluidity. But with Forsythe’s ability to take us places we’ve never been before, this light, breezy dance turns dark as the dancers rant about their violent and psychotic fantasies.

The first and third parts are more like Forsythe as we know him. The stage is stark. The dancers, in their usual manner move through the space as if on their own journey, keeping us at an emotional distance. We watch their bodies fall, twist and distort themselves like puppets with strings on every joint. But, then, just when you think that nothing will equal the power of the middle section, those feelings in the pit of your stomach begin to creep back. As the company swarm the stage and a trio of trumpeters ignite the auditorium with bursts of wild, incoherent sounds, the piece erupts in a final turmoil that allows no room for relief.

Edited by Azlan Ezaddin

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