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The Forsythe Company

'The Room as it Was', 'N.N.N.N.', 'Of Any if And', 'One Flat Thing, reproduced'

by Ana Abad-Carles

September 20, 2005 -- Sadler's Wells, London

The Forsythe Company kicked off their performance season at Sadler’s Wells with a programme that featured four revivals of works initially created for Forsythe’s former company, The Frankfurt Ballet: “The Room as it Was” (2002), “N.N.N.N.” (2002), “Of Any if And” (1995) and “One Flat Thing, reproduced” (2000). Not being a Forsythe fan, I had not seen the company for a long span of time, since the days of “Steptext” and “In the Middle Somewhat Elevated.” Based on the performance at Sadler’s Wells, Forsythe has obviously moved into different territory during these years.

“The Room as it Was” opened the programme, and it dwelt on movement experiments concerning the use of dynamics and on explorations of movement of limbs and their different possibilities. Forsythe seemed to take Laban theories with regards to dynamics and planes of movement to the extreme; however, after the first five minutes, the novelty wore off. Once the choreographer presented his ideas to the viewer, the movement created a sense of expectancy for a development that did not happen.

The dancers used their own breathing as background noise, which is something interesting but puzzling, as the programme clearly stated that there was music by Thom Willems. Then, suddenly, music started, two dancers appeared in the background and the stage brightened up at the same time as the curtain came down. As a joke, it could have been brilliant, but I did not feel this was Forsythe’s intention. It reminded me of a wonderful sketch by the Argentinean comedians “Les Luthiers”, when after explaining “The Second Waltz” for ten minutes in the most hilarious manner, they treated us to a four-note cadence. However, the 20 minutes that preceded the final moments of “The Room as it Was” did not amuse me.

The movement, too concentric and self-reflecting, contained no outward dynamics, and this effect can alienate the viewer, as the group formations tended to be confined within a limited stage area before the dancers walk off stage. While an interesting effect the first time around, after endless succession, it became tiresome. Another method Forsythe continued to use included frantic sequences of movement from different dancers at various moments; something that Twyla Tharp explored 30 years ago. But Tharp engaged the audience in these moments of total madness from the part of the dancers, and her dancers reacted to these frantic dynamics, both in terms of space and by the shading with other dynamics to follow. In Forsythe’s case, these sequences found no response, beginning or end.

“N.N.N.N.” was a more enjoyable piece. Four men explored movement and spatial positioning by relating to each other in unexpected ways. The movement vocabulary mimicked the one explored in the previous piece, but the humour introduced made it much more enjoyable. Though the piece was five minutes too long, the overall effect conveyed amusement, and I for one appreciated this in Forsythe’s work, as it tends to be too serious at times.

“Of Any if And” totally contrasted its preceding piece. The work reminded me of “The Vile Parody of Address”. Two people whispered unintelligible words at both sides of the stage, and two dancers appeared and disappeared, dancing an interrupted duet to the music of Willems. There were panels coming down from the upper part of the stage containing incoherent sequences of words -- they distracted the viewer’s attempt at deciphering their meaning and purpose. ”Of Any if And” seemed too conceptual, and it included a repetition of the evening’s movement vocabulary.

Most people rated this piece as the best of the evening, and because I did not care too much for this work, this may explain why I am not a great fan of Forsythe. I simply find this type of works too self-indulgent in their conceptual meanings, whatever they may be. Choreographically Forsythe presented nothing new, and the dancers’ evolutions on stage were too alienating and lacking in any sort of engagement with each other or the audience. These works appeared too detached from any reality. They existed in their own realm, which seemed to be based on experiments rather than theatricality. Thus, they tended to leave behind some sort of emptiness in their own self-reflection.

Finally, “One Flat Thing, reproduced” provided an exciting close to the programme. The piece proved to be highly energetic, and the choreography incorporated interesting elements throughout, including a sense of ensemble and pattern that had appeared lacking in all the other pieces.

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