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The very sad story of William Forsythe and his postmodern pain; a review of "I don't believe in outer space'

by Tom Ferraro

October 29, 2011 -- Brookly Academy of Music, New York

Europe’s postmodern darling, William Forsythe, returned to BAM with a vengeance this week to give us the bewildering ballet, “I don’t believe in outer space.” This is best characterized as yet another one of Forsythe’s struggles with the idiom of ballet. But to call this a ballet is really a stretch. It contains no narrative story line, no music and not many ballet steps either.
Forsythe is known for creating works that derive from ballet, literature, philosophy, pop culture, film, mathematics and architecture. Critics have credited him with presenting a sustained and productive argument with classical ballet. In a lengthy discussion of his latest work prior to the evening’s performance, Forsythe admitted that after Balanchine there was not much else to do in classical ballet and he then took it upon himself to extend the ballet idiom in every conceivable way.
In “I don’t believe in outer space,” the curtain rose to display a stage filled with black balls strewn about the floor reminiscent of a Pina Bausch production. Very much like a Bausch show, he proceeded to present a series of disjointed vignettes but without the benefit of music or narrative structure. William Forsythe is an expatriate and this may be his best effort to channel America. He used Gloria Gaynor’s feminist anthem, “I will survive,” Cat Stevens song texts, a brief appearance by a Howard Stern look alike, hip hop moves and a frantic fitness segment. But without the use of music to lift or to contain the proceedings, it all comes off as dark and cold and filled with despair. Forsythe said that he feels the dance should be primary and never secondary to music but it would have been nice to have at least an element of music to latch onto. The best he could offer us was some very loud industrial sounds and a brief segment of Gloria Gaynor’s “I will survive” sung as opera. Ouch.

It is abundantly clear that William Forsythe is now more involved with Dance Theater than dance alone, but without the charm and beauty that we have grown accustomed to with a Bausch piece. He gave us some slow motion ping pong and a fairly touching finale where he talked about having “no more walks, no more wind, no more tree roots, etc.”

It is said that Forsythe is now learning calculus and this will probably be integrated in to his next piece. I truly hope that he comes across the formula that Dance equals Teaching plus Entertainment. We can all see that he tries hard to be our postmodern teacher, borrowing heavily from Roland Barthes, Foucault and Derrida. This is all well and good. We all know about postmodern despair and how it feels with all its confusing speed and fragmentation. But let us hope he reads a little Phyllis Greenacre along the way. She was that famous psychoanalyst who studied artists and finally concluded that the artist’s job is to grab ahold of the culture’s sadness and convert it into something whole and good and beautiful. This is what Virginia Woolf did. This is what Pina Bausch did and let’s hope that this is what William Forsythe will learn to do in time as well. Until then. be warned that an evening with William Forsythe will prove to be lots of fun for William and his dancers but not much fun for the audience.

 

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