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 Post subject: Dance Umbrella 06 - The Forsythe Company
PostPosted: Fri Oct 20, 2006 11:19 am 
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Location: London
The Forsythe Company
Three Atmospheric Studies
Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London
Wednesday 11 September 2006




As part of Dance Umbrella, The Forsythe Company performed at Sadler’s Wells Theatre “Three Atmospheric Studies”, created by William Forsythe originally in 2005 and then reworked subsequently to its present form in February this year.

The work is divided into three parts. Part I + II: Clouds after Cranagh and Part III: Study III. The programme notes informs the viewer on “how William Forsythe’s “Three Atmospheric Studies” turns dance into political Tanztheater”. The work seems to be inspired by the latest wars on terror.

The first part of the piece leave little doubt about the horrors of the war and it was the best part of the evening. Groups of dancers move in silence, except for their own breathing and physical rhythm, and get into formations that halt and show poses of violence on individuals or groups. The dynamics are those easily associated with Forsythe, though very characteristic of Twyla Tharp’s works, in which dancers throw themselves into diabolically fast paced sequences, then stop. A stamping of feet, a clap of hands initiates a new sequence that alters the groupings and creates new ones. The movement sequences may be repeated, but the viewer is constantly challenged by the structure of those repetitions. It was effective and it was highly powerful.

Unfortunately, the rest of the evening could not keep up with this pace and choreographic invention and slowly, the piece started dissolving into something else, the drama elements took over and, especially in the second part, the dance elements nearly disappeared. This is fine, but the problem was that the theatre presented was not of the highest quality and, after such powerful opening, it fell flat on its intellectualism. There is drama in the attempt of a mother to report her missing son to an Arab translator, while a third character talks about clouds and their formation… it is only at the end that the parallel between those clouds and the cloud emerging from a bomb blast is established and the viewer learns then that her son was killed in one of these blurred moments during the fight.

The third part regains momentum through some, again, very powerful dance movement that slowly gives in to more drama in the form of comments from some characters that try to explain to the mother why the war was necessary. Another character narrates the torn limbs and organs to be found after an explosion.

For me, the most problematic point in Forsythe’s undertaking of this subject is that what he presents on the stage is no different from what we hear on the news everyday. Do we need to be told what the effects of an explosion are on a human body? Should we not know? Perhaps there are people who do not know and perhaps, for these people, Forsythe’s piece will be a revelation in its openness and crudeness. Personally, I thought that the choreographer had failed in presenting its subject in the powerful way it could have. From the purely formal point of view, the work is unbalanced in its parts and contains too much unnecessary intellectual wandering that leads nowhere.

The dancers were good, the choreography itself was good in some parts, but the overall piece failed to make the impact it obviously aimed at. There are very good artistic works that have dealt with war before, not just ballets and dance works, but a whole corpus of artistic works that have passed down to history as poignant documents on the horrors of war, loss and violence. The programme notes reference Goya’s “Desastres de la Guerra” (“Disasters of the War”) and states that both Goya and Forsythe’s works “strip war down to the truth”. I simply don’t think that Forsythe’s work manages to do that, in the way Goya did nearly two hundred years ago.


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 27, 2006 1:25 pm 
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Joined: Tue Mar 21, 2006 12:47 pm
Posts: 61
Location: Boston, MA
Thanks for this review Ana!

I think your typo of September 11th (instead of October) is actually quite interesting. As an American watching Three Atmospheric Studies, I couldn't help thinking how incredibly useful this piece would be in contextualizing aspects of the Iraq war that segments of our population (extending even into Washington) may not be cognizent of.

I agree that the second section's musing on whether the choreographer's role becomes obsolete in times of war felt a little tangential. However, I was struck in the third section by the interplay between the unesettling, demonic sounds and the dancers ducking for cover. The clothing was common. These could be anyone - ducking from bombs, writhing as one dancer did who looked like a smoldering flame, or going about everday business such as doing Pilates. The irony of the soldier's placations falling on dead ears was also a nice, clear statement, although generally I felt the drama inclinations were not as strong as the choreography.

And of course, the opening section, with its complex, organic chaos was simply stunning. I'm not sure how much other people paid for their tickets, but the first section was such a beautifully rich and stunning exploration that I would have left the theatre quite satisfied at that point if that is all he decided to show us. The richness of 18 dancers moving through clusters of controlled randomness is something that few choreographers can effectively wield, and Forsythe is clearly one of those few.

I would certainly recommend seeing this piece!


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PostPosted: Sat Nov 04, 2006 4:29 pm 
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Joined: Sun Oct 24, 1999 11:01 pm
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Location: London, England; Tallinn, Estonia
War and Dance:
“Three Atmospheric Studies” a work by the Forsythe Company
Sadler’s Wells, 11th October, 2006


Conventionally, we often associate the arts with themes such as form, beauty and love. However, we shouldn’t forget the vital tradition of art works addressing social and political issues. Indeed, it is arguable that Goya’s horrific depiction of the 19th Century Spanish Peninsula War in “Desastres de la Guerre” and Isaac Babel’s chilling short stories about the Russian-Polish War of 1920 are the most honest and revealing accounts of these conflicts available to us.

In dance too there is a small, but distinguished canon of work that tackles conflict and oppression, including Christopher Bruce’s brutal interrogation in “Swansong” and Kurt Jooss’s expressionist view of the First World War in “The Green Table”. Yet, there are still voices, mainly from the USA, that reject the place of such themes in dance. For instance, Kenneth MacMillan’s ballet “Manon” addresses social and gender inequalities in early 18th C Paris and Jeffrey Gantz, in a review from earlier this year, described a Boston performance as: “…art prostituted to MacMillan’s politics.” Similarly, in a recent interview, Arlene Croce, a highly respected US critic, stated that: "Choreographers mix dance with politics because it is the only way to get attention. And get grants too, probably…. I don't want to be told about Iraq or Bush or Katrina by someone younger and dumber than I am.”

For myself, it is wholly appropriate that artists should tackle these themes, and the works mentioned above illustrate that such concerns can result in art of the highest quality.

William Forsythe is one of the leading choreographers working today, ranging in style from neo-classical, chamber works to large-scale, avant-garde theatre. However, to my knowledge, this American, who has now adopted German citizenship, has never previously tackled themes relating to war or human rights. But in the past year, two new works directly address these issues and the London dance community was out in force to see the UK premiere of one of these, “Three Atmospheric Studies”, performed by Forsythe’s own Company. In a preview interview, he gave the rationale for this choice of subject matter: "I'm a citizen and I have the opportunity to speak in public and many people don't. Dance happens to be the medium I have access to. I feel obligated on some level to use it to make a comment."

Over three acts, we see a conflict and ensuing events. A Mother opens the piece by telling us: “My son was arrested,” and the red shirted boy is a central figure in a street scene of furious activity, perhaps two warring factions, perhaps under aerial bombardment. Forsythe plays with time, repeating incidents and freezing the action for some and not others. This is an effective rendering of group commotion, panic and superficially haphazard activity, but the use of space, the richness of individual movement and occasional moments of perfect synchronisation, provide shape and form, rather as Chaos Theory seeks to structure apparently random events.

In the second act, the Mother gives a statement to an official, who seems more concerned with the mechanics of translation than the events themselves. In the background, with the stage criss-crossed by strings, an art theorist analyses a painting of Mary and the Crucifixion by Cranach and a war photograph. His attempt to place the Mother in one of the paintings is rejected by her and the scene ends with her voice distorted and the narrative lost. Perhaps Forsythe is showing us the problem of ever pining down what has happened, or as filmmaker Peter Greenaway once commented: “There is no such thing as history, only historians.”

The final act combines earlier events with more textual analysis, accompanied by sounds from a performer distorted through a microphone. At regular intervals a missile flies in with a whistle and crump from the mic and the dancers are flattened. A new figure appears, an American propagandist, who tries to reassure the Mother by explaining that the invaders have thought it all through carefully. The sheer banality of this monologue initially made me think that Forsythe had undermined his thesis. Then I remembered a TV interview with a medical administrator from Illinois, who refused to accept his complete lack of relevant experience in a developing world, war zone, even when confronted by the almost complete failure of his work in Iraq. At the end, the Mother lies still on the stage and the propagandist suggests to her that it’s all for the best, but with a first hint of concern that all is not going according to plan.

With his intellectual approach and heavily structured development of movement, Forsythe has never been a dance maker to wear his heart on his sleeve and this new work is no exception. I suspect that few if any were moved to tears, in contrast to emotionally charged work, such as Bruce’s “Swansong”. While several of the London critics were puzzled and frustrated, I was constantly involved by the cerebral power of this theatre piece and intrigued to tease out the underlying arguments. Thus, I believe that “Three Atmospheric Studies” has added to the repertoire of art works in this genre in a distinctive and challenging way and I hope to have a second chance to delve deeper into its depiction of misguided political acts and the resulting maelstrom of violence.


Last edited by Stuart Sweeney on Tue Nov 07, 2006 11:50 am, edited 2 times in total.

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PostPosted: Sun Nov 05, 2006 2:04 am 
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Joined: Sun Oct 24, 1999 11:01 pm
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Location: London, England; Tallinn, Estonia
I've copied these newspaper articles from another Forsythe topic:


Quote:
Next step in the Forsythe saga
by SARAH CROMPTON for the Daily Telegraph
published: September 30, 2006

The American-born choreographer is in Germany's vividly revitalised capital to receive a prize at the Berlin Theatre Festival – the first time a dance work has been accorded such an honour.

At an intense hour-long presentation, there is much debate about whether Three Atmospheric Studies, Forsythe's searing indictment of war in general and intervention in Iraq in particular, really qualifies as a piece of theatre.
more...

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Quote:
The Forsythe Company
by JUDITH MACKRELL for the Guardian
published: October 13, 2006

As its title suggests, this a work that takes the temperature of war, analysing its physical states rather than turning it into drama. Forsythe's strategy in Study I is apparently to show us every death statistic made flesh, as his dancers are orchestrated into hundreds of flickering freeze-frame tableaux, their bodies flailing, their eyes staring in dread. The only sound during the whole 20 minutes is of animal grunts and panting - Forsythe seems to dare us to find the cumulative effect boring.
more...


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Quote:
Anti-war dance trips over itself
by ZOE ANDERSON for the Independent
published: October 13, 2006

You have to know what you're looking for to recognise the moment of arrest, the impact of an explosion. Even then, you could miss them. As they bustle from pose to pose, Forsythe's dancers might be a movement class evoking rush hour.
more...


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Quote:
Rocket attack? It's not personal
by JENNY GILBERT for the Independent
published: October 15, 2006

ntellectual that he is, Forsythe has enough of the showman's instinct to know when humour will help him out.
more...


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