Ballet Frankfurt - William Forsythe - Artefact - Eidos: Telos - Sadler's Wells

I was absolutely thrilled with the experience of seeing the Ballet Frankfurt. They spoke as divinely as they danced. A person in historical costume repeatedly says, "you think, you thought, you saw, you see, I think." This voice made me think I was having hallucinations. She repeated it over and over. I was curious as to what was going on but the dancers were so good that I just followed them.

Artefact was the first work of William Forsythe for this company. He was born in New York City in 1949 and studied at Jacksonville University, Florida and also at the Joffrey Ballet School. In 1973 he joined Germany's Stuttgart Ballet as a dancer and later as a choreographer. His first piece Urlich (a duet to the music of Gustav Mahler) was with the Stuttgart Ballet. During the seven years he was at the Stuttgart Ballet he produced over 20 ballets. He also produced ballets for other companies such as: Basel Ballet, Munich Ballet, Deutsche Opera Ballet in Berlin, Joffery Ballet and Netherlands Dance Theatre. When he became the Artistic Director in 1984, he changed the name of Frankfurt Ballet to Ballett Frankfurt. The company currently employees 37 dancers, 2 ballet masters, and 30 people in the technical and administrative field. In 1989, Ballett Frankfurt became an independent branch of the Stadtische Buhnen, run by two directors: William Forsythe (Artist Director) and Martin Steinoff (Managing Director). In 1999, William Forsythe became General Director. (Frankfurt, a comparatively small city of 650,000 inhabitants, has produced this high-quality Ballet Company in a mainly industrialised area. )

Forsythe's first creation as Director was Gange, his works were moving from the conventional ballet to a new audience. His unique creations are do to his denial of conventional ballet technique. He still stages pieces for companies around the world and his works are on the repertoire of New York City Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, the National Ballet of Canada, the Royal Ballet of Covent Garden, and the Royal Swedish Ballet. But it's with the Frankfurt Ballet that he uses his most complex movements and theatrical setting environments. I was very fortunate to be in London at this time to see this innovative ballet.

Previous to this he was a part of the sell-out ballet Artefact at the Sadler's Wells in 1998. Artefact is in 4 parts set to music by Eva Crossman-Hecht (American pianist and composer). In 1984 Hecht became Cefrepetitorin to the Ballett Frankfurt where she composed the music for the ballet Artefact and also for Forsythe's musical Isabel's Dance in 1986, using a variety of musical styles like swing, Dixieland, jazz and classical. Margot Kazimirska played the piano.

The ballet centres on three characters that move like figures from a dream with a large corps de ballet of more than 30 dancers in beautiful symmetrical lines and formations and a relationship with the illusion/narrative. The three characters are Person in Historical Costume, played by Prue Lang; Person with Megaphone, played by Nicholas Champion; Other Person, played by Agnes Noltenius. Person in Historical Costume is a ranting woman who stayed in a stage of unleashed rage throughout the performance. Person with a Megaphone is obsessively argumentative and the Other Person is mute but very expressive in movement. Dressed in grey, she seems to change physique during the course of which she looks tiny in the first act trying to mimic the others. By the final act she is statuesque and leading the company in an imperious whirlwind of swinging arms.

Artefact is one long group therapy session, a shared communal experience reliving painful memories of childhood caught in the crossfire of their parents. The dancers where magnificent. I was puzzled and delighted about the way the dancers interacted and messed around with each other on stage. It was different than any other ballet I have seen with unexpected things like the curtain crashing down in mid-dance and the house lights playing silly buggers, but this strange sort of theatrical ballet has become Forsythe's trademark. He takes risks, analysing dance in intricate detail, using computers to break down each individual movement. Dance is moving forward - this making Forsythe a brilliant innovative choreographer.

Part II was set to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach; Nathan Milstein played the violin. Part II is pure ballet with two couples dancing virtuoso steps to Bach's music, complex and sophisticated. The couples were Dana Caspersen with Fabrice Mazliah and Amy Raymond with Thierry Guiderdoni. Each couple is completely attached to one another throughout in a long embrace. The curtain keeps dropping repeatedly during the performance as a tease and it made me wonder what would happen next when the curtain rises and the bodies break away and follow new trajectories. What can be seen in the American William Forsythe's choreography is his disdain for convention, his incoherent text, and his love of making beautiful dance. There's only one irritating thing about this ballet and that is the ringing words "You think, you thought, you saw, you see, I think." that haunts and runs in circles in your head for hours after leaving the performance. And even more irritating is the people in the audience who think they are clever by repeating the phrase a dozen times after the ballet was completed. Ahhh!

The second programme was Eidos: Telos (1995). Eidos (the image) and Telos (the goal or death) are two of the founding concepts of metaphysics, mathematical algorithms, and are the Greek fertility myths of Persephone and Arachne. It sounds very confusing for a ballet but Forsythe once said, "movement is a factor the fact that you are actually evaporating." Eidos: Telso is an attempt to recreate the experience of the ancient Greek mysteries. Long-term collaborator, Thomas Willems, has created all the text, speech, startling theatrical effects, and music. Since1984, Willems' has composed much of the music for Forsythe's ballets.

The ballet began with half-an-hour of abstract choreography - six dancers with impressively oblique body-shapes. The most involved section introduces Forsythe's wife Dana Casperson, an American from Minneapolis who joined the Ballet Frankfurt in 1988. She is naked to the waist and recites a self-penned monologue about burial, death and death's darkness describing an inner zone where "dogs would lose sight of their quarries, so violent is the scent of flowers." The fellow-dead appear and dance an exquisite waltz; someone yells, "I'm gonna chop your head off and fuck you in the neck hole." before an apocalyptic roar of trombones, a choreographic resolution and Casperson, who somehow ends up completely nude. When it was performed at the Melbourne Festival in October, this surreal and controversial ballet upset the audience; they asked for refunds. They complained about the explicit nature, about the nudity and about the amount of four letter words used. Apparently, they did not enjoy being harangued by a topless dancer shouting obscenities at them. Funny because I did!!!


Verinha Ottoni.


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