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October 10, 2013 6:20 pm
William Forsythe has built a long and fruitful career on defying expectations. In the 1980s and 1990s, he took classical steps and punked them up – limbs more splayed and body more off-kilter than even Balanchine at his most extreme. The stage boundaries also got stretched, with dancers walking on casually from the sidelines or staying there to dance. But by now the Long Island-born, German-based choreographer has dismantled pretty much every structure of ballet and theatre, big and small, that might hold a work together. The result is like the bits of shell and rotten egg that once upon a time were Humpty Dumpty.
This year’s cause for bafflement, dubbed Sider, did not infuriate, as other recent works have done. But the thoroughness of its inconsequentiality did eventually exhaust even the most earnest and eager viewer, such as me. The steps were squirrelly, the alternation between bustle and stillness predictable, the declaiming gibberish, the dancers disconnected from one another, and the nondescript cardboard sheets everywhere. The 18 dancers scooted them around, kicked them in a violent tattoo, lay down on them, lifted them overhead – sometimes all at once in a visual cacophony.
I understand the cardboard’s appeal to a theoretically-minded artist such as Forsythe. A cardboard sheet is not simply a prop but the very quiddity of “prop”. It can represent any number of things – wall, canvas, body, bed, shack – without them ever rubbing off on it. It never acquires any significance of its own; it is simply a placeholder for meaning. Sider is similar. Forsythe may have withheld from us the rules of the game, but we never doubted that Sider was a game, merely. Sure, wonderful moments occurred, such as when Riley Watts, in plastic ruff, extended the courtier’s steps – which reach back to ballet’s beginnings – beyond bowing and scraping to sinking and oozing. But, surrounded by detritus, these collisions with history could spark little.
On the train home, the woman next to me said she keeps showing up for Forsythe because of the ballets he once made and because “at his roughest he is still more interesting than most choreographers at their most polished”. She spoke this last bit, though, like a mantra. I, at least, am losing faith.
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