William Forsythe’s company came to Rosebery Avenue this week for a three-day visit that brought recent works to our attention. NNNN is a 20-minute exercise in movement ideas and physical tics for four men, played in silence and entirely fascinating. Study #3 is an extended collation and juxtaposition of attitudes and methods abstracted from three decades of his creations, and is a vexation to the spirit – or at least to my spirit, which has been following Forsythe since Urlicht in 1976 and has been alternately thrilled and bemused by what it has seen.
NNNN shows the dazzling young Forsythe grown up, and still questioning movement itself. His quartet makes gestural canons and fugues, disrupts and disintegrates the action of limbs, and then reaffirms ideas about how bodies link and separate, and how a simple turn by hand or leg or head acquires a formidable and resonant presence in the theatre. I wish it were more relaxed in timing, but the process is constantly fascinating and admirably well done by its four men, with speed, clarity and acutest judgment everywhere displayed.
Study #3 is a long retrospective of Forsythian attitudes, hung about with that public-meeting earnestness that is so alien to dance but endemic to certain of his stagings and to his eager followers, with their touching belief that he is proffering pieces of the True Cross. The splinters here on offer are little events, excerpts (we are assured) from larger pieces, and for the most part I thought them indistinguishable one from another. They are united in their lack of verve, in their reliance upon the disruption of activity and in their inaudible and tedious gabble.
And, at its end, what have we learnt about Forsythe’s three creative decades? My reaction was to recall that in the past 30 years Forsythe has made stunning dances – not least at the Paris Opera with the dazzling Woundwork 1 and Pas./parts in 2000 – and where were they when we needed them? The long-faced display from this cast, the posings and dismal stretchings, the whispered talk, the cries and rook-impersonations, are less than the measure of this fascinating talent.