There is something magical about matinees. Part of your day is behind you and yet, as it’s only the afternoon, you still have the whole evening to reflect on what you are about to see.
It is late October, weather in LA has started to cool down and there is a cool breeze coming in from the east. The Music Center’s Dorothy Chandler Pavillion welcomes you with its stylized columns and a glass façade refracting rays of the autumn sun in an encompassing atmosphere of grandeur. Emancipation is in the air and I have the honor of seeing three of the nation’s top ballet companies, San Francisco Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet and Houston Ballet, celebrate the work of a visionary choreographer William Forsythe. In Celebrate Forsythe, each ballet company performs one of choreographer’s significant works: Pas/Parts 2016, The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude and Artifact Suite. These are performed together for the first time, as part of the dance engagement and by ballet companies that were personally selected by Forsythe for The Music Center presentation.
Considered one of the most prolific and influential choreographers of this era, Forsythe is recognized as revolutionizing the practice of ballet by pairing both classical and contemporary movement with contemporary music, transforming traditional ballet into a dynamic 21st century art form. Active in the field of choreography for more than 45 years, Forsythe’s interest in the principles of organization led him to produce a wide range of projects, including installations, films and web-based knowledge creation. He was appointed associate choreographer of the Paris Opera Ballet in 2015 and is also professor of dance and artistic advisor to the Choreographic Institute at the Glorya Kaufman School of Dance at the University of Southern California.
The show opens with a Pas/Parts 2016, performed by San Francisco Ballet and not only am I struck by Forsythe’s use of syncopation and counterpoint and the tree-dimesionality of his movement, but I am immediately drawn to the symbiosis between Thom Willelms’ instrumental and electronic music and Forsythe’s choreography and lighting. It is here that we see how music and dance, born independently from each other, can depict an integral whole, at the same time retaining their own full autonomy. Dancers seem to be in a large gray, open top box (It’s a cross between a shoe-box and space ship). They are wearing simple designs – black leotards with purple, blue or green blocks of color, a beautiful minimalist aesthetic designed by Stephen Galloway and visually adding simplicity to the complex piece. Simple shapes of color, penetrate the box that changes from grey to golden with subtle light transitions. The ballet’s name suggests a series of parts, through solos, duets, trios and mercurial groupings. The pairings seem random, the groups change and new dancers keep appearing. The structure adds to this intricate experience, as the viewer, enveloped by the meditative musical and visual composition simply gives in to the experience without questioning and trying to find an order.
The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude, Performed by Pacific Northwest Ballet is set to the final movement from Franz Schubert’s Symphony No.9, thereby making it more traditional in nature than Pas/Parts 2016. Designed by Forsythe himself, the costumes are made of a beautiful shade of Matisse green, with perfectly round tutus and point shoes. We are presented with virtuosity, lyricism and a friendly display of formal manners between the sexes. Performed by three women and two men, and shorter than the first and last piece in Celebrate Forsythe, The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude beautifully connects Pas/Parts 2016 and Artifact Suite right before the intermission, allowing us to soak up a breathtaking display of classical technique. This piece beautifully demonstrates how Forsythe sees the ballet vocabulary, as a range of choreographic possibilities, distilled in it’s purest and most brilliant form. The dancers’ ability to make technical difficulty into a triumph of physical mastery becomes a literal representation of ballet’s name – a vertical thrill of exactitude and precision!
Now, as the intermission is taking place, it is important to note that William Forsythe is a visionary choreographer and innovator in dance, who brilliantly “integrates ballet with the visual arts, in ways unprecedented since the era of the Ballet Russe,” (quote: Rachel Moore, president and CEO of The Music Center). This pairing of both classical and contemporary movement with very contemporary music has redefined ballet for a new generation and to me, as a performance artist, is exceptionally inspiring and thrilling. Coming back to my seat, I overhear murmurs from the ladies in my row - “I hear this next piece is supposed to be the best one!” During the intermission, my friend Tora and I don’t talk very much, instead we are lavitating on what we have already seen. How can this next piece be the best one, I wonder? My jaw has already dropped and my endorphins are firing left right and center.
And so, Artifact Suite Performed by Houston Ballet begins. It is an edited version of an evening length ballet, Artifact, created in 1984 for Ballet Frankfurt.
Set for the entire ensemble of a ballet company, Artifact Suite contains massive group sections amongst volatile solos and pas de deux. This is Forsythe’s first full - length ballet paying homage to great epochs of ballet. Dancers dissect traditional ballet movements across every corner of the stage, wearing golden leotards and black tights resembling ancient Egyptian emperors, and a single dancer stands out from the crowd. With unique and mystifying hand movements, drastic lighting changes, haunting shadow use and sudden curtain drops, during Bach’s energetic and mesmerizing Chaconne from “Partitia No 2 in D minor,” Forsythe’s meticulous exploration of the performance space is demonstrated. “William Forsythe knock(s) traditional ballet off center by expanding ballet vocabulary to include movement that can be sharp, angular, side to side or multiple tempo,”(quote: Michael Solomon, associate vice president of programming for The Music Center). This is by far one of Forsythe’s stylistic masterpieces for ballet that kept me on the edge of my seat throughout.
The audience’s standing ovation was a proof that I was not alone in my awe. This was a truly magical matinee in a wonderful venue and I couldn’t have imagined a better way to spend my Sunday afternoon. Even writing and thinking about it, brings butterflies to my stomach! As I left the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion, I had the whole evening ahead of me to contemplate on Forsythe’s mastery of movement and visual representation.