The 2005 Dance Umbrella season kicked off last week with the London debut of the Forsythe Company, created after William Forsythe’s longstanding and successful collaboration with Frankfurt Ballet ended for debatable administrative and artistic reasons. The event attracted an audience of electrified Forsythe diehards, but was not memorable.
The oddly mixed programme started with two recent (2002) and complementary creations, The Room As It Was and N.N.N.N. Each work focused on an in-depth study of how movements, be they large or minute, are generated in one body and can then transfer, with variations, repetitions, additions and reactions, to other bodies. The resulting action was frenziedly seamless. There were darker tones in the first work, whereas the second veered towards slapstick comedy from a spirited, all-male quartet.
Set against a stark backcloth and punctuated by intentionally audible breathing, neither work came across as particularly provocative or innovative. Detailed exploration of movement and choreographic transferral from one dancer to another is, after all, the kind of material that has been favoured by dance-makers since the inception of choreographic postmodernism in the early Sixties. One would therefore have expected Forsythe to bestow his unique mark on such a dated formula. Alas, individual imprint was the missing ingredient. Even when, in The Room As It Was, the backcloth lifted to reveal some intentionally hidden action going on behind it, this didn’t have the impact that other, more controversial challenges to the given notion of theatre dance in Forsythe’s oeuvre have had. The success of the two pieces therefore relied greatly, if not exclusively, on the amazing individual skills of the dancers. As always with Forsythe, the performers mesmerise the audience by using their non-conventional ballet bodies in ways that transcend any technique or style.