My first viewing of a piece by William Forsythe was when I was fifteen. I was in New York City with my mother and best friend, auditioning for the Joffrey Ballet School summer program. The Joffrey, still magnificent in 1986, before it crusted over and moved to Chicago, was performing at the State Theater at Lincoln Center. One of the works on the mixed-bill was “ Love Songs.” I was blown out of the water of my Dayton, Ohio existence. Now that I think about, I’m sure that that night, that viewing, affected my choreographic aesthetic, especially regarding male/female partnering. Those duets were fierce and borderline abusive. And so beautiful in their danger. I think it was the first time I had ever seen juxtaposition.
When I was twenty and living in NYC, San Francisco Ballet came to town and performed Forsythe’s “ In the middle, somewhat elevated”. I remember loving the costumes, the hats in particular, I guess you could say the general aesthetic. At the time, I did not know how to critique work, how to talk about what I was seeing. Now I know that I was absorbing, taking in, educating my eye. Then, I just knew that I think I liked it.
Cut to Minneapolis. A few years into my tenure with James Sewell Ballet, my friend Christian Burns spent a chunk of time in Germany with Ballett Frankfurt, William Forsythe’s home base at the time. Upon his return he told me all about it, over several long conversations. It was clear that Chris’ dancing life had been deeply affected. It remains clear that that affect has remained. His experience was deep and rich and had something to do with a dance phrase called “ tuna”.
Near that same time, during a summer visit back in NYC, my mom and I were at the Whitney Museum. I found myself in a darkened theater. A film of a dancer was playing. Somehow I knew it was Bill Forsythe. I was captivated. Again, I didn’t really know what I was seeing, how to relate his dance to my daily practice of the form. I love how dance can still surprise me.
Through James Sewell Ballet I got to know a long-time Forsythe dancer, Noah Gelber. An old friend of Sally’s, he visited one fall season and performed a solo on our show. The swinging light enchanted me, as did his magnificent dancing, his layers of socks, his sense of humor.
The summer of 1997 I was in Paris and saw Noah with the company. They danced a piece called “ Sleepers Guts”. My boyfriend’s father and my mother fell asleep. My boyfriend and I sat with eyes wide open on our little bench seats in the rafters of the theater, I forget which one. The piece had text, live video, and kick-ass dancing. It defied categorization.
Noah visited Minneapolis again several years later, after he’d left the company. He gently led us through a mini workshop/explanation of just a few of Forsythe’s improvisational methods. We barely scratched the surface.
So here I find myself at the heart of these residency activities. I look forward to getting confused, drudging up questions and my shit. Maybe I’ll have a break-through. Maybe I’ll break. However it goes down, I’m ready to be surprised.