It's been so long since Ballett Frankfurt graced these shores that artistic director William Forsythe is known to many here only by his reputation as a radical wunderkind and heir to Balanchine. Recent commissions for the San Francisco Ballet and New York City Ballet have given glimpses of his bold aesthetic, but to see pure Forsythe you basically had to call Lufthansa. Until now. On Wednesday the German troupe brings his inscrutably titled Eidos: Telos to the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
Last week I got Forsythe on the phone and asked him what to expect. He replied with a cerebral riff on clinical neurology, classical mythology, and mathematical algorithms odd concerns for a dance rooted in grief. "It was made at a time when we needed to remember stuff. My wife [dancer Tracy-Kai Maier] had just died of cancer at 32, so memory was a big issue." His anguish, and the troupe's, registers most clearly in Act Two. Set in the underworld, it pairs a deadly waltz with a monologue on mortals who challenge the gods.
Yet, by Forsythe's reckoning, love and loss don't add up to a ballet. So he sandwiched these themes between analytical inquiries on body, memory, and time. The organizing principle is an iterative algorithm, a set of rules that largely determines the choreography as it's performed. In Act One, dancers respond to improvisational passages in Thom Willems's live score, creating counterpoint between movement and music. In Act Three, they react to one another, forming a visual canon that keeps feeding back into itself. "It's not at all mechanistic. Each dancer observes differently, so the results become quite unpredictable."
At 48, Forsythe also continues to defy expectations. Yet he sees himself as less of a rebel than Karole Armitage or Pina Bausch. "Pina's more critical of the ideology of ballet, whereas I'm more interested in its mechanics. I want to examine the interior of ballet dancing, how it works, and see what else it can produce."
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