William Forsythe’s Enemy in the Figure is just what most fans expect from him. A rippled freestanding wall obstructs part of BAM’s stage. Thom Willems’s cataclysmic score crashes around Forsythe’s Ballett Frankfurt performers. Extremes of dark and light—in this case mainly from a low floodlight on wheels—batter them or consign them to shadows. The marvelous dancers, less balletic than those in works Forsythe makes for companies other than his own, thrash silkily about. A rolling hip may ignite the fling of a leg; an elbow or shoulder may start an arm flying. Couples wrangle their way into exciting complications, sometimes in near darkness. Invisible hands make ripples chase one another along a rope. When two pairs of women execute a traveling pattern of small springy steps off to one side, with their arms held still, the relief of simplicity is almost too much to bear. Enemy turns the audience on as surely as if it were spraying caffeine.
I prefer the relative calm of Quintett, made in 1993 for Forsythe’s wife, Tracey-Kai Maier, who was dying of cancer. The frail but spunky Dana Caspersen looks like a child or a doll when Stephen Galloway pulls and tosses her around. Yet here the elasticized ballet seems smoother, and the five cast members are also often clumsy, loping around like monkeys, or suddenly stumbling and falling flat. There’s something tender about this little community’s watchfulness. The music is quiet and poignant: Gavin Bryars’s famous score, within which loops a cracked voice singing “Jesus’ blood never failed me yet . . . ” Dancers “leave” by descending into a pit guarded by one of those convex traffic mirrors that prevent collision. What, you wonder, is the significance of an ominous machine parked onstage? Then Jone San Martin steps in front of it and a tiny light grows and spreads across her belly. As the dark curtain descends, she is falling backward into the pit, over and over, caught by hands that try to push her back out to the world.
A quite entrancing section of Woolf Phrase features Prue Lang and Richard Siegal—both superb—in a curious meditation about the pungency and transiency of memories. The two dance and speak—he the charming, down-to-earth host, she more mysterious, her voice miked to echo. A few words from Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway join the sounds of bees buzzing and waves breaking. Lang shrieks like a seagull. Her companion watches her as if she were a rare creature and, panting and barking, worries her leg.
Fiona Marcotty and Erik Kaiel titled their recent two-a-night programs at WAX “Book of Hours,” offering each dance, like a page in a medieval devotional, as a prayer or meditation for troubling times. In light of this, you tend to retain most strongly memories of hands pressed against faces, of people falling or tending one another or staring into space. Sean Mueller’s virtuosic fluency in Kaiel’s solo Winter of My Disco Tent can seem like a challenge to oblivion, and Marcotty’s rich if overlong Template for Wings, for Ariel Weiss Holyst, like an odyssey.
From the End of the Boulevards introduces Kaiel and Marcotty as an interesting odd couple. Marcotty, tall and voluptuous, with a cascade of curling brown hair, stays mostly in one spot, involved with some inner vision that sinuously arches her chest and face to the sky and folds her down to the ground. Kaiel—medium-sized and sturdy, with large, penetrating eyes—tends to move more directly, sternly, and all in one piece. While Marcotty melts, he, naked, hurls himself repeatedly into one-armed handstands. Except for some whispers and gestures to each other, they remain apart and different in a shared world.
Marcotty’s dreamily sensuous visions shape several of her works, like Mourning System, in which she and Malin Bostrom twitch and stretch under voluminous black net dresses. Mysteries are integral to her style. We don’t reason why, in the pusher, the pulse (a work in progress), Carlo Rizzo treads toward us, fiercely mouthing words, or why, in the excellent 1999 Chill Mark, Bostrom, Kaiel, and Luke Miller vie mildly for a pair of pants and a jacket.
Kaiel pits his intense solidity against Alan Eto’s snaky hips and emotional outbursts in Two Men, and contrasts it with Rosalie Ezekiel’s veiled delicacy in Alexandria. In this imaginative duet, he crouches beneath a sheet of plywood with books attached, while she perches on it, turning pages. His strongest work is Calves of Guernica, an array of bold, awkward, occasionally bovine dancing and surreal touches, for three men—himself, Mueller, and Rotem Tashach—wearing shirts spotted like Holsteins and singing in French of light and darkness.