William Forsythe’s five-year-old Kam mer/Kammer reads, now, like the last gasp of the theory era, a manifestation in video and movement of endless layers of analysis and interpretation. It also reinforces my hunch that when audiences facing a stage space must choose between watching film and watching live action, their eyes inevitably drift to the screen.
Forsythe’s 18-member ensemble, somewhat reduced from the group he headed as the longtime director of Ballett Frankfurt, spends the better part of two hours on a stage cluttered with scenic elements—painted flats, wood paneling, mattresses, chairs, tables, a piano (the choreographer is also credited with the scene design, lighting, and costumes). French words—guerres, nuit, many more, formed of freestanding thin letters—are visible on various surfaces. We see a roving videographer and a second, stationary camera. We infer, from shots visible on the many large plasma screens hung in the air and positioned on the set, that there’s another camera overhead looking down, and we also see a video shot by German art student Martin Schwember documenting his first encounter, in a hotel room, with a violin. David Morrow intermittently plays the piano.
Initially we hear a recording of Bach compositions for solo violin, as the young man on the screens experiments with his new acquisition. We also watch and listen to Antony Rizzi, a longtime company member here playing the young gay boyfriend of a touring rock star, and to Dana Caspersen, another Forsythe vet (and the choreographer’s wife) playing “Catherine Deneuve” as revealed in a text by Anne Carson. Rizzi is actually speaking lines from Douglas A. Martin’s novel Outline of My Lover, and Caspersen’s performing Carson’s Irony Is Not Enough: Essay on My Life as Catherine Deneuve (2nd Draft), wearing a pale Chanel-ish suit. The two of them (accompanied by the other dozen performers) dash around the stage, in and out of various “rooms” formed by the folding flats, narrating the development and dissolution of their relationships; the cameras follow parts of the action, sometimes refracting it kaleidoscopically, while we strain to discern other incidents through gaps in the scenery. Ultimately Rizzi, his love life in shambles, STARES INTO a camera rigged to dissolve his face.
Rizzi and Caspersen—longtime dancers making subtle career shifts—represent people in thwarted relationships. They, and we, function often as voyeurs. Caspersen’s Deneuve figure lusts after a student in a seminar she’s teaching; Jone San Martin plays this young woman with coltish fervor. Rizzi’s rock star never appears, but is endlessly conjured and addressed by the hyperactive performer who comes to resemble a young Woody Allen. Both of them invoke Greek sages—Sappho, Socrates—and deliver incantations. “To breathe is to love,” goes one line, and in this piece, to talk is to be privileged over those who merely move.
There is much racing around by the men and women who populate the stage, mostly in socks and wearing khakis and simple tops. On and around the bare mattresses they wrangle and tumble, sleekly executing what appear to be improvisational moves but are probably, after years of international touring, totally set.
Forsythe is really trying to make a movie, rather than choreograph a dance; he shows us the process, leaving out the final stage of sending the performers away and editing the takes. He cheats, though: Film directors generally make decisions for us, showing us one thing at a time, while Kammer/Kammer gives us many choices at every moment; sometimes even the videos overlap. I was offered two tickets, one for the orchestra and one for the mezzanine, so I could watch the proceedings from different angles. But finally, it didn’t matter where I sat; what drives the piece are the texts it derives from, much more simply accessed between covers.