Artifact ballet by William Forsythe: forget what you think you know about dance
Last week Boston Ballet presented the Artifact 2017 by William Forsythe, one of the most influential choreographers of our time (in Boston Opera House through March 5).
Many of us, weekenders, go to ballet performances to escape the routine and to be carried away to the far away lands of swans, princesses and eternal love, to live through the emotions bigger than life and, of course, to connect with the powerful characters. The Artifact by William Forsythe will definitely challenge your expectations. There is no (obvious) story line, or exotic lands, or characters whose passions you could immediately follow. There is a Woman in Historical Dress (Dana Caspersen) and Man with Megaphone (Nicholas Champion has been playing the role since ballet’s inception in 1984) and a Woman in Gray (possibly aka the Spirit of Dance; By Caralin Curcio). I had especially hard time trying to connect with Man with Megaphone.
There is powerful large ensemble dancing in intricate architectural patterns as well as several intimate, physical duet dancing (Lia Cirio/Roddy Doble and Seo Hye Han/Paul Craig last Saturday; Kathleen Breen Combes/Eris Nezha and Misa Kuranaga/Patrick Yocum on the opening night).
There are also WORDS, lots of spoken words (hear/remember, think/thought, see/forget, step inside/step outside, dust/sand/rocks) that sometimes make total sense, like these powerful revelations (“You step outside and you always forget”, “You always think, you never thought, you always said”) and yet other times are just there as a rhythmic background.
But here is where the avant-garde ballet comes alive: once YOU STEP INSIDE – you can create your own story. (That is if you SEE and do not FORGET – and some of it may become SAND and ROCKS and some will disappear as DUST.)
I was lucky to see the performance twice: first, during the Dress Rehearsal before the February 23 Opening Night and also last Saturday, two days after the opening. I found that during my second experience with Forsythe choreography I was better prepared to THINK about what I SAW.
Since most of you will only have one chance to see the performance this week these notes may help prepare you for the EXPERIENCE.
1. The Artifact is a modern (some would even say abstract) ballet with a four-act structure of a classical ballet, with its large ensemble sequences mixed with pas de deux performances;
2. You may want to think about the story line as a story of Ballet itself: its origins and its struggles to remain (hence the repetition of basic technical elements) and to change (this is what powerful futuristic ensemble dances are about). New York Times quoted Forsythe saying that the language in Artifact is the language of ballet terminology. “… the outside, the inside, remembering, forgetting; it’s what we say in class and rehearsal every day.”
3. Forsythe admitted being influenced by “the most contemporary choreographer of all times” George Balanchine (Balanchine died a year before the Artifact was first performed in 1984); Balanchine traditions are evidenced throughout the choreography and not just in the identical minimalistic costumes.
4. The musical score is built around J.S. Bach’s “Chaconne from Partita No. 2 in D Minor” (variations by Eva Crossman-Hecht).
5. William Forsythe has not stopped working on his ballet over the last 30 years, and he has substantially changed Parts 3 and 4 while in Boston!
Artifact marks the beginning of a 5-year partnership which Boston Ballet established with Forsythe. WILL I REMEMBER, WILL I FORGET? WAS I ON THE INSIDE OR OUTSIDE? WAS IT DUST OR SAND? I know I will become better at it with each new Forsythe puzzle I will be decrypting. As always, I invite you to follow along.
Artifact 2017 performs in Boston Opera House through March 5. For tickets and more information, go to Boston Ballet’s website.