Inside Enemy

Denken in Bewegung 2004English
in Gerald Siegmund (ed.), William Forsythe: Denken in Bewegung, Berlin: Henschel Verlag, 2004

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Contextual note
Written and published in German in 2004, this essay was first published in English on Sarma in March 2014.

Have you ever imagined what it is like to dance my fast solo part in Enemy in the Figure by William Forsythe and Ballett Frankfurt? What I have to trigger in my body and with my body in order to dance this role? What I have to remember physically? What the difficulties are that I come across in this process, and what happens when I suddenly run into another dancer?

Not all of what I write will be readily comprehensible as the description – in words of movement – can only approach the complexity of what is actually taking place. Perhaps you can use your imagination to fill in the blanks to create the whole picture of a furious solo-duet, in which ropes, lights, cables and people are constantly re-arranging themselves onstage, and in which split-second timing is essential to avoid some very real dangers. Over the years, since the premiere in 1989, many different people have danced this role in quite a few companies. So, to avoid confusing you and myself, I will use the names of the original cast members (Elisabeth Corbett, Isabelle Gerber, Jennifer Grissette, Amanda Miller, Ana C. Roman, Andrea Tallis, Steven Galloway, Christopher Johnson, Andrew Levenson, Thomas McManus and Anthony Rizzi). Although during the working process we used many improvisational structures to create the movement for the piece, my movement for this particular section, except at the end of the solo, is all set choreography.

The stage scenery consists of a black dance floor surrounded by three black sturdy walls (sturdy because sometimes the dancers use the walls as a dance surface). Slightly upstage off center stands a three-meter high, unpainted plywood wall that has been bent into the shape of two S’s conjoined end to end. This structure is simply called the ‘wavy wall’ to set it apart from the other walls. The only other set pieces are a thick 30-meter long tan hemp-rope and a 5 kilowatt light (5KW) on wheels connected to a power source by a 20 meter long black cable.

The whole fast section takes only a little more than five minutes to complete but has always been one of the biggest challenges for stamina, concentration, musicality and presence that I have ever experienced in my career as a dancer. The whole piece Enemy in the Figure has also been one of the most satisfying pieces to dance, as it tends to leave a lasting impression on all those who see it.


Behind the wavy wall, after ‘Tap Dance’ section and while you are changing into the ‘matrix suit’ – so named because of a spider-web pattern painted over its surfaces – listen for the cymbal sound – ti ti ti – then count 5 6 7 8. Then, with the rhythmic music, count 7x8, then 6x8, broken into two sets because of musical phrasing. A little hyperventilation at this point helps you get through the next three and a half minutes with less struggling. On the beginning of the 6th eight, grab hold of the downstage edge of the wall, right hand above, left hand below, and swing your legs (and body) in a semi-circle – feet on floor – around to the front of the wall. As you let go of the wall turn away from it and run toward the downstage right quarter mark urgently, as if you were running away from someone or to a situation that immediately needed your attention (whenever someone runs during Enemy in the Figure they use their arms as a sprinter would to reach maximum speed as quickly as possible). Your right foot makes a semi-circle on the floor from back to front, and you have to bend your standing leg as the foot reaches the side and straighten this standing leg as it reaches the front. While your foot is making this pattern horizontally on the floor, your arms, held parallel to each other in front of you, are drawing two semi-circles vertically in front of you from left to right, and you should feel your fingers swell with blood from the centrifugal force you create. This sequence of movements is repeated in the same way three times, except that the third time the left arm doesn’t travel with the right but stays where it is on the left side, so that when the foot arrives at the end of its last semi-circle the arms come to a V-shape.

This V-shape is more of a mental signpost, as the left arm doesn‘t really stop; rather, it travels over your head and would continue towards the floor, but it runs into the right elbow and then both arms descend toward the floor. As the right elbow reaches the area of the belly button it suddenly decides to stop, which sends a kind of shock or ripple through the rest of the body as it was prepared to descend all the way to the floor. The left arm is extracted from the crook of the right elbow. The top of the right foot travels on the floor through your parallel foot position and makes two circles on the floor from back to front. The right elbow wants to travel this path also, although in the air, but does so about a quarter of a second too late. These two uncalibrated circles create a twist and torque on the spine that, left to continue, would probably tear the body apart. Luckily the right foot bisects the second circle and comes to a stop on a forced arch at the outer edge of it, the knee making a 90° angle. The right elbow meanwhile has caught up to the foot and bisects its own circle to end out to the right, the upper arm held parallel to the floor and the lower arm dropping away, also creating a 90° angle.

This alignment catches your attention and you look to the right side to see if any visible waves were given off by the sudden cessation of movement. As soon as this picture is established you drop the elbow and knee-foot position and the two reappear on the other side of your body. Step to the right and cross the left foot in front. Step to the right again, but as the right foot would arrive to the floor it decides to place itself on the other side of the left foot and in doing so it slams into the left leg, causing it to bend and passé while crossing in front of the right and landing only on the ball of the foot where the right leg should have landed, in this way you come to a crossed legged position with your torso facing to the front.

(When I saw William Forsythe do this move for the first time I was nonplused as to how to recreate it. I think I worked on it for the next hour, knocking my leg out from under me and falling on the floor. Finally, I found enough coordination to flex my toes as my right foot was approaching the ground and then roll the foot onto the floor with a firm grip. I was very excited to be able to execute the move, but the next day I was so bruised and sore I had to take it a little easy.)

This being a very difficult position to hold, you immediately spin your torso to the right, untwisting your legs, and put your knees together, leaving your left heel off the ground where it’s been. This position is also a signpost and seems like a freeze, but is only held for the time it takes your eyes to adjust to the new direction in which you are looking. When you drop this left heel, it necessitates your hips to arch back with it so, conversely, when you next lift the right heel the hips rock forward. Take this forward thrust of the hips and bend it into a trajectory around the right hand corner and to the back and follow this new direction with your hips running backwards around the stage in a large semi-circle (I had to practice running backwards until there was visually no coordinative difference to running forwards). This shape is bounded by the rope – which Anthony Rizzi is shaking in large vertical, hip-height waves – and the wavy wall. When you have completed about three quarters of your semi-circle and can see the upper part of the wall out of the corner of your right eye, you must miraculously find yourself in the air with your toes, all ten, leading your body around the imaginary serrated-sharp corner of a new red brick wall. The toes, being together, allow for an assemblé landing, which gives you just enough grip on the ground to bounce out off and hop and turn in the opposite direction, and you slow your momentum down by staying fairly close to the ground and stretching this line of energy out into a croissé fourth position lunge. Since you have controlled your momentum to a certain extent, you can decide to fall the other way, opposite to the one you have, until now, been traveling.

About this time Steven Galloway comes on and does his fast improvisation along the sidewall. Both your arms swing down and up into a V-shape as your legs come together and you spin once in the air. Landing on your right foot, you bring your left through and, on both balls of your feet, you reduce your friction on the floor enough to enable you to slide for about two meters, coming to rest in an effacé fourth position with both arms curved in front of you and both elbows together. Slide the right arm parallel to the left down toward the floor and parallel to the right leg. As the arm reaches the level of the leg, it begins to straighten and pulls you back and around to the right, your feet come together and you spin a few times in a question mark-shape, arched back and looking at the ceiling. (Learning how to pirouette is a whole subsection of Ballet technique, pirouetting while you are looking at the ceiling can give you that roller-coaster-ride-in-your-stomach feeling, which might make some people a little queasy but which I am addicted to!)

You somehow try to sense where the wavy wall is and flip yourself up to it to run backwards towards the downstage corner. Because you are running not quite parallel to the undulating rope, you notice it coming closer to you on the left side. When it is just a couple of steps away from you, your right leg bends and your knees stick together as your right arm swings up in line with your head; this causes you to elevate slightly and you skim the floor with your left toes. As you feel the floor again, the right arm swings down to shoulder level and across your chest as the right knee opens – foot on demi-pointe – the right elbow hits an imaginary wall on your right side. The same elbow drops down in a curve toward the stomach, which makes you turn, and in the middle of this turn the right arm picks up the right leg and takes it up into a V-position mirrored by the left arm standing on left leg demi-pointe.

Andrew Levenson now pulls the rope from behind the wavy wall and Anthony Rizzi comes flying out of the corner and rolls upstage of you. If you’ve been attending to the music correctly, all of this finishes on the big crash and the overhead neon lights black out on you about two seconds after you have reached this position, leaving only the 5KW shining out from behind the wavy wall, making a trapezoid of light in which your first pas de deux with Ana C. Roman happens – elapsed time: 1:45. Ana comes running at you along the upstage edge of light and you begin a pas de deux in which her energy goes through you; she is supported, lifted, flung, thrown, caught, you confuse each other and you agree. Andrew runs between you and the wavy wall to start his solo. You and Ana run, leaning on each other, toward the back wall and push each other away into the corner exits of the stage.


Finally off-stage, you breathe, you find a stool, a colleague or something you can jump off of, you take your jacket off, you dry yourself off, and you take a drink of water. Twenty seconds later, you jump out of the wing as if you’ve been sliding down a large drain pipe feet first. Elisabeth Corbett changes the direction of the 5KW to create a narrow triangle of light in which the second part of your solo takes place. You re-assume the V-position from the end of your first solo. Let go of your leg and the fingers of both hands slide into tubes at your sides, right hand to left side and left hand to right, while the toes of the left foot cross to the right side. The right hand describes a semi-circle in front of you, as does the left elbow, causing a scissoring of the arms, and the left foot mirrors the left elbow’s path. The whole body tries to accommodate the left elbow’s trajectory and follow it to the floor, and the body shrinks as it approaches an Alice in Wonderland door, but before it steps through this door the right foot decides to make a circular plane in front of you, which makes your body lean precariously to the left, only to be saved from falling by the force of the right leg returning to its normal relation to gravity and the floor. Having arrived to a relevé à la second position, you now plié there – turned out, jump backwards to a turned in position, make a syncopated run backwards to fourth croisé and bring both hands to your right shoulder; the whole time the body is being transported by the feet like a Jack in the Box bobbing on his spring. The tiny door is open again and sucks you out of this position, and you run shrinking diagonally forward to repeat the right foot circular plane. This time from the relevé second position you plié and jump to the right as far as you can, and in the air cross your left foot in back of your right, so that when you hit the ground you are already turning to the back.

Anthony Rizzi and Christopher Johnson run to take the rope to its position for the horizontal and vertical wave section. When you face front again you use your arms to help you jump up into the air with your body on a diagonal, head left and feet right. At the zenith of your elevation, you cause your body to swing like a bell and your feet land on the floor to your left side, hands to your right. Push away from the floor and your body travels in an arc to the left; when your hands return to the floor switch your feet to your left side, repeat. As the hands reach the left side the second time, take the right foot in back of you and let it lead you around in a circle to the left, ending on demi-pointe, bent knee. The arms reach a barrel o’monkeys (a parlor game that has plastic monkeys with elongated, S-shaped arms) position slightly later than the right foot does its position, right arm high, left low. The right arm attempts to draw a straight diagonal line to low back left, but to do this it would have to go through your body, so at the last moment your torso moves out of the way and allows the passage of the arm to its final destination, thereby turning the body into a fourth position lunge facing back. (When teaching this move, it is important for the dancer to firmly hold the image of a line going through the body, so that when he tries to follow it many residual movements occur.) The arm now glides back toward the body and sweeps the knee up as you come onto balance on your left leg demi-pointe. Give your knee a couple of shakes which ronds the foot, then let go of the leg and circle both arms from down to up. As this circle happens, you also rond the right foot on the floor, turning to the left side. Both arms meet at the top and sink, fingers first, down the front of your body making two additional horizontal circles at your hip-level. These hip-level circles are a preparation to help you leap into the air with V-shaped arms, the left leg straightens as the right leg comes into an open passé. (William Forsythe tends not to like it when the dancers next move is announced by a big preparation, so you have to keep your runs light, even though you are exhausted at this point, and use the floor with short strong pliés.) As the leg comes to this side-position, it pulls the right elbow to it and at the top of the jump they collide and bounce away from each other. When you land from this rather complicated series of aerial movements, you are back in the barrel o’monkeys position from before and the first part of the sequence repeats itself until the two horizontal hip circles.

At this point you bring both arms back up above your head, do a backwards glissade, swing the arms down, and as they pass the hip area they brush the left leg first into arabesque then fouetté, with the arms in a turned in, broken apart fifth position, to a penché en avant leaning back. Both the arms and leg swing through and, in so doing, turn you halfway around to a turned in croissé fourth position, left foot demi-pointe, hands together shoulder level in front of you. The left arm opens to begin a turn, the right leg follows and comes parallel to it and the right arm trails behind; you are on your left foot and start the turn with a straight leg, and as you turn go into as deep a demi-plié as possible. There is little choice but to fall out of this strange spin, so when that happens you run towards the wavy wall and try to fit your body into the memory traces of the shadows that you have been making during this solo, both high and low (which means sometimes jumping up onto the wall, the dancers behind the wall are holding the wall so it doesn’t move too much or fall over) and you travel the whole thing down to the front end of the wall where you are going to catch Ana as she tumbles out from behind the wall – elapsed time: 2:45


This time Ana uses you as a wall, you use her as a lighthouse, Isabelle Gerber brakes you both apart in the middle, your big lift with Ana fails, tumbling you both on the floor, Isabelle runs through you and you push-fling Ana as she steps in ever-growing semi-circles toward you into the corner – elapsed time: 3:15. Andrew and Isabelle begin their pas de deux as you are exiting. As they are finishing, the music and lights grow dim, dimmer even dimmer. The fast section has come to an end.