Dance Europe 1 Jan 2003English

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Contextual note
Since this review has been written, the piece has changed drastically. The ending is now different; the dancers bunch together before running off into the wings. Also, the attitude or marking positions of the beginning has now given way to a full onslaught of energy.

Over the past four years William Forsythe has been increasingly concerned with the question of how to produce representative work for a huge stage that makes certain demands on both the size of his company and on the way he works with the dancers. One solution to the problem has been to engage in extra curricular activities, such as White Bouncy Castle or City of Abstracts, installations that aimed at turning ordinary people into impromtu dancers. The second answer is to simply ignore the fact that you are working in an opera house. Like The Room as it Was and 33/3, his two most recent ballets, (N.N.N.N.) that premiered in Frankfurt in November displays the same radicaleness in stripping away all theatrical trimmings.

The depth of the opera house stage is reduced to a narrow strip towards the front by a simple backdrop. The lighting is simple, and Thom Willems music is barely audible. Every now and again little snippets of what sounds like samples from his older compositions float by, but for most of the time one is left with the dancers’ breath and the sound of their bodies twisting across the floor. The title (N.N.N.N.) puns on the twice unknown but is also an indicator of the number of dancers on stage. Four men (Cyril Baldy, Amancio Gonzales, Georg Reischl, and Ander Zabala) engage in mechanical arm movements that are reminiscent of slapstick comedies. Hands touch and are withdrawn. Bodies turn and are given another direction by an impulse coming from somebody else. They are all given different basic positions, different ways to stretch their arms into space, which form a basis for the dense textures they built. For 33/3 Forsythe used tap dancing. This time he seemes to have had a closer look at clowns.

For a long time it looks as if the dancers couldn’t be bothered to dance. At the beginning, they are not embodying Forsythe’s movement sensibility any more. They are merely pointing at it. But as the piece continues, their energy levels rise. The mechanical connections become increasingly fluent until their limbs intertwine at odd angles to form ever changing duetts that burst with tension. They return repeatedly to a simple line made out of arms holding behind their backs and legs kicking like a chorus line. In the end, only one dancer remains on stage. He extends his arm, the palm of his hand turned upwards. He lets his head drop down, bounces it back up again, flings his palm to the back of his head which falls down again.

(N.N.N.N.) is a refreshingly unpretentious piece that sports a kind of wise humour that comes with the fact that after twenty odd years as a choreographer, you don’t have to prove yourself anymore. That the result is as stunning as ever is a strong indicator of Forsythe’s genius to make what looks like very little into something extraordinary. „(N.N.N.N.)“ is a witty and very funny piece that is nonetheless as complex and intricate as his more straight forward neo-classical work of the past.