Take the title of choreographer William Forsythe’s A Quiet Evening of Dance literally. For the first forty-five minutes of this show, the only sound you’ll hear is a sometimes soundtrack of distant birds singing quietly and the dancers breathing. The house lights are left up, you’re visible and there’s no set. It’s all black on black with occasional highlights of grating colour in the form of what looks a lot like coloured rubber gloves. The consequence is the audience is left uncomfortable, exposed physically and emotionally in their familiar Sadler’s seats, tested on an actual appreciation of choreography with no comfort blankets and nowhere to hide.
However, if you’re interested in dance and your reaction to dance go and be uncomfortable for a while. Find out how you respond to choreography by itself. What do you see? What do you understand differently?
All the seven dancers are superb, their excellence forming a safety line to cling to through the experiment being performed on your perceptions by Forsythe. Christopher Roman and Parvaneh Scharafali are joys.
Forsythe’s contemporary dance choreography uses ballet as its core language but with a twist, starting from the idea that ballet is a practice of folding and unfolding limbs, beginning with points of the body such as the hips and shoulders before moving on to include the limbs and the way all these relate to one other and how counterpoint works within the frame of a body. Making a mechanical sketch of the foundations of ballet.
While the brief Prologue in Act 1 is graceful in its reference to humanity and nature ( that birdsong) the Second part, Catalogue explores counterpoints in the body as repetition and disconnection. This may be as hard and uncomfortable to watch for you as a Harry Worth comedy sketch. The way you choose to react to this under those revealing house lights lighting you, knowing the dancers can see you clearly may reveal something about you. All the usual rules of watching dance are being broken.
But what starts to emerge through the discomfort are points of connection. There are echoes of marionettes, mime, jazz dance, the Tango, silent films, Charlie Chaplin. What’s in your head? Pointed movements rather than curved inevitably describe the mechanical not the human even when performed by two bodies.
It’s a relief after half an hour of challenged expectations when Dialogue is reached. Danced only to the faint sound of birdsong by Brigel Gjorka and Riley Watts. This is a piece included in Sylvie Guillem’s final programme of dance before she retired.
Starting quietly in movement it expands into harmony and grace. By means of choreography and bird song alone it connects humans, all humanity and nature. It’s a wondrous choreographic piece.
Act 2 restores music and lighting, the house goes dark, the audience is back in its comfort zone. How good it feels. The music is the baroque work of Jean-Philippe Rameau, there’s repetition of much of the dance choreography of Act 1 but in this different acoustic context perception changes. You see the same movement but how amusing, how pert, how lush, how human, how glorious they are. The evening ends with Dialogue again. The audience will be on its feet.
Don’t go to this if you have a cough or the cold that’s going about. You’ll feel the greatest nuisance ever coughing through the silence. But not to go at all would be like never having read the great Russian and French literature of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries only because you have to wait a while for the greatness that will change you and your perceptions forever to be revealed.
Review by Marian Kennedy
William Forsythe is undoubtedly one of the foremost choreographers of his generation. For this unusual configuration of new and existing work, Forsythe has imagined something akin to an evening of chamber music, designed to be listened to.
The works range from sparse analytic condensation to baroque inspired counterpoint. The intricate phrasing of the dancers’ breath is the primary accompaniment for a distillation of the geometric origins of classical ballet.
The evening is performed by seven of Forsythe’s most trusted collaborators, who promise to provide insight into the workings of ballet and the mind of the man who has dedicated his work to this task.
The programme will include DUO2015 and Catalogue Second Edition, and the world premiere of new work.
William Forsythe — A Quiet Evening of Dance
4 – 6 October 2018
Rosebery Avenue, London, EC1R