Your Cart UMS

Dance Renegade: Choreography of William Forsythe

By Meri Bobber

Editor’s note: As part of the UMS 21st Century Artist Internships program, four students interned for a minimum of five weeks with a dance, theater, or music ensemble part of our 2015-2016 season. Meri Bobber is one of these students. This summer, she was embedded with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago.

Below, Meri shares her travel stories with the company in advance of their return to Ann Arbor on October 27, 2015.

scene from quintett hubbard st dance chicago
Photo: Moment in “Quintett” by choreographer William Forsythe. Photo by Cheryl Mann.

Meri’s note: My summer at Hubbard Street offered me some personal insight and experience with the work of world-renowned choreographer, William Forsythe. I met him and heard him speak at the company’s annual gala this June, researched his career as I helped write visa applications for his German restagers, experienced being in rehearsals with him and the Hubbard Street dancers, and conducted interviews about his work with Hubbard Street’s Meredith Dincolo, Glenn Edgerton, and Kevin Shannon. On October 27, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago brings a production of Forsythe’s choreography to Ann Arbor.

Forsythe’s History

American-born William Forsythe made his choreographic debut in 1976 after dancing professionally for companies including the Joffrey Ballet. He then went on to serve as the resident choreographer of Ballet Frankfurt in Frankfurt, Germany until its closing in 2004. He founded his own company, The Forsythe Company, with many of the same dancers and continues developing his work abroad.

Movement aesthetic

Forsythe is widely credited for radically rethinking and reinventing ballet. He uses balletic concepts such as épaulement (a type of shoulder movement) in many of his works, but infuses the foundational technique with new ideas and fresh contexts. His movement language explores the geometric possibilities of the body as it moves through space, challenges verticality, employs torsion and spirals, and explores lines, points, and curves. Hubbard Street’s Artistic Director Glenn Edgerton said in an interview this summer that Forsythe’s perspective and work “has changed the face of dance.” Retired Hubbard Street dancer Meredith Dincolo, now artistic associate and coordinator of pre-professional programs, added, “In classical dance and in contemporary dance, you can’t deny [Forsythe’s] importance.”

Forsythe as a collaborator

Forsythe’s work can be highly collaborative, academic, and technology-driven. He has developed his own computer software and improvisation technologies that explore geometrically influenced movement generation. Additionally, he has collaborated with The Ohio State University to create an interactive website which examines One Flat Thing, reproduced, one of the pieces that Hubbard Street will perform for our audiences. Forsythe’s work “made science and dance come together,” says Edgerton.


One Flat Thing, reproduced by William Forsythe from dance-tech.TV on Vimeo.

Creative process

Forsythe’s dancers are treated as essential collaborators throughout his creative process. On September 30, 2015, in a conversation with Hubbard Street’s Zac Whittenburg, Forsythe articulated that his choreographic process consists of giving his dancers the substantive ideas, shapes, tasks, and themes (the “what”). The dancers then bring these to life in the studio (the “how”). Those working to set the rep on Hubbard Street’s company are all dancers who participated in the original casts of the works. Glenn Edgerton believes the process of learning, rehearsing, and performing Forsythe’s choreography will “change and broaden [the Hubbard Street dancers’] perspective” on dance, influencing the rest of their careers. Hubbard Street dancer Kevin Shannon agrees. This summer, he said that he’s excited to focus on one choreographer’s work for several months, because especially with Forsythe, “it is all about the process.”

Future

Now 65, Forsythe is retiring as artistic director of The Forsythe Company and will soon be on faculty at the new Glorya Kaufman School of Dance at the University of Southern California. His educational efforts in America will begin to contribute to the propulsion of “what’s next” in American contemporary dance. The contemporary dance community of the United States is highly anticipating his return.

Forsythe in Ann Arbor

The William Forsythe program that Hubbard Street brings to Ann Arbor will restage three of Forsythe’s most impactful works: N.N.N.N., Quintett, and One Flat Thing: reproduced. This selection of works exemplifies Forsythe’s signature movement language while also proving his diversity as a choreographer as the three pieces vary greatly:

  • N.N.N.N. is a quartet originally set on four male dancers. The HSDC restaging is challenging the role of gender and inter-gender relationships by substituting  women into some of the roles. The choreography is precise and fearless and moves like mechanical clockwork. The dancers’ limbs intertwine and bounce off one another’s bodies as the group moves through space.
  • One Flat Thing, reproduced was created in 2000, recreated on film in 2006, and was originally set on 14 dancers with 20 large, identical tables. The tables create grid-like negative space on stage, and the dancers maneuver over, under, and around this space in solos, duets, trios, and larger groups. The piece is a massive puzzle of visual and aural cues, and requires the dancers to pay explicit attention to one another’s timing. This is the kind of piece that’s always happening: if you blink while watching, you’ll miss something.
  • Forsythe’s late wife inspired Quintett. Five male and female dancers move to exhaustion to the repetitive music of Gavin Bryars. The choreography exemplifies Forsythe’s geometric interests and explores grief by taking the dancers on a journey to a state of extreme physical fatigue. Hubbard Street dancer Kevin Shannon confirms that this is “one of the hardest pieces I’ve ever danced in my life… the state of exhaustion you reach creates a connectivity [with the other dancers] that you don’t see in other pieces. By the end, you have to let go and find a deeper place within yourself.” Meredith Dincolo describes Quintett as the most intimate of the works we’ll see, pairing well with the other pieces to give a “broad spectrum of William Forsythe’s work.”

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago returns to Power Center with an evening of works by choreographer William Forsythe on October 27, 2015.

Interested in more? UMS Artist Services Manager Anne Grove was once company manager of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. Read our interview with Anne.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Meri Bobber pursues a BFA in Dance Performance and a minor in Law, Justice, and Social Change at the University of Michigan. She also professionally teaches dance and fitness classes. Upon her December 2015 graduation from U-M, Bobber will dance professionally with the Detroit-based contemporary company ArtLabJ Dance under the artistic direction of Joori Jung.