An interview with internationally acclaimed choreographer William Forsythe, who brings two pieces new to Seattle audiences to PNB in March 2015.
One of the liveliest audience-dividers that Pacific Northwest Ballet’s artistic director Peter Boal brought into PNB’s repertory after taking the helm in 2005 was William Forsythe’s “One Flat Thing, reproduced.”
This rambunctious, ricocheting fugue of a dance — performed on/between/below 20 tables that the dancers drag onto the stage — was thrilling to some, anathema to others.
Boal addressed the controversy it stirred by bringing it back to PNB the very next season, as if to say, “Folks — you really need to take another look at this.”
‘The Vertiginous Thrill of Forsythe’
Pacific Northwest Ballet, March 13-22, McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St., Seattle; $30-$184 (206-441-2424 or pnb.org).
Now, with “The Vertiginous Thrill of Forsythe,” opening March 13, Boal is presenting the first all-Forsythe program ever mounted at a major American ballet company.
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“I’ve always felt that Bill was one of the great choreographic minds of our time,” he said in a recent interview. “He’s always forging in a different direction, always extending our definition of what ballet could be.”
The program includes two PNB premieres (“The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude” and “New Suite”) and a revival of “In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated” (first brought to PNB by Boal’s predecessors, Kent Stowell and Francia Russell).
All three pieces, while differing in character, are more overtly ballet-derived than “One Flat Thing,” especially “New Suite,” a series of pas de deux that, Boal says, have “very pure classical roots.”
Forsythe, in a phone interview last month, said, “The idea with the selection of work is to highlight as many different talents in the company as possible. … People should just focus on the excellence of the dancers. That’s my goal — that the dancers shine.”
In devising the program, Forsythe was also responding to a request from PNB to stage an evening with all live music.
“The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude” came with its own ready-made orchestral score: the zesty, propulsive final movement from Schubert’s Symphony No. 9 (“The Great”). “New Suite,” previously performed by the Dresden Semperoper Ballett, had to be reconfigured to fit an all-string orchestra. “So there’s much more musical coherency,” Forsythe says, “which I actually prefer.”
“In the Middle,” by contrast, features an Art of Noise-like electronic score by Thom Willems (creator of the brash score for “One Flat Thing”).
Forsythe’s career has unfolded mostly in Germany, where he led Ballet Frankfurt (1984-2004) and the Forsythe Company (which he’ll leave in April). In the fall, he’ll become a professor at the newly opened Glorya Kaufman School of Dance at the University of Southern California. He also recently joined Benjamin Millepied at the Paris Opera as associate choreographer. He lives in Vermont (“in the middle, somewhat secluded,” he jokes) and will commute from there to Los Angeles and Paris.
In Seattle, he has been working with several stagers to put a specific PNB spin on his dances.
“We sort of divide the task,” he says. “They primarily have to focus on what the steps are. … I will change steps to facilitate better dancing for the individual. I’m not so hung up on my own steps that I couldn’t find other or better steps for the dancer who I’m working with.”
Why tailor his work so closely to each dancer’s idiosyncratic talents?
“Because we’re alive,” he explains. “When I die, it’s going to be a bit trickier.”