Celebrate Forsythe features Houston Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet and San Francisco Ballet.
My history with ballet goes way back to the early 1970s when my cousins and I would pull together what little money we earned as teenagers in order to buy a series of tickets to see the American Ballet Theatre (ABT) from New York City at the historic Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. It was the golden age of ABT where some of the greatest ballet dancers for the era were part of the company which specialized in the classical repertoire.
Another of the great ballet companies in the world which I’ve had the pleasure to see multiple times is the San Francisco Ballet (SFB), which was the first professional ballet company in the United States, formed in 1933. Under the direction of Helgi Tomasson since 1985, its repertoire runs the gamut from classical and contemporary to experimental dance works.
One of the early collaborators of San Francisco Ballet is master choreographer William Forsythe, who was born in New York City on Dec. 30, 1949 and has been involved in the dance world starting as a dancer with the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago in 1971. He is credited with integrating ballet and the visual arts, which has led him not just to create extraordinary dance pieces but numerous art installation and films among other creative endeavors.
To kick off the 2016-2017 season of Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at the Music Center, three major U.S. ballet companies came together to perform the program Celebrate Forsythe on Friday, Oct. 21 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. They included San Francisco Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet and Houston Ballet.
Opening the evening’s program was “Pas/Parts 2016,” at the hands (and feet) of San Francisco Ballet’s talented dancers with music by Thom Willems, costume design by Stephen Galloway with scenic/lighting design and choreography by the incomparable William Forsythe. Originally created for the Paris Opera Ballet in 1999, it uses a series of solos, duets, trios and ensemble groups in a seamless flow of movements that are set to the electronic-inspired music by Willems, reminding me of the 1980s English avant-garde, synthpop group Art of Noise, who formed in early 1983.
This amazing work takes on the music (which most of the time sounds more like noise) and infuses it with classical movements and body lines while responding to it with incredible detail by the dancers. The feel is very modern while respecting the art of classical ballet in its essence. Each of the company dancers were given a chance to show off their talent in the different groups and solos as the piece rarely followed uniform movements for all. Big kudos to principal dancer and fellow Cuban-American Lorena Feijoo (company member since 1999) who was featured in several of the segments and whose commanding stage presence cannot be denied.
Second on the program was “The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude” performed by Pacific Northwest Ballet, which had its premier in 1994 by Ballet Frankfurt. A shorter piece with only five dancers, its movements were set to music by Franz Schubert (Allegro molto vivace from Symphony No. 9 in C Major), costume design by Galloway with scenic/lighting design by Forsythe. The choreography approach of the piece falls more into the classical language while giving the dancers a change to show elegance and technique.
After intermission came Houston Ballet presenting the mesmerizing “Artifact Suite” with music by Johann Sebastian Bach (“Solo Violin Partita No. 2”) and a piano piece by Eva Crossman-Hecht, along with costume/lighting design and choreography by the legendary Forsythe. It was a pared-down version of the original full length ballet “Artifact” created for Ballet Frankfurt in 1984.
One of the most interesting aspects of this work is how Forsythe uses strong, stark lighting, specifically coming from the sides of a fairly raw stage, which produces some incredible shadow/light patterns on the bodies of the leotard-clad dancers. The choreography in most instances forms a type of “architecture” with the bodies, giving context and/or background to the pas de deux of the soloists. Moving in unison around the perimeter of the stage while using their hands and arms, the group produced visual patterns as the duos danced in the center. A remarkable execution was achieved by the large ensemble of the Houston Ballet showing an extreme level of uniformity in their movements and positions while showing extensive virtuosity.
As the capacity crowd at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion burst into several minutes of standing ovations, the exhausted, but proud dancers were joined by the man of the hour, maestro William Forsythe. While acknowledging the love and applause coming from the audience for his 40-plus years worth of work, he also praised with hand and body gestures the people on stage who were in charge of making this magical evening come true: the dancers!
Celebrate Forsythe is performed Oct. 22 at 7:30 p.m. and Oct. 23 at 2 p.m. For tickets and more information, visit musiccenter.org/about/Our-Programs/1617-Season/Celebrate-Forsythe.