Dancers & Companies

Forsythe's Artifact—Then and Now: "It Makes You Think For Days"

Liza Voll, courtesy Boston Ballet

Kathryn Bennetts credits William Forsythe's Artifact with changing her life. “I've heard a lot of people say that—the piece is just a monster in its importance," she says during a break in rehearsals at Boston Ballet, where she and Noah Gelber are staging the full-length work for what will be its North American company premiere tomorrow night.

Bennetts has danced in and staged Forsythe ballets for more than 30 years as a Stuttgart Ballet soloist, ballet mistress at the Frankfurt Ballet and artistic director of the Royal Ballet of Flanders. “Audiences are transported, even overwhelmed, by the enormity of Artifact. It ends with a bang, after which the audience tends to sit in silence for a minute."

“It makes you think about society and life for days after," she says.

Video by Ernesto Galan, Courtesy Boston Ballet

Even as a seminal work—the first full-length ballet Forsythe created as director of Frankfurt Ballet in 1984—Artifact is not pinned to its place in history, forever under glass. Forsythe has allowed his “ode to ballet" to evolve with the advancement of ballet technique and his own experience as a choreographer, says Bennetts.

For the first ballet of a new five-year relationship with Boston Ballet, Forsythe came to town just a few weeks before opening night to tweak certain parts to suit specific dancers, while creating a new group section before the finale and updating Act Three. (In the early years, Act Three gradually included less improvisation and more structure. “Part three in Frankfurt was rather crazy aggressive," says Bennetts.)

Boston Ballet rehearses Artifact. Photo by Liza Voll, courtesy Boston Ballet.

“Bill doesn't hold on to the past," Bennetts explains. “He doesn't get sentimental; he can just let it go." After all, Forsythe was 33 years old when he choreographed Artifact. “Now he says he's a grandpa. His movement is less harsh, less like an attack."

He wants this to be the Boston version, says Bennetts. “Bill always wants to update certain parts for the dancers in front of him. It challenges them, but it's also an older piece and the technique has improved."

Forsythe working with Misa Kuranaga. Photo by Liza Voll, courtesy Boston Ballet.

Forsythe is also spending time with the Boston Ballet dancers just as he's discovering his enthusiasm for ballet again. “He took a break for a long time, and I think he's having fun challenging himself as much as the dancers," says Bennetts. “This process is also for himself—he's like a painter or an actor watching himself in film. He has examined this work for more than 30 years and never had time to fix it."

“I've never met anyone not blown away by this piece, but every choreographer has doubts," she adds. “Recently he said to me, 'I can actually do this.' "

Photo by Liza Voll, Courtesy Boston Ballet

We're sure of it.

William Forsythe's full-length Artifact runs February 23–March 5, 2017 at the Boston Opera House.

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Now a mother of two in San Jose, CA, Ash will also start teaching a free after-school ballet class at her daughter's public school next month. "I recently taught at Girls Inc. in Oakland, and one of the little black girls said, 'Are you the ballet teacher?' She just stood there, staring at me with her mouth open, like a unicorn had just walked into the room," Ash says. "You never know the impact you can have just by being a presence."

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