A Modern Master

March 30, 2016

College students tackle William Forsythe’s technique and rep.

Forsythe teaching a ballet class at USC’s Glorya Kaufman School of Dance. Photo by Rose Eichenbaum, Courtesy USC.

Widely regarded as one of the most inventive choreographers of our time, William Forsythe creates movement that dancers long to perform. “It is extremely beneficial for young dancers to be exposed to his techniques, which have globally influenced late 20th-century and current approaches to dance,” says Jill Johnson, a former dancer with Forsythe’s Ballett Frankfurt and director of Harvard University’s dance program. Today, there are more chances than ever for college students to explore Forsythe’s methodologies and perform his work—sometimes under the guidance of Forsythe himself. These programs offer ample opportunities to delve into his creative process, improvisation methods and repertory. —

Suzannah Friscia

University of Southern California, Glorya Kaufman School of Dance

Los Angeles, CA


Degrees offered:
BFA and minor in dance

No. of majors:
33 in the inaugural class

Forsythe on campus:
As a faculty member and an artistic advisor of the school’s Choreographic Institute, William Forsythe is on campus several times each semester. In the inaugural semester he taught ballet, a weekly lecture colloquium, and a required course that covered his choreographic approach and improv techniques. He also explored choreographic thinking and processes with students, and is a mentor to the inaugural class.

Master teachers:
Forsythe repertory is included in the dance program’s curriculum. Director and vice dean Jodie Gates, a former Ballett Frankfurt dancer, stages work on students and teaches ballet. Former Ballett Frankfurt dancer Thomas McManus is also on faculty, and stages Forsythe’s work on companies around the world.

Recent rep:
As a tool for practicing composition and improvisation, the class learned excerpts

and phrases from the 1986 ballet

Questioning of Robert Scott
, and built new choreographic content under Forsythe’s direction.

Harvard University

Cambridge, MA


Degree offered:
Harvard does not offer a dance degree, but has credit and noncredit dance classes, a master-class series, an emerging-choreographers program, performance-research courses and student-led dance groups.

No. of dance students:
Over 500 students participate in the dance program each year.

Forsythe on campus:
Dance director Jill Johnson, who stages Forsythe’s work worldwide, teaches master classes that incorporate his improvisational and compositional tools. In one class, students study specific Forsythe works in detail, learn excerpts from them and collaborate on their own original work using the concepts from the course.

Guest artists:
Former Ballett Frankfurt and

Forsythe Company member Christopher Roman has led master classes with Johnson.

Recent rep:
Last spring, students performed an excerpt from 1988’s The Vile Parody of Address.

The Juilliard School

New York, NY


Degree offered:
BFA in dance

No. of majors:

Forsythe on campus:
A required second-year seminar on improvisation techniques includes Forsythe methodologies, and his tools are often incorporated in composition courses for first- and second-year students. Former Ballett Frankfurt dancer Helen Pickett has taught Forsythe improvisation technologies in the second-year seminar for the past few years.

Guest artists:
Jill Johnson and former Forsythe Company dancer Riley Watts have taught master classes.

Recent rep:
Students have performed the third act of 1990’s Limb’s Theorem and 2000’s One Flat Thing, Reproduced. n