After four decades in Germany, choreographer William Forsythe returns to the U.S.—and to his ballet roots.
William Forsythe is a man of mystery. Just when you feel like you start to “get" what he's doing, he surprises everyone by going in a completely different direction. After revolutionizing ballet as we knew it in the '80s, he began experimenting with contemporary, dance theater and even performance art as he explored everything from the Iraq war to his second wife's death from cancer. Now, after a combined 30 groundbreaking years at the helm of Ballett Frankfurt and then The Forsythe Company, he's left Germany and directing behind. At 67, he's launching a new chapter by returning to where it all began: He's back in the U.S. and back in ballet.
Where is “home" for you these days?
In Vermont, way up at the tippy top. I moved from Germany and I'm here now. I'm slowly adapting myself.
How's that going?
It's totally interesting because American companies have an entirely different way of operating. If you have a board, there are opinions involved, right? Whereas in Europe, your funding is decided by politics—which can often be very mercurial and ill-considered, too. But I totally enjoy learning something new. And actually trying to figure out how I can be helpful—seeing if there are other strategies companies haven't thought of that I can assist with, thinking of funding as a creative field rather than a daunting uphill thing.
Do you miss having your own company?
Setting work at PNB. PC Angela Sterling for Pointe
I miss the people. I had the luck to work with these incredible artists and I just miss their persons, you know?
But I like being back in ballet right now. And working with ballet dancers. My biggest epiphany recently was when I walked out of Paris, and I thought, Ballet is Olympian. You can't fake it. There's no “sort of."
Your Blake Works I last year at Paris Opéra Ballet had critics saying it “moved ballet into the future." How do you keep finding something new in ballet?
Well, that statement is a bit tricky because ballet is contemporary. Houston Ballet made me a T-shirt of this joke I said to them: “Somewhere, someone in the world is doing a tendu." Right now, this is the contemporary state of ballet. I didn't bring it someplace other than where it evolved on its own. I'm not working with special, extra-human ballet dancers at the Paris Opéra. I'm working with the history of the Paris Opéra, and their dancers and their traditions. I don't feel it's different than anyone else making a ballet now. And we're all friends—Justin and Alexei and Benjamin and Crystal. Everyone's trying to figure it out. People have these very different takes on it. We socialize and the conversations are very interesting.
SFB's Maria Kochetkova and Francisco Mungamba in Pas/Parts 2016. PC Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB.
Has teaching at the University of Southern California affected your approach?
What I really like about USC is that I get to practice legwork. The ideas that I was going to approach Paris Opéra with, I got to practice those at USC all year before I went. The USC students are like my lab. They learn the work, and also how I'm making the work. I really enjoy teaching, telling them everything I know about the subject. I didn't expect how much progress they'd make in a year. This generation is extremely…I'm thinking in German, I'm sorry. What is the word? Formed? Yep. Formed by popular culture, through YouTube and music videos. They apprehend new movement incredibly fast.
What do you hope to give to your students?
The same thing their parents sent them there for: self-reliance. I often put them in my position so they can understand why I said what I said, or why I'm seeing things the way I'm seeing them. And I ask them: In the future, how could you be the best possible person in the room in the sense of a collaborator, a leader, a person who's really able to communicate and build other people?
Last year's Blake Works I at the Paris Opéra Ballet. PC Julien Benhamou, Courtesy POB.
Do you have any new pieces in the works?
Oh, yeah, quite a few. I'm working on an evening with some of my ex-dancers and some urban dancers for Sadler's Wells. I'm working on a number of commissions for ballet companies. I've got big plans! But right now it's all smaller scale. Paris was a lot, which was really fun. Now I'm trying to make work that maybe doesn't need so much technical support.
Why go smaller?
I can very quietly start workshopping something here at home in my studio. I don't need to have a premiere date. I can just work on the piece itself, and then if I see something, I'll say something!
What is intriguing you as a choreographer right now?
Ballet. Ballet's fantastic. And actually, you know what's the most exciting thing? Good ballet dancers.
Leading a lecture-demonstration at USC. PC Rose Eichenbaum, Courtesy USC.
Have you noticed any changes in today's ballet dancers?
Yeah, their musicality has changed. Because each successive generation has been exposed more and more to popular music, their sense of timing is more sophisticated. Even at a place like Paris Opéra, where people get sort of isolated, they're touched by that change. Some of the best dancers there, like François Alu, also have a hip-hop background. People who are exposed to that usually are more sensitive to counterpoint and syncopation, obviously, but there is also a better sense of isolation and complicated coordination. I hope it'll boost people's creativities in the field, without doing hip hop, but just making ballets that reflect the beauty of urban musicalities.
With so many different projects, what do you do to relax?
Number one is to come to Vermont. I work in the woods, chopping up trees. The thing about woods is that they fall down. Trees grow up and trees fall down. We always forget that. I really like taking care of the forest. It's very rewarding and also very relaxing. And it's physical, too, so you're not sitting around. I don't like sitting around.
Where Is William Forsythe?
Teaching: As a faculty member at USC's Glorya Kaufman School of Dance and artistic advisor of the Choreographic Institute, he teaches for several weeks each semester.
Upcoming ballets this season:
• San Francisco Ballet, Pas/Parts 2016, Jan. 26–Feb. 5
• Boston Ballet, Artifact, Feb. 23–Mar. 5
• Pacific Northwest Ballet, New Suite, Mar. 17–26
• English National Ballet, In the middle, somewhat elevated, Mar. 23–Apr. 1
• The Washington Ballet, In the middle, somewhat elevated, Mar. 29–Apr. 2
• Paris Opéra Ballet, Trio and Herman Schmerman, Apr. 14–May 13
• New York City Ballet, Herman Schmerman (Pas de Deux), May 16, 20–21
• The Royal Ballet, The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude, May 18–31
Art installations: Now represented by the prestigious Gagosian gallery, Forsythe is currently showing two of his interactive art installations (which he calls “Choreographic Objects"): Doing and Undergoing at Brussels' Bozar Centre for Fine Arts, and The Fact of the Matter at Berlin's Akademie der Künste.
Film: His recent short film, “Alignigung," for Paris Opéra Ballet's online stage, 3e Scène, features former Forsythe Company dancer Riley Watts and L.A. dancer/acrobat Rauf “RubberLegz" Yasit.
Thirty years ago, U.S. Joint Resolution 131, introduced by congressman John Conyers (D-MI) and Senator Alphonse D'Amato (R-NY), and signed into law by President G. W. Bush declared:
"Whereas the multifaceted art form of tap dancing is a manifestation of the cultural heritage of our Nation...
Whereas tap dancing is a joyful and powerful aesthetic force providing a source of enjoyment and an outlet for creativity and self-expression...
Whereas it is in the best interest of the people of our Nation to preserve, promote, and celebrate this uniquely American art form...
Whereas May 25, as the anniversary of the birth of Bill "Bojangles" Robinson is an appropriate day on which to refocus the attention of the Nation on American tap dancing: Now therefore, be it resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress that May 25, 1989, be designated "National Tap Dance Day."
Happy National Tap Dance Day!
The way we create and consume dance is changing every day. Now more than ever, the field demands that dancers not only be able to perform at the highest level, but also collaborate with choreographers to bring their artistic visions to life. Dancers who miss out on choreographic training may very well find themselves at a disadvantage as they try to launch their careers.
Over the past 15 years, Gesel Mason has asked 11 choreographers—including legends like Donald McKayle, David Roussève, Bebe Miller, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, Rennie Harris and Kyle Abraham—to teach her a solo. She's performed up to seven of them in one evening for her project No Boundaries: Dancing the Visions of Contemporary Black Choreographers.
Now, Mason is repackaging the essence of this work into a digital archive. This online offering shares the knowledge of a few with many, and considers how dance can live on as those who create it get older.
When a musical prepares to make the transfer from a smaller, lesser-known venue to Broadway (where theaters hold 500-plus seats), often there's a collective intake of breath from all involved. After all, a bigger house means more tickets to sell in order to stay in the black, and sometimes shows with even the most tenacious fan bases can't quite navigate such a jump. But what about the transfer from stage…to screen? Is Broadway ready to be consumed from the comfort of your couch?
It's not often that a promising choreographer gets to stage work in a world-class theater, on a skillfully-curated program with professional dancers, and with the possibility of winning a substantial cash prize. But at the McCallum Theatre's Palm Desert Choreography Festival, that's been the status quo for over twenty years.
Since Shea New, the festival's artistic director, founded the festival in 1998, she's worked tirelessly with McCallum's director of education and festival producer, Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, and stage manager and festival production manager Joanna Fookes to build a festival that nurtures choreographers, highlights high quality work, powerfully engages the local community and cultivates an audience base for dance in the Coachella Valley. The trio is backed by a strong team of professionals at McCallum and the brilliant volunteers from the local and national level who serve as adjudicators.
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Daphne Lee was dancing with Collage Dance Collective in Memphis, Tennessee, when she received two difficult pieces of news: Her mother had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma cancer, and her father had Parkinson's disease, affecting his mobility and mental faculties.
The New Jersey native's reaction: "I really need to move home."
Summer is almost upon us, and whether you're a student about to go on break or a pro counting the days till layoff, don't forget that with warm weather comes a very serious responsibility: To maintain your cross-training routine on your own.
Those of us who've tried to craft our own cross-training routine know it's easier said than done. So we consulted the stars, and rounded up the best options for every zodiac sign. (TBH, you should probably consult an expert, too—we'd recommend a physical therapist, a personal trainer or your teacher.)
It's become second nature in dance studios: The instant anyone gets hurt, our immediate reaction is to run to the freezer to grab some ice (or, more realistically, a package of frozen peas).
But as routine as icing our injuries might be, the benefits are not actually backed up by scientific studies. And some experts now believe icing could even disrupt the healing process.
I'm a contemporary dancer, and I'm nervous about trying to get pregnant since I can't predict if it might happen during the middle of the season. We have a union contract that is supposed to protect us. But I'm scared because several of my colleagues' contracts weren't renewed for no particular reason. Having a big belly could be a big reason to get rid of me!
—Andrea, New York, NY
When the going gets tough, the tough start dancing: That's the premise behind "Dance of Urgency," a recently opened exhibit at MuseumsQuartier Vienna that features photos, video and other documentary material relating to the use of dance as political protest or social uprising.
The groups featured in the show, largely based around clubs and electronic dance music scenes, span the globe and respond to a variety of issues—from inequality and social stratification to racial divides to crackdowns on club culture itself.
Last night, longtime theater legends (including Chita Rivera herself!) as well as rising stars gathered to celebrate one of Broadway's danciest events: the third annual Chita Rivera Awards.
The evening paid tribute to this season's dancer standouts, fabulous ensembles, and jaw-dropping choreography—on- and off-Broadway and on film.
As usual, several of our faves made it into the mix. (With such a fabulous talent pool of nominees to choose from, we're glad that ties were allowed.) Here are the highlights from the winner's list:
When you're a foreign dancer, gaining legal rights to work in the U.S. is a challenging process. It's especially difficult if you're petitioning to work as a freelance dancer without an agent or company sponsorship.
The process requires professional muscle along with plenty of resources and heart. "There's a real misnomer that it's super easy," says Neena Dutta, immigration attorney and president of Dutta Law Firm. "People need to educate themselves and talk to a professional."
Here are four things every foreign dancer who wants to work in the U.S. needs to know to build a freelance dance career here.
What does it take to "make it" in dance? It's no secret that turning this passion into a profession can be a struggle. In such a competitive field, talent alone isn't enough to get you where you want to be.
So what kinds of steps can you take to become successful? Dance Magazine spoke to 33 people from all corners of the industry to get their advice on the lessons that could help us all, no matter where we are in our careers.