Long time readers will know I have a deep rooted love of dance, so I was delighted to be invited to Sadler’s Wells this past Thursday to view the Semperoper Ballet’s All Forsythe performance. William Forsythe has always been an inspiration of mine, since I studied him and his work at University. The American choreographer who’s lived in Germany for so many years has never shied away from pushing the rules of classical ballet to breaking point, then reassembling the pieces to create performances that fit his experimental and post-modern vision of ballet.
Formed in 2006 under the artistic direction of Aaron S. Watkin and based in Dresden Germany, The Semperoper Ballet are known for balancing classical and contemporary styles, a perfect philosophy for taking on Forsythe’s work. The night consisted of 3 Forsythe performances, the world renowned In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated, Neue Suite and Enemy in the Figure.
The opener was In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated, a piece commissioned by Rudolf Nureyev for the Paris Opera Ballet in 1987 and first performed by Sylvie Guillem. The title refers to a pair of gold cherries that hung above the stage, immediately noticeable as the performance began with a bang. Composer Thom Willem’s beatless industrial rhythms wasted no time in creating an abrasive, chaotic atmosphere as the dancers graced the stage their movement demonstrating the Dresden dancers’ skill and flexibility, the latter a necessary trait for performing any Forsythe piece. After the dramatic opening that made myself and the audience member beside me jump slightly as music burst onto the speakers, there felt like an initial disconnect between the sound and the movement of the performers on the stage. However like much repetitive industrial music, before I know it we were 15 minutes in and the piece was gaining momentum. The dancers were transitioning with the rolling bassline that had crept into the music, with movement now matching the intensity of the soundtrack to create an exciting, dramatic crescendo that ended as abruptly as it began.
The second piece of the evening was Neue Suite, a piece that the Semperoper Ballet themselves premiered in Dresden in 2012. The most classical of the evening’s choreography, it explored the relationships between dancers through their physical interactions. Set to stripped back string arrangements from the likes of Handel, Berio and Bach, the dancers clad in simple pastel colours performed a series of pas de deux, with American dancer Houston Thomas catching my eye in particular with a truly impressive performance. The piece was a great example of Forsythe’s ballet philosophy, breaking the rules where he sees fit while still serving up a relatively classical ballet performance, although perhaps its contemporary edge was somewhat disguised by the other two post-modern performances either side of it.
The final piece of the evening was Enemy in the Figure, a complex and thrilling piece that’s been a favourite of Sadler’s Wells audiences over recent years, full of contrasts and bursts of energy. The set design was dark, with a large rustic grey wall reminiscent of a prison cell at the back, and a curved piece of wood in the centre of the stage. As the performance began a dancer lay illuminated by a flood light on wheels that was pushed around the floor, casting morphing shadows that altered the depth of space on the stage. More dancers gradually entered, dressed in either black or white leotards, giving a sense of good/evil, light/dark, chaos or serenity. These polarising colours and styles blurred as the performance progressed, with juxtaposed speeds and themes of movement facing one another at times creating aggressive standoffs as the repetitive music served to only build and release tension. It was a deep performance that left me thinking long into my journey home.