On the evening of November 3, at the Citizen’s Bank Opera House in downtown Boston’s Washington Street, I sat to three different modern ballets of William Forsythe: “Artifact” and “Approximate Sonata,” just a few years to each side of the second millennium, and the third one, “Defile,” a world premiere for the Boston Ballet.
Forsythe is widely acclaimed as a choreographer who has reoriented the art of ballet by creatively deviating from classical ballet to the dynamics of 21st century dance so deftly that audiences may enjoy both.
Our own Boston Ballet has folded this choreographer to its discerning bosom so much so that in the program it was opined that his movements have been translated by practice into the very DNA of the Corps de ballet.
We had good seats, my wife and I, near the aisle and not far from the stage. Usually, someone very tall or with big hair sits directly in from of me, but this time the lady who sat with her friend in front of us, half-turned to apologetically whisper, “We’re short!”
Unfortunately, the choreography I took in from my ‘cat bird’s seat’ also came up short. Or perhaps this viewer’s critical appreciation and/or tastes — needs — wants came up short, while the ballet itself merited every decibel of standing appreciation it drew from a packed house, while your reporter sat glumly, feeling short-changed.
I trust myself to appreciate the artistry of movement in dance, in paint, in words, but I’m sure I have my blind sides which reveal themselves as surely as my capacity to appreciate. Was this night one of those times when, to switch metaphors, the train arrived but I missed it?
I’m thinking back to the last time I sat down to the Boston Ballet and enthusiastically took in the Bill T. Jones Company, which I deeply appreciated for just those qualities of looking back and looking forward for which William Forsythe is so globally honored.
Looking back, Jones’ choreography emphasized black pride with exotically costumed dancers executing stately steps with partners who sensed their every movement to respond with classical poise; turning contemporary, those same dancers shed their flounces and frills for skin-tight colors to bounce each other up and down athletically: contemporary movements for the dark side — no pun intended — of a minority journey to some respect in a white world, i.e., a fraught but necessary journey to a world where black bodies matter.
I’m still wondering if the impartial critic in me is being held hostage, willingly, to an era, a zeitgeist, if you will, when differently understood values, different folkways are so under-appreciated, under-recognized, that some of us feel our communal arts must dedicate themselves to commentary on the feel, smell, color and every other sensual aspect of these identities with existential fervor.
In contrast to this view, to this critic’s appreciation, Forsythe’s choreography, seemed an individual vision — spare, even dark — of the world of movement as Forsythe sees it, and as fellow connoisseurs of dance appreciate the old-rounded graces of classical ballet evolving to the angularities, the edginess, the unruliness even, of the contemporary style.
I certainly saw and felt the flowing cursive style of classical ballet meeting up with the bumps and hollows of a specific autograph. Who else but William Forsythe would bring the velvet curtain down a handful of times while his dancers were still inscribing their movement on our minds and bodies?
The descriptive disruptive came to this viewer’s mind and sensibility as it has too so many watchers of contemporary culture in its manifold spheres. And here it was in dance, I thought, as the dancer’s bodies disappeared down to their dancing feet, then, became whole as the curtain brusquely withdrew on a ballet disrupted only to continue.
Still, I yearned for some acquaintance with the human players of this disruptive drama, still wondered if it was only a drama of the history of dance, old and new, classical and contemporary, or did it reference also other human fields of endeavor: economic, social, racial? All those fields now in seeming crisis?
Call me a player of identity politics when I should be taking on the job of a critic of the aesthetics of movement — regardless of who’s moving on what stage. And you’d probably be right.
And would I be wrong or, at the very least, militantly unfair? See for yourself, please.
(The next Boston Ballet production, its annual presentation of “The Nutcracker,” will take place from November 25 through December 31. For tickets and more information, visit bostonballet.org.)