This site has limited support for your browser. We recommend switching to Edge, Chrome, Safari, or Firefox.

Confident and Composed

As a dancemaker, William Forsythe is often described in brassy terms: a neoclassical powerhouse, a rule-breaker who deconstructs classical ballet and flips it on its head. He’s known for his ultra-modern choreography and penchant for friskiness, both of which fuel his latest work, though not in the in-your-face way you might think. “A Quiet Evening of Dance” explores the calm side of mighty, the dynamism that comes with confident, composed choreography and performance.


William Forsythe: “A Quiet Evening of Dance”


Sadler’s Wells, London, UK, October 4-6, 2018


Sara Veale

Jill Johnson and Christopher Ronan “A Quiet Evening of Dance” by William Forsythe. Photograph by Bill Cooper

subscribe to the latest in dance

“Uncommonly intelligent, substantial coverage.”

  • Weekly articles from the world of dance
  • Wide diversity of reviews, interviews, articles & more
  • Support for quality art journalism

Already a paid subscriber? Login

The first act puts a literal spin on quiet, with much of the dance delivered to soft murmurs of birdsong or no soundtrack at all. Here we have four movements—“Prologue,” “Catalogue,” “Epilogue” and “Dialogue”—in which small groups mete out swerving phrases that are as serene as they are wresting. The dancers’ breathing emerges as a metronome of sorts, ranging from sharp gulps to ragged, puffy exhalations. Their stagewear echoes the choreography’s marriage of exactitude and nonchalance: sweats paired with vivid opera-style gloves.

Ander Zabala and Parvaneh Schafarali adopt flower-like shapes in an early duet, their limbs unfolding like blossoms in the spring. Then comes Jill Johnson and Christopher Ronan, who replace this softness with mechanical angularity, threading a complicated fabric of tilted frames and swivelling shoulders. Their section plays out almost entirely in place, the pair hitting a new pose with every beat, their pliés deepening as the patterns quicken and densify. Familiar moves begin to emerge—a sissone here, an arabesque there—but there are no sweeping classical phrases here, just whispers of the technical motions that underpin them.

William Forsythe
In rehearsal for “A Quiet Evening of Dance” by William Forsythe. Photograph by Johan Persson

Equally clever, though bouncier in spirit, are the upright manoeuvres of the third movement, in which small groups prance and melt, doubling back on their own steps and retracing them with new flourishes. Rauf “RubberLegz” Yasit flashes his b-boy background with twisted, acrobatic power moves, while Johnson channels the twizzling flair of a tap dancer, shuffling with panache. When Riley Watts and Brigel Gjoka dash on for the final movement, the vocabulary shifts to its most balletic incarnation yet: delicate dives and glissades delivered with communion and rich, energetic expression.

The tense, courtly strings of Jean-Philippe Rameau usher in the evening’s second half, a compelling procession of vignettes separated by fade-outs. A trio promenades, curving their arms like scythes; a couple carves out pirouettes with their heels; two men plunge to the floor and weave an intricate mesh of limbs. The colour blocking of the costumes takes on a brighter, bolder hue—sunny yellow with teal and maroon, neon orange with mustard and green—and a more complex palette of emotions emerges too, with flecks of humour, melancholy and desire all knitted in.

I wish the big group number that closes the show had come earlier—it’s a pleasure to see the cast’s seven dancers unite to animate the intricate machinations of these arrangements, which frequently gesture at Forsythe’s interest in the baroque origins of ballet and its layered configuration today. Together the dancers show the force of a far larger group, filling every nook of the stage with their buoyancy. Like the choreography itself, their presence is commanding yet understated—quiet but with a huge impact.

Sara Veale

Sara Veale is a London-based writer and editor. She's written about dance for the Observer, the Spectator, DanceTabs, Auditorium Magazine, Exeunt and more. Her first book, Untamed: The Radical Women of Modern Dance, will be published in 2024.



Futur(istic) Classic
INTERVIEWS | Victoria Looseleaf

Futur(istic) Classic

The son of a painter and a set designer, director/choreographer Jean-Christophe Maillot was, it seems, destined to have a life in the theater. Born and raised in Tours, in central France, in 1960, he studied dance and piano at the Conservatoire Nacional de Région de Tours before joining the Rosella Hightower International School of Dance in Cannes.

Continue Reading
A Golden Gift
REVIEWS | Karen Greenspan

A Golden Gift

As Belgian choreographer and dancer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker approached her sixtieth birthday in 2019, she decided to gift herself a solo to the music of one of her favorite partners—Johann Sebastian Bach.

Continue Reading
Acts of Defiance
REVIEWS | Victoria Looseleaf

Acts of Defiance

One would think that a dance inspired by the events of the January 6 insurrection—yes, a dance!—would not be the ideal stuff of theater, but the eight members of Laurie Sefton Creates (formerly Clairobscur Dance Company), succeeded in giving life to Sefton’s premiere “Herd. Person?”, while the dance, itself, was occasionally problematic.

Continue Reading
Good Subscription Agency