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

Confident and Composed

William Forsythe's “A Quiet Evening of Dance”

Performance
William Forsythe: “A Quiet Evening of Dance”
Place
Sadler’s Wells, London, UK, October 4-6, 2018
Words
Sara Veale

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.

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.

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