Sider: The Forsythe Company at BAM….
William Forsythe’s Sider takes place in universe unbeknownst to the average human. It is a place of defined rules that are known only to those who live in that universe. To us mere spectators, it is a place of mystery, sometimes confusion and seemingly fueled by the unexpected.
The stage is stripped bare, anything extraneous has been removed. Large pieces of cardboard are used to define space, shield the body, kicked and pounded upon to create complex rhythms and sometimes pushed sideways across the floor to create a squeaky-sliding noise. The cardboards are a definition of space; geometric planes used as movable perimeters that can are utilized to create architectural imagery and structure.
Above the stage is a light object created by Spencer Finch, fluorescent lights hung in a series of rows, all are white but flicker briefly, like fireflies, with different colors, magenta, blue, red. The actual lighting design is by Ulf Naumann and Tanja Rühl. In the beginning the stage is very bright, more like standing in the sun at noon. But throughout the 70 minute piece the lighting becomes an aspect to the work that is fundamental to the whole. It is a transient element, like breath, the lighting rises and dims, sometimes almost to a full blackout only to resurge to full brightness. It is akin to a body that holds its breath, only to release it and then breathe deeply.
It would be unfair to attempt to compare Sider to any of Mr. Forsythe’s previous works such as Artifact (1984) or Impressing the Czar (1988), both of which redefined ballet for the 21st Century. That is not a product of Forsythe from the past, this is the present Forsythe, the Forsythe that pushes boundaries, explores new forms of movement and challenges the concept as to what is expected of dance.
Sider is based on the rhythmic inflections of Elizabethan theater. Unheard by the audience, the rhythms of a 16th-century Elizabethan tragedy is delivered to the dancers via earphones. (I was told that in a pre-show talk Mr. Forsythe revealed the play to be the 1969 film of Hamlet with Marianne Faithfull as Ophelia and Nico Williamson as Hamlet.)
Longtime Forsythe collaborator Thom Willems performed the “public” score live. Mr. Willems live score is ominous, it slides in and out of the work like a waves on the breach. On moment it is crashing, loud, cannot be ignored and other times it is like the gentle lapping of soft waves, present but not the center of your attention, just a part of that moment in time.
At first the work is fascinating, a controlled chaos of moving bodies and created sound, the unexpected is novel, the kicking of the cardboard, the arbitrary aspects of dancers enter and leaving the stage. The mind seeks to establish patterns, regularities, consistency, but none are found. Voices are heard, an ongoing dialogue in German (I think…) tossed between the dancers, fragments of thought made vocal.
David Kern is the messenger, his pieces of cardboards have printed words, in disarray or is and is not are just two. Mr. Kern is the crazed bag man who lives down the street or in the sub-way; all New Yorkers have seen him. He stands in the middle of a crowd and has a rather contentious disagreement with himself. As his two alternate selves argue, Mr. Kern uses his piece of cardboard as a door, on the right side he would be this person, on the left the other person, each character had very strong opinions complete with different voices. He was absolutely brilliant….
A light board in the upper rear right-stage corner periodical shows cryptic statements such as …she is to them as they are to us, he is to that as this is to him, these are to them as they are to us, what are these to them or they to her, they were and they weren’t…
At the thirty minute mark, all the confusion and disarray has lost its novelty and the work has becoming boring and I worry this will go on for another forty more minutes, but then a change in intensity happens. Energy is upped and dancers are going everywhere.
Dancers angle their cardboard pieces into something resembling the bow of a ship and slowly move forward, all the way to the edge of the stage, then past the edge of the stage. The mystical fourth wall has been shattered. Dancers are in the aisle, Fabrice Mazliah is sitting on a woman in the first row’s lap, and seemingly the two are caring on a very polite conversation.
William Forsythe’s Sider is a work that has to be allowed to stand on its own merits. Is it truly dance or is it Movement Theater, I think that was just Mr. Forsythe’s goal, to have us, the audience question what is and what is not dance. A lot of the choreography seems more improvisational than actual choreographed steps, I not saying it is improvised, I’m just saying it looks like it.
“If dance only does what we assume it can do, it will expire. I keep trying to test the limits of what the word choreography means.” —William Forsythe in The New York Times
With the founding of The Forsythe Company in 2005, William Forsythe established a new, agile structure through which he is able to further pursue the multi-faceted creative work he began with Ballett Frankfurt. Together with an ensemble of 17 dancers, Forsythe carries forward the intensive collaborative processes developed over 30 years, producing works in the areas of performance, installation, film, and educational media. Forsythe’s most recent works are developed and performed exclusively by The Forsythe Company.