William Forsythe is a very big and famous choreographer who has won lots of awards and is very important. He was born in New York City and then became the resident choreographer at the Stuttgart Ballet and then the director of the Ballet Frankfurt. (I’m sure other things happened to him, but this seems to be what most sources mention immediately). Now he has his own company and works on many interesting projects and is just generally successful and wonderful. Although I’ve seen a limited amount of his full-length works, and sadly none of it live, I thought he was a choreographer worth writing about. However, it must be said that I had always felt a bit ‘so-so’ when it comes to William Forsythe, a bit like, “What’s the big deal, guys?” And then I did some more research on him and realized what the big deal was. He is an incredible choregrapher with an incredible mind. It’s so exciting when hype doesn’t disappoint and you are once again proved to be a disinterested snobby sort of fool missing out on excellent art!
I was going to write about one of his shorter works, a solo created in 1992 which you can watch here. But instead, I am going to write about a longer work of his, about 25 minutes, entitled One Flat Thing, reproduced. I believe it was created for stage in 2000 and then adapted for film in 2007 by Belgian director/composer, Thierry de Mey (slightly unsure of dates, would welcome any corrections?) The piece is grand and beautiful, both as a film and as a dance. It is complex in the kind of way that makes you think a bunch of dancers are taking themselves rather seriously whilst thrashing about. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The very specific score and science behind the piece is impressive and something I was missing out on until I did some more research on Forsythe’s website.
Sometimes you just need something to be pointed out to you and that makes all the difference. I watched this piece a while ago, enjoyed the movement and the choreography, but somehow it didn’t stick. I found it almost trying. There is lot going on and it is accompanied by the sort of soundtrack that contemporary choreographers tend to really quite like, you know the one – dry, rhythmless and full of pretentious sort of sound/art. However, when I came back to look at it and do some more research, I found on Forsythe’s website something that entirely changed my opinion on the piece and now I’m all excited, blathery and mildly unintelligable.
The visualization project entitled ‘Synchronous Objects‘ takes the choreography of One Flat Thing, reproduced and processes the data, resulting in a number of different ways in which to view the dance through the use of various “objects” ie. programmes, tools, scores, visuals. I’m not sure of the correct vocabulary here, I’m tempted to call them “apps” but I call anything technology-related that I am unsure of an “app”. On the website they are called ‘objects’, although they do not seem like objects to me, they seem more like games. In any case, through these ‘objects’ we are given a way in which to interact with the work, to see the movement through a different visual lens, or even to simply feel like you are somehow involved in this piece of art. It is exciting.
And it is vast. The project offers a lot of information, each object comes with an explanation, there are essays, videos, an entire blog dedicated to the project. It is immense and I feel foolish for only discovering it now. What excites me the most about this sort of project (other than it being the funnest sort of procrastination tool) is that it perfectly exhibits the potential for dance to engage, educate and grow. The website opens with a question: What else might physical thinking look like? And you, the user, get to play with this question through your exploration of the website. Forsythe not only has made his full-length work accessible on the internet (something which I still believe every choreographer should do) but he has gone way beyond that. He has taken a dance, and with the help of a team of artists and scientists, (the project was developed at the Ohio State University’s Advanced Computing Centre for the Arts and Design) he has created a space in which by playing, you ultimately end up thinking. Considering movement, physicality, line, rhythm, pattern, space, chance – basically you start engaging with the fundamentals of choreography. It’s the sneakiest educational tool there is.
Aside from getting you to think about choreography, the act of creating movement, of thinking physically, certain tools really show you the ingenuity of William Forsythe’s choreography. By picking apart the piece and breaking it down, you see a wondrous sense of harmony and logic in an otherwise quite haptic piece. For example, the Cue Annotations tool displays the areas in which the dancers are cueing each other, exhibiting not only the connectedness of the dancers and the rhythm they are creating, but also the complexity and fluidity of the choreography.
Anyway. Sorry, this blog post is a bit long and all over the place. I keep trying to finish or make sense but continue to become completely distracted by the various games/tools/apps offered by ‘Synchronous Objects’, it’s taken me five days to complete this post! If you are keen to take a look, I would strongly suggest you take check out the introduction video to get an idea of the project (as I’m sure my explanation does not fully suffice). I really enjoyed the Counterpoint Tool and the Generative Drawing Tool, aesthetically I found the Alignment Tool less pleasing but fascinating as a means of portraying choreographic line and structure. Keep in mind that all of these programs have been developed from choreographic data taken from the dance! Also, if you find an object that you enjoy particularly, you can always check out the ‘Related Objects’ tab. But really it’s so vast you’ll have to take your own time to explore. However, be warned, I feel a fast internet connection will be necessary to really enjoy the website. Oh yes – and of course, before any of this you should watch the dance! You can watch the whole piece on the website or at UbuWeb.
(PS. If you found Synchronous Objects to be interesting, you should definitely check out another project of Forsythe’s entitled ‘Motion Bank’. That is one sexy website with endless links and information about a four-year project by the Forsythe Company. The project focussed on the creation of scores by four guest choreographers: Deborah Hay, Jonathan Burrows & Matteo Fargion, Bebe Miller and Thomas Hauert. It’s a fantastic website, with loads of information and definitely worth taking a look at. Especially if you are interested in scores, movement and choreography.)