Transcript of the John Tusa Interview with William Forsythe
There's general agreement that William Forsythe - Bill Forsythe - is one of the world's leading choreographers. For the last twenty years he has led his company, Ballett Frankfurt, to a very special position in the league tables of contemporary dance. The company has a signature style - Forsythe's own choreography. He's extraordinarily fertile and inventive, turning out at least two or three works a year. Almost every other dance company in the world wants to work with him, or to perform his pieces. Why? Because, say his supporters, he's taking dance into the twenty-first century by deconstructing classical ballet. Now there's a word - deconstructing. No review or article about Forsythe is complete without it. But just what does it mean? His detractors - and there are some - accuse him of modish, politically correct, post-modernism, expressed in glossy, pumped up athleticism. A few, from the very high classical tradition, say that deconstructing the great tradition can only be the work of anti-Christ. In that case, if the devil has the best tunes he also seems to have the best dance steps. Last year there was public outcry when the Frankfurt City Council announced that they could no longer support Ballett Frankfurt at existing levels. So in 2004, after a historic tenure in Frankfurt , creatively comparable with that of his idol, George Ballanchine of the New York City Ballet, Forsythe will move on. For the moment though, he's extremely active backstage here at one of his main performance venues in Frankfurt. As a young man of just fifty-three, Forsythe will not be short of offers.
So let's deal with Ballanchine first. You weren't taught by him but by one of his dancers. What's the nature of Ballanchine's appeal to you?
Well, you know I like the, I like the mechanics of dancing. I like how it feels and I like how you think about it. And so I was taught by someone who danced in his first company in, in America , and someone he also trusted as a teacher of his style. And, what it was, at least as I remember it and experienced it, was a kind of euphoria, yeah, that comes through identification with a, with a, a kind of universal mathematic, yeah, which is what ballet is, yeah. It's an extraordinary testament to how we intuit let's say the universal laws of physics that are everywhere. There's no space without it.
Expressed through the joints of the human body?
Yeah. We're designed because the world is such, yeah. We didn't, um, develop as a species without physics, we grew up, or grew into this world with physics acting on our bodies the whole time. So the Ballanchine, let's say style or technique, whatever you call it, was taught to me as a very complex series of tortions, you know, which are based upon something called epaulment, which is the relationship between the head, the hand and the foot, and the very prescribed turnings and counter-turnings and counter-twistings. So um, wha, what happens, if you engage in this, and reduce your focus to this one action, if you, if you prioritise your consciousness towards the, creating these forms that are inherent in ballet, you actually arrive at a kind of euphoric state. And I was, I would say then, taught this as a kind of, of euphoric meditation.
I think you also said though that you admired and loved his tremendous mechanical simplicity. Now is that consistent with what you've just said about the euphoric state that it induced?
Well, there's two different things. There's the style of dancing from Ballanchine and there's his choreography. At one point you have to separate the two because he does have a school, yeah, and the school teaches this style of, of very rigorous epaulment. The choreography itself was dependent upon this school, that the dancers all had access to this technical ability. And the choreography is, is spectacularly musical - I mean that is the whole point of the choreography, it is there for music and, and as an interpretation. Whether this is the only way to make ballets now, interpreting music, is certainly vexed questioning.
Mm. But there was no doubt that he was the key influence that you had. When did you first begin to understand that you wanted to move beyond Ballanchine?
Hm. I, I think I wanted to first move through Ballanchine, and that was important that I first tried to imitate, and the first works I did were very clearly imitations. I mean I wanted to be able to understand what, what this was, this making of a ballet like that. So at one point you say okay you can imitate the, the, the surface of this thing, but he made his ballets for very very personal reasons, and I needed to also make ballets for personal reasons.
So what were the personal reasons which drove you to move through Ballanchine to beyond Ballanchine?
I grew up in a different culture. I grew up in American culture of the fifties and sixties, and my musical influences were drastically different. He did not grow up with rock 'n' roll and I did. And right around that time was the emergence of rock 'n' roll and I lived it, and, and quite unconsciously I became a really really good dancer, a regular old dancer - someone who turned on the radio and danced round the kitchen or went out and danced at parties. I won my first... friends in school because I could dance well.
But you knew that dancing alone, good as you were, wasn't going to satisfy you even though you felt euphoric.
Dancing teaches you a lot. I think the body is incredibly instructive and contains a wealth of information, also information that, I would say supplies philosophy with ideas also. So I think by dancing I was able to understand a lot of things. Er I was able to intuit things about mathematics and philosophy and discovered afterwards that what I had thought about seemed to be true. And... the body - how can I say this? - the body teaches you a tremendous amount about the world. I would say that the body in many cases becomes an ear, you know, the body itself is a, is a, an organ for listening.
But how do you get into the sort of state of mind that you can pick up what the body is saying to you, that you can start to learn from your body?
Practice. Practice. Every...
What sort of practice?
Every conceivable kind of physical practice you can imagine. Um I did ballet for many many many years, I danced since you know I was three.
Why? Why did you start dancing?
Um, I didn't, you don't start dancing, you dance. I mean EITHER you, you're a dancer or you're not. I'm one of the people who has always danced. I can still dance and I, I use it as a kind of... mm, like a kind of commu... a communion, you know. You use it to get in touch with things, even if it's just moving your hands, yeah, even... I, sometimes I just arrange my fingers, you know it's, it's a way of, of thinking. I mean the body is a thinking tool.
If the rest of us did that it would be a neurotic twitch, but when you do it, it's something different.
Because I'm conscious of what I'm doing, I'm doing it to look... I'm looking at what the body's possibilities are. If I'm looking at my hand right now, I'm saying okay how does the body configure itself, what is the mathematics here, what are the tensions, what are... ? You, you lo... say what are the properties of the present, when you're with your body? You say what am I paying attention to right now?
Can you ever be still?
That's a good question. Hm, difficult. Usually when I'm sleeping. It keeps you thin apparently! (LAUGHS)
Yes. Now you said that of course you were brought up in this very different American cultural scene from Ballanchine. Given what we all think about the vitality and the creativity of American dance, why didn't you stay there?
Well what do you really mean by 'stay there'?
Well you came to Germany .
You have to, well do you have to be there in order to be yourself, you know. Beware is really the question. So I, I pretty much took myself with me, when I moved across the ocean, and I don't think that I myself have been tremendously influenced by foreign culture, except that culture here is organised differently, theatre culture is organised differently than in America. So I adapted myself to the organisation. But I myself as a person I don't think... would be that much different had I lived in America .
So you think you are recognisably the same person, creatively the same person as you would have been if you'd stayed in New York ? It sounds unlikely.
Well I, the question is would it have turned out differently. Sure, why not, because it's a different system and one is er certainly adaptive. And I feel that I probably would have adapted to the situation there and er there's no use saying well you know what if and had you. Rather I am here and I've been here and this is what's emerged.
Mm. Now just let me clear up one thing. You talk I think most of the time about ballet, and making ballets.
Universally people who do the sort of work you do call themselves dance, or dance theatre. Now is there something deliberately almost retro in attaching yourself to the word 'ballet'?
Well ballet's never been retro because it's in my body, so I live with it, it's very contemporary. You can't sort of erase it. I guess if you learn a language for example, if you, if you've learned English as your, as your mother tongue it's very difficult to erase something like that. And ballet was my mother tongue in dance, so you, you can't erase it from your, you know, from your consciousness.
But you never felt that you had to signal that you were doing something contemporary and avant garde by saying let's push ballet to one side and let's call it dance?
Well I mean, this is ballet now. (LAUGHS) You know it's one way of thinking about it. It's certainly not all of ballet, it's just a little part of it. You know ballet is, it's a normative methodology, yeah, so in its purest form it's a normative methodology. And we all learn this normative methodology. Everyone agrees that passé is passé, arabesque is arabesque, and we all try to, with our own means, our bodies, say okay this is my arabesque and then we have this wonderful ideal that sort of exists, it's a prescription but there is no arabesque for example - it's only... everyone's arabesque, yeah. So you carry it around with you and, and if you are going through changes as a person in this civilisation that we're in, then I guess it changes according to what influences or effects you've experienced.
Now, let's get onto this question of deconstruction, which is rightly or wrongly attached to you, hung round your neck. First of all, do you mind the fact that it's the first thing everybody says - oh Forsythe has deconstructed classical ballet?
Well I feel that the word is... used rather carelessly. I'm not sure if they mean literary deconstruction, architectural deconstruction. But if I would refer to someone like Paul De Man, who's a literary theorist, and refer to his deconstruction, I would describe it as a non-absolutist environment, which has mathematical implications, which would be a bit like Cantor's Theorem.. it is impossible to have the set of all sets. And so a non-absolutist environment would say that it also has to include some absolutes, yeah. So it means rather a kind of new political territory, yeah, which means that one respects rules but also one rejects rules too, of any nature.
That's the essence of what we're talking about?
To some degree. I think there is an error on the part of many people who use the word 'deconstruction' is they phonetically confuse it with 'destruction'. They hear the negative in it and they think that, the, they use it that way, and I would rather they say something more direct about what they feel, how, what I'm doing with ballet, but I don't understand why people see themselves who don't practice dance as the, the guardians of a tradition. You know, what tradition? Which part? There's many lines to this tradition, there's many ways of practising it, you know this fourth arabesque is not the other fourth arabesque, in a, in a different school. In any case I'm only interested in a kind of internal refractive aspect of it, and, and the analysis of categorical representation. But this is me, and I'm just, you know, one of many people practising ballet, so I think to call it 'deconstruction' is a, a little bit cavalier.
Well, even your supporters say, among the dance critics, one of them just said very simply, and then went on to a more complicated thought, but the simple thought was, Forsythe has broken every rule in the classical dance book. Now would you even accept that?
Well I'd like to know first what they mean by rules, and which rules. The rules are not stated anywhere, there's no, no place where rules are stated. It's, it's not, it doesn't have legal status, you know. There is really no legal function to ballet. And to say that, to use this word is, is, is very interesting. I use it myself, I say...
Yes. I say it.
Okay, there is a rule, and I would say rather let's change that, that word to 'prescription', yeah. So if we say arabesque involves a line emanating from the hip, at least four... at the, the least forty-five degrees, yeah, from the floor, defined by the foot, its relationship to the hip. And going up there to a hundred and eighty degrees at least, for a penchee. Then within that mathematical prescription there is perhaps room for saying what if.
But you're still working within the mathematical prescription of the arabesque, as anybody will recognise it?
Ballet is a geometric, inscriptive art form. We're inscribing geometry. And let's just start there - it's a really basic approach to it, it's very simple, it's not overtly political but it does have philosophical backgrounds. I mean, if you look at the eighteenth century and the emphasis on neo-platonism as a, as a foundation for abstraction then you go like okay there, this, this is, this is tricky stuff, why do we believe this is valuable good, etc etc., so one begins to examine it and say what if one does this to that? Do the, the results change? Do they change philosophically, and then oh perhaps the politics of, of making it, yeah, do change.
I use the word 'prescription' - the prescription I suppose also comes in, the idea of people who say 'this is what the arabesque is and you shall not change from that' - that's the negative prescription isn't it, the restrictive prescription?
Well the question is people never, they think of, of, of prescription as a sort of... a linguistic form that has no space in it, yeah, so it's a bit like this pen, that I can't do anything with this pen on the table here, it's solid and it's, it's... fixed, yeah. But this is language, this is a, a linguistic prescription, and language is malleable and, and suggests change already. And because I like to think algorithmically, I like to think of, of these prescriptions as little language machines that produce these things called arabesques or tendus or pirouettes, one says well, why not look at it as a sort of research project and say what happens if the prescription is altered by, you know, one word, two words, and if we replace this with that what, what emerges? And so basically it's curiosity that...
Let me just try another quote from the writer I mentioned, who said, 'The classical eye has been replaced by an aesthetic of, quotes, "perfect disorder", where every joint is shot through with energy and drama, traditionally modest movements have been terrifyingly magnified so that an arabesque might seem to wrench the dancer's joints apart'. Now is that a fair description of some of the things that, that you've done?
I think that writer enjoys hyperbole, yeah, and, and revels in it, and...
Do you think you're not doing anything as extreme as that?
Our goals are so much different, our goals are really very workmanlike. We're looking at these things, we're saying is it possible with this velocity, yeah, to accomplish that. And rather than say we're working teleologically and want an absolute outcome, like we're not... this is not physics, this is... in classical physics, this is more like quantum physics, in saying there is a probability that you will fall over, and there's a possibility that this thing will transform into something else, and we're just basically pushing the system to say okay at a certain level what are the, what are the probabilities? Will this thing become something we don't know? Can ballet actually produce something we know, produce something we don't know? Now that's an interesting thing.
And how far down that line do you think that you've got?
I'm getting there. (LAUGHS) I'm getting on down the line.
But at the same time you're always I think drawing on ballet's academic heritage, and that seems to be something, sort of very strong sense inside you. Am I right?
Hm, academic. Yes it's most recognisable in its academic form. I would say one always starts from that point insofar as that the definition is, is pretty clear, is, it's, it's accepted universally. I think that having investigated that to a large degree we've sort of moved on a little bit at the moment, and seeing the body as geometrically inscriptive but looking at prop, other properties like folding, collapsing, or other kinds of effects from physics.
Now were you at the time that you were going down this road, were you actively dissatisfied with what kind of choreography was on offer?
Throughout my entire career I have seen wonderful, wonderful works from really great, great artists, and I have always been inspired by other people.
So you never had to say I reject all that, and this is me and my unique road?
Well I just didn't, I, I wasn't paying attention to mainstream ballet, because it really wasn't what I was doing - I don't do classics - and, and it's just, I would say it's a little you know branch, or it's sort of a, almost an idiolect, you know like a tiny language spoken by a little tribe - I mean we're only thirty people so you could compare us perhaps with a tribe in the Amazon. Here we are in Frankfurt, at the end of the world, in deepest darkest Germany, so here we are speaking this little ballet-derivative language, and so I would say yes, like a little idiolect - it's something that, that we understand and now it's been taken out into the world by various people who say oh we'd like to also investigate what it feels like to speak that way.
Are you surprised when people say this is a language, a ballet language for the twenty-first century?
Oh it, it seems almost appropriate.
But you didn't set out to do it?
No! No I mean we're, we're just ballet practitioners so...
Now you came to Ballett Frankfurt 1984, you were just thirty-five.
Perhaps that's the right age to start running a company. How clear an idea did you have about what you wanted to do with the company?
I had less ideas about the company and more ideas about the space. The Frankfurt Opera stage is perhaps one of the most beautiful theatres in the world. It's fifty by fifty metres. The audience is relatively small. You can see well practically from every seat, and one has the feeling on the stage that one is rather in a landscape - it's so large. And this influenced very much my thinking about space and making things in space.
But what sort of opportunities did that suggest to you? I mean just that you had space which you needed to work with rather than dropping conventional sets in?
Yeah. Well things took time. In other words to walk fifty metres takes more time than it does to walk twelve, yeah, and so the temporal structures of pieces adapted themselves to that kind of space. And because the space itself is so beautiful, I didn't want to fill it with anything but light. So I sort of left the majority of, of scenic elements out, and tried to build a repertoire of light, even building lighting instruments myself, designing them myself and building them, and having them built rather, and deploying them to create unique visual situations for this stage.
And did you know at the beginning that your company would have no soloists, no corps de ballet, just a company of equals?
That's interesting. I don't know if I knew it, um it just seemed the right way to work right now. I, I, I noticed in other companies where I worked that it always created problems, and...
Who was going to get the solos?
Not just that, it's just that it makes no sense. Well if you're going to work on ballet there is no male ballet or female ballet basically. Men at one point don't wear point shoes, but the, the primary stuff of ballet is ungendered. It is also, there's degrees of expertise - someone can do a, a double saut de basque, another person can only do one. Someone can do triple tours, someone can do entrechat huit but someone else can also do an extraordinary entrechat six, so everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, yeah. Very few people can do everything extraordinarily well. But what made sense would be to have a group that, whose talents were relatively equal, so I have only soloists, I don't have a group. And this brings a much different atmosphere into the work. Everyone's equally responsible.
Did you know that you'd have to find over a period of time a different set of dancers who could work in the sort of way that you wanted?
Yes, but that's a slow evolution, I mean...
How long did that take?
That took about, oh eight years.
And in that time you were evolving your method?
And you, you worked through it with, with them?
Yes, I did, the... I, I also worked on their bodies -in other words I always made the work for who, for who I had in front of me - you don't make a work for some non-existent person, you have to look at the person in front of you and, and see what they're doing. And I also change ballets constantly. The cast changes and something does not look good on that person - I change it. Or if they're having trouble co-ordinat... co-ordinatively with it, I, I, I change it. There's no point in making people suffer for, for, for what?
Now your relationship with the company of course has evolved. From the early eighties the credits for your ballets say 'Choreography by William Forsythe, created on X and Y and Z'. Now...
Created with. Created with.
Well it's created on that I saw.
Where was that?
Well in the list of your works. And then of course it changes. But, so what is that telling us about your relationship with your dancers? I mean to me it suggests a very much a sort of physical approach of working with their bodies.
Well, I am fifty-three now and I still dance, right? I dance in rehearsals, I go in every night and dance work on my own. My attitude is always the following. If I'm going to dance with you, then you should probably choreograph with me, yeah. So we both dance, the dancers and I, we all dance together and we all choreograph together, because if you sort of leave it over to the other person to just do the dance and the other person do the choreography I believe there's a gap forms in your experience. And this experiential gap is, I find, dangerous, and detrimental to the kind of work at least that I want to do.
It becomes active passive?
Yeah, exactly. And, it evolves to the point that the dancers are credited for choreography and they're also paid for it.
But that took time didn't it? I mean that's, that's the interesting thing, because we move from created on to William Forsythe in collaboration with the ensemble...
...which was presumably a very different process, and then, 1997, 'Hypothetical Stream' - a choreographic work from William Forsythe and then nine named dancers.
'Hypothetical Stream' was made originally for Daniel Larrieu and his company in Tours and he wanted a ballet and I said I can't come, I'll fax it to you. So I took a series of sketches from 'Tiepolo', and I drew any number of vectors, emanating from these knots of suspended figures that were all flying in, in, in the clouds, and all very knotted, very baroque. And I drew a number of vectors, and said these are knots, and these need to be solved, or unknotted. And I, the lines that I drew were hypothetical solutions, to these...
How the dancers would move to unknot the knots?
Yeah, or, or tighter knot or more complicated, and the de... the figures in the, in the drawings were all numbered, yeah, so your number, Joan, is number one and, and John is number two etc. And they received how instructions how to construct this ballet. And I've done it in three different places and each one is drastically different, and the people solve it themselves.
Have you ever faxed any other ballet like that?
(LAUGHS) No, no, no, it's the, the only faxed ballet!
But in the end how can nine or six people, or you and the company, all choreograph together? I mean in the end you're making the choice aren't you, you are the... Somebody has to be the directing mind, because I think you've said the trouble is if there isn't somebody with a directing mind it looks like a can of worms.
(LAUGHS) Well, I mean the, I start the idea, I'm the initiator, right? So I say I believe that something could emerge from these conditions, and then I name the conditions, which is basically the, the algorithm to make the choreography. We then work on these instructions, and these instructions then give it a kind of result, and we discuss it, and from that I have to keep deriving other conditions which, let's say like variations, on these results, until we arrive at, at something that is let's say agreeable upon. The reason the dancers do it is because of time limitations to some degree. Also it's that in order to understand the structure you have to be in the structure sometimes, dancing it. I've had up to eight dancers examine a structure according to certain instructions, internally, that was Eidos Telos and you get a very very unique result. A work based on Virginia Woolf, 'Mrs Dalloway', there was a wonderful introduction to the book at one point, and it said Mrs Dalloway was having moments of vision. So one of our methodologies had to do with identically remembering another person's variation, or, or sprays rather, yeah, and building a kind of architecture of movement around it, but you had to keep seeing this other person dancing in order to perform it, so was, it was a way of having vision.
I mean it seems to me that what you ask of your dancers is, is absolutely huge. I think there's a 1995 dance where you ask them to work from over a hundred core sequences...
...and then to develop those, and to develop those in the course of the, the, the performance .
I mean how do you begin to reach a stage where people know enough and remember enough to make it coherent?
Repetition. (LAUGHS) Repetition - over and over and over and over again, until one could move through space and the, the shape of the hand in this case that was Eidos Telos, um the shape of the hand recalls sequences, so if the hand moves in relationship with the, for example my head, in a certain tension, you know that that recalls a certain sequence, yeah, and this um has to do with a cloud of memory, the eidolon according to Roberto Calasso, which is a sort of, yeah, a cloud of form - in our case a cloud of memory. And it had to do with, with creating a memory, and a kind of, of, a metaphoric memory. And it was immediately after my wife had died so I was really concerned with memory at that point.
Yes because you've said the body is the memory, and I guess that's only something that a dancer can, can understand.
Well, if... The body begins to remem, remember autonomously. You don't have to construct memory any more. For example you remember how to feed yourself with a fork. You know at one point you don't even think any more, you pick up the fork and it goes. So for us, if we provide certain conditions, end up in a certain shape, this produces memory, and some, some of it is constructed in conscious and other is just habit, actually.
Now, music. In your early years - and I suppose that was when you were more in your going through Ballanchine phase and a lot of music was, was classical, or twentieth century classical certainly - and then at a particular period the Dutch composer Thom Willems started to work with you more or less all the time. His music is often very hard, very percussive, very industrial, call, call it what you want. What is the appeal of that sort of music, for you as a choreographer?
Well, well I'd like to take, er, Tom under my wing right now and say that you have to really hear twenty years of music to, before you can really say what it is. It goes through every conceivable kind of acoustic dimension, and to say it's industrial or something like that is, is actually a little bit unfair.
Yeah, this is comments that have obviously been, been made. Thom Willems gives you acoustic space to dance, yeah. He really gives you space to dance. It makes acoustic environments, and so we've done away with the sets, and we have acoustic environments that are... He's a classical musician, and I feel that it, it works for classical-based dancing. And he is amenable to our ideas. He likes to understand what we're doing and try to think up something that might surprise us and challenge us.
So at what stage does he come into the creative process?
He can come in at any, any stage. He can walk in two days before the premiere or he can hand me a piece, you know, four months before. It varies every time. We've had every conceivable sort of time schedule in, in working over the last twenty years. So Thom Willems though, is also someone who's constantly evolving. Um we play music - sometimes it's played live on the laptop during a performance. He sometimes pulls back to the point he's practically inaudible. I would say he's an extraordinary partner. He alway... he is always interested in the idea. He always wants to know what are we thinking and I say nothing, we're just, we're just organising bodies. No it's fine with him, he, he, but he's always interested in the idea.
Now how precise is the idea when you start working on a new piece, when you walk into the rehearsal studio? I mean you said just now that you choreographed a dance by images from Tiepolo which you then drew out on, on paper. Now do you ever do anything remotely like that with your own work, that you have sketched it out in sketches?
Absolutely not. Absolutely not. I pray for what the Buddhists call that 'don't know mind'. I try not to know what the piece will be. I can start with an idea and I'll study for years actually to think about something, but when I go into the studio I want to be able to see what is in front of me, I want to not have another idea. I don't... it's, that, in that sense it's not like ballet, not where I have this thing I'm trying to fill, or pass through, this, the prescription. I try to devise methodologies that are commensurate with, with the project, yeah. The project usually has some form as an idea, but those, those ideas have to become methodologies, and I have to look at what the results are, I have to look at dancers, and that I think is the biggest challenge, is not seeing what I want to see but seeing what's actually in front of my eyes.
So what are you saying to the dancers on day one? What sort of thing do you say to them?
I usually say I've absolutely no idea what I'm doing, and because I've never made this ballet before, now, and...
And they say give us a clue?
Right and then, and then, then we go.
So process, the process of discovery, between you and the ensemble, is an absolutely critical part of the creative business?
Yeah I think our curiosity is very valuable - how curious are people to, to... or how. Also trusting - I have to trust them and they have to trust me. That's very very important.
And do they ever say to you, Bill we've done this before?
Yes they have! (LAUGHS) Very valuable comment, and I'm like, oh okay. I said well do we want to do it again? And that is actually I find a very helpful comment, and I go have we really, and they go yeah, and I'm like okay well here we go.
You say damn, I didn't realise!
Yeah right, exactly, I'm very very grateful to them, yeah. They're the ones, the dancers are the ones who have actually pushed me, constantly, to go further.
What external influences matter to you? I mean you mentioned Tiepolo, you mentioned rock 'n' roll music. I mean who are the other influences from the artistic world all around you that matter, that you think, ah he or she has really got something going?
I would say that I'm, I'm very influenced by the here and now. I mean whatever is in front of me - a book, a newspaper, a photo, a film, snow falling outside, you name it, that gets my attention. I'm, I'm sort of like a cat, you know. You ever see a cat sit around and stare at things? In that sense I sit around and stare at things a lot because I'm easily distracted and fascinated by things. So I would say that whatever sparks my curiosity or holds my interest is, is what's in front of my eyes you know. If I'm in front of a work of a colleague that is, you know, really inspiring, then I'm inspired by it, no doubt, whether it be a photo, a painting, a sculpture, an installation, who knows what. Or it could be, like I said, watching the neighbour's cat, you know.
Why does dance matter at all today - dance, ballet?
Well we all still have bodies don't we? So I would say... that's a very very good question. Does it matter, and to what degree does it matter? I'm reading Hegel right now, so I'm inclined to sort of question some of the, of the distinctions he makes about art. I think dancing is in a difficult position, only insofar as there is this battle between that which is instructive, on one hand, and entertaining or decorative on another - sensuous as he calls it. On the other hand everyone dances. I mean MTV is literally a dance channel - that's the way I see it. I turn on MTV and look for, you know groovy moves as it were, and to see you know spectacular dancing. There is a lot of dance culture. It's all around us. Maybe as we get older we get that we see less and less of it, but it's not to be avoided.
So that'll continue even if the classical ballet companies and your company didn't exist?
Yeah, of course it would, thank God. I would hope so, you know, unless...
So why does company, why do companies such as yours matter? Why does this particular kind of dance, ballet, matter?
I don't know that it does matter, I don't... I actually can't, I'm not in a position to assess it. We do it, it has a certain resonance. Right now I am working on projects that make work that tries to make the audience aware of its own attention, yeah? So a recent work we made call 'Forehand' tried to function more as a musical piece creating a series of silences, and these silences were designed to make the audience aware of their collective attention. It actually worked. And at the end of the piece I always had the feeling that the audience applauds very enthusiastically its own attention, yeah, which I think, because of television, is some degree harder and harder to get - you can't zap your way out of a performance, quite frankly.
Were people embarrassed by the silences, because it had put the spotlight back on them?
Perhaps at some point, but finally it became a collective, let's say, enterprise. And this collective enterprise apparently was very, I mean from the response of the audience was very rewarding, and this is, we're talking a thousand, four hundred people, you know, actually being glad that they became a little community of attentive people.
What's the next stage of your evolution as a maker of ballets?
Well the question is, I really don't know if it's ballets I'm making. Perhaps we need another word for what we're doing here at the moment. I think that the word 'ballet' causes a lot of contention. We certainly don't want to, you know, upset those who have used ballet as a way to fetishise their own hysteria. So I think that I'd rather move than work in the arena of the hysterical fetishists, as it were, and just say that at one point this was a place where we moved from, it was at a point of departure, and I have certainly no intentions of trying to you know define ballet. Ballet is not to be defined by any individual whatsoever, it is, like I said, an historical normative methodology, and this is where it will always be.
But curiosity, which you mentioned much earlier, that will always be the defining characteristic of what you do?
(LAUGHS) That's nice if that would be true. I hope so, I hope we stay curious, certainly. I don't think any one person can exhaust ballet any more than one composer can exhaust music - classical music for that matter. Bach didn't certainly exhaust classical music, nor did Stravinsky. But I would say that I don't want to be in a situation where I am also defined by ballet only, because the thinking uses ballet as, as a structure, a structure that sort of accelerates thinking, yeah, and like I say a place to start from. And I don't want to certainly say that this is ballet now, as we've said before. I don't know if this is ballet now - perhaps it isn't any more - so I shall be the last one to say what it is, and would be disinclined to say that this is the historical line of this artform. It's just one of many lines, yeah.
So what about the line in Frankfurt ?
Well the line in Frankfurt is about to experience I would say a rather strong shift in its direction. I don't know whether the line will be able to continue in the form that it's in - in other words as a company - or whether we will have to simply imagine ourselves otherwise, which is to say that we will probably move into more teaching actually, and actually documenting ideas. So we've had several offers right now, like the CD rom which we've produced already, the instructor CD rom, to produce more instructive things, and to keep the ideas alive.
But you don't just want to become an archivist of your own PAST work?
No. No not an archivist, but these are useful tools, thinking tools, for people working in the field, and they're just tools.
When did you last see a traditional production of ' Swan Lake '?
' Swan Lake ', hm...
Or any of the great classical Russian ballets.
Mm... let me think... er er er it's been a while. Yeah, it's been a while.
What, did you enjoy it?
Yeah. Oh actually yeah I saw Sylvie, Sylvie Guillem in 'Giselle'. Yeah I did enjoy it, I really... It's Royal Ballet actually, and they were great, I thought that the company was amazing, yeah. They know how to do those ballets well. It was so spectacularly performed, and I really really enjoyed it and I'm glad that there are those works to see still.
So you don't in any way have to set what you do against that sort of work and that sort of achievement?
Oh, not at all. I mean I want to see that work really beautifully performed, I don't want to see a crap version of ' Swan Lake ' or 'Giselle'. I love to see an extraordinary, exquisite, a pristine version of that, yeah. Just say that my work is not against it, it's adjacent, or, you know, beside or around. You can't move through the same space - that is, that space is historically occupied by that work. You can't pass through it, you can't affect it, deflect it, you can't do anything with it. It simply exists as a line, and these other lines in history you know are, some will last longer and some will last less long you know.
Bill Forsythe, thank you very much.
You're very welcome.
- Emma Kingsley