Published Attitude: The Dancer’s Magazine

Before Decreation, the new William Forsythe work that appeared this fall at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Harvey Gilman Opera House, there was Anne Carson’s Decreation, the title of a book and essay.  The word doesn’t appear in Webster’s, but Carson defines it as “… an undoing of the creature in us—that creature enclosed in self and defined by self.  But to undo self one must move through self, to the very inside of its definition.[1]

Carson’s essay is a three-part, female-centric feminine rumination on love, jealousy and God, as interpreted through the works of Sappho (Fragment 31), Marguerite Porete’s The Mirror of Simple Souls (a work that resulted in her being burned at the stake) and Simone Weil, who, in coining the phrase, “decreation,” mused that its ultimate goal goes beyond the retrieval of self: “We possess nothing in this world other than the power to say “I.”  This is what we must yield up to God.

It’s enough of a challenge for a reader to parse out Carson’s enigmatic dissections, let alone a choreographer, but William Forsythe has made a career from such challenges.  Since 1976 when he made his first works for the Stuttgart Ballet, this American-born artist has been breaking rules through his fracturing of ballet structures;  his use of improvisation have combined with a visual sense honed by forays into film and art to create works that owe nothing to precedents.  His dance theater is a amalgam of words and movement enhanced by an almost baroque design aesthetic (here I’m thinking of his Impressing the Czar that showed at the Lincoln Center Festival a year or so back) so dense that a evening can feel like the assault one experiences when seating beneath the audio speakers at a Megadeth concert.

Carson muses that “if jealousy were a dance it would be a pattern of placement and displacement…jealousy is a dance in which everyone moves,” an idea expressed in the whirling, spinning bodies that collapsed on the BAM stage in spasms that felt like instances of insanity.  Stillness was rare, from the opening mono where Dana Casperson did a Jekyll and Hyde impersonation of a woman nearly torn in two as she tried to wrestle sense from love’s various obsessions, to bodies that tentacled across the stage in a series of partnerings that suggested the triangle as a unholy alliance.   Forsythe used sound to enhance the effect: often the dialogue’s portentous statements (“Hypocrite,” “Traitor,” or the doozy “I could never understand the question.”) devolve to gibberish, as if the participants were speaking in tongues—logical for anyone who’s experienced how quickly words descend to gibberish in an attempt to elucidate one’s fears and feelings to a lover—or caught in the spell of some God Machine.  The clapping of hands sounded like the splat of sudden rain on a hot sidewalk; the sound of chairs slamming the floor evoked the sound of thunder

The use of a roving camera manned by Ursula Maurer (is it coincidence that this omnipotent figure is played by a woman?) isolated the stillness amid the kinetic.  The video point of view was welcome; in this dialogue-heavy work it wasn’t always easy to tell who was saying what.  As close-ups appeared on the monitor we got another take on the torments of love that mirrored the contemplative, analytic tone of Carson’s words.  The sight of a human face leavened the chaos to reveal the fleeting pain in a piece that often leaned on comedy to make it points.

A series of wallowing lovelorn plaints ended with the puncturing comment, “I hate this.”  There’s stunning choreographic and comic invention in the scene where Georg Reischl and Yasutake Shimaji play out a relationship that is literally clinging: as their bodies maintain contact their pinwheeling arms give the impression that they’re slicing each other up.  Richard Siegel bounces ably from the misunderstood lover of both gay and straight ménage a troix, to a brief bit of camp as he parades across the stage in relavéy wearing a red pompom on his head.  As the principal female seeking resolution to her near-hysterical jealousy, Casperson carries the bulk of the evening’s dramatic weight, as she did in Forsythe’s Impressing the Czar; so gifted is she as an actress, that you yearn to see more of her terpsichorean gifts.  Alas, they’re underused in Decreation.

The storm wrought by Forsythe occasionally slowed down long enough to yield moments of absolute wonder.  In particular I’m thinking about a lovely trio that unfolded upstage towards the end that felt part tango, part psychodrama: the woman (Jone San Martin), wedged between two men (Shimaji and Fabrice Mazliah), expressed her sexual need as if imparting patient instruction.  You sense her yearning as she placed one of the men’s hands on privates, and when it dawned that the two men have eyes only for each other, her capitulation.  To risk is to suffer—the moment expressed what is perhaps Carson’s most poignant notion as she speculates how Sappho’s unfinished Fragment 31 might’ve ended: “Love dares the self to leave itself behind, to enter into poverty.”

Where one might possibly be engulfed by flames.  Forsythe dramatized the fate of Porete (obviously the French took umbrage at her idea of God as “overflowing and abundant Lover.”) by turning his ensemble (seated around a table on which one of the dancers is caressed and handled before both she and her partner emerge smeared with soot) into an eerie rabble; handclaps replicated the sound of striking matches before they carried out a series of rhythmic stomps with chairs and feet, bowing toward, then backing away from the flames like frightful waves.  It was a bracing, albeit, pessimistic note on which to end.

Decreation by The Forsythe Company

Stage Design by William Forsythe

Lighting Design by Jan Walter/William Forsythe

Music by David Morrow

Costumes by Claudia Hill

Video Design by Philip Bubman

Sound Design Bernhard Klein, Dietrich Krüger, Niels Lanz

[1] Anne Carson, “Decreation: How Woman Like Sappho, Marguerite Porete and Simone Weil Tell God, “ in Decreation Poetry, Essays, Opera, (New York, Vintage 2006), 179