A FORSYTHE EVENING by NDT1 at Amare in The Hague and on tour

William Forsythe’s Or Any If And Photo by and © Rahi Rezvani

Many years ago I went to Barnum and Bailey and Ringling Brothers three ring circus in New York. Very spectacular it was too. The only problem was that there was so much happening that if you looked in one direction you missed what was going on in another. One Flat Thing, Reproduced was rather like that. Frenetic hardly describes it. It starts with twenty metal framed tables being noisily dragged and arranged on stage to form, what were virtually, several other, mini-stages. And the action never stops, jumping on and off, sliding and spinning around, the fourteen dancers hardly have time to catch their breath as Tom Willems’ unrelenting, mainly percussive score drives them on. It was like an office party that got out of hand or a riot in a canteen.

One Flat Thing, Reproduced was the final part of a trilogy of pieces to celebrate the work of American choreographer William Forsythe under the banner of A Forsythe Evening. You would have been forgiven for experiencing a sense of déjà vu as the same programme was presented in December 2021 with the name Woven State. That was rather spoiled by the pandemic so the show has been brought to the stage again, albeit with a few adjustments.

First up was the enigmatically called N.N.N.N. danced by four male dancers. This represented the original concept of the piece – in the 2021 version it was danced as N.N.N.N.N.N.N.N.N.N.N.N with twelve boys and girls. During the pandemic Forsythe wanted to have as many dancers as possible participate in the creation process and the performance.  

Danced on the vast black space which is the Amare’s Dance Theatre stage, it was rather disconcertingly performed to complete silence. It can be alarming to be robbed of one of ones senses but the effect is that it concentrates the others. One was aware of every squeak of the feet on the floor, of every breath and every slap of flesh touching flesh, every nuance of movement. The four boys were all in more or less street clothes. There was much intertwining, with arms playing an important part. Legs were also tangled, putting me in mind of the old three-legged race we used to have at school sports days when I was a child or the cat’s-cradle game with a piece of string interlacing between the fingers.

But for me the high-spot of the show was the 1995 equally enigmatically titled Of Any If And. This really demonstrated Forsyth’s creative genius. The curtain rose to reveal the familiar black stage but at either side, at the back, was an office chair beside a black box. From the boxes emerged our two dancers in a piece which was an extended pas de deux. Mainly classical in style to more music by Mr Willems, the two dancers were unfazed by the next development. Lowered from above the stage about a dozen batons slowly descended. Attached to each one were three or four cards each bearing a random word, together making a meaningless phrase – hence the title of the piece. The batons then took it in turn to stay down for a few moments while the others disappeared into the darkness above like a pair of yo-yos. This was like the Surrealists’ party game cadavre exquis in which three or four members of the group would write a few words or do part of a drawing on a piece of paper before passing it on to the next participant who would add his own contribution without seeing what preceded it. In the final reveal the poem would be read to the amazement and delight of all concerned. The randomness had its own logic which defied common sense. Just because we don’t understand something doesn’t mean it has no meaning.

Of Any If And was brilliant, just the sort of brilliance you can rely on from NDT. A Forsythe Evening worked well as a programme with each of the components demonstrating that bringing together three random pieces can make a very satisfactory and meaningful whole. Michael Hasted  8th December 2023


A full list of tour dates can be found here