Last Dance

Ballett Frankfurt says goodbye in OC

Many dancers think Germany is Edenic: a place where professionals don't have to collect unemployment checks between seasons; a land of retirement and health insurance; a planet where dancers and firemen make the same salaries, reaping equality like manna.

Perhaps that makes it odder still that Ballett Frankfurt will be kaput after nearly 20 years of explosive dance. Even after an international uproar, the town decided to drastically cut its arts budget, and several officials expressed displeasure that the company wasn't classically oriented.

At least OC will get a final taste of artistic director William Forsythe's controversial choreography on June 11 and 12 before the group disbands in August. The group will continue under the new moniker Forsythe Co., but on a smaller scale and straddling several different home cities.

Instead of pleasant, classical ballet with clean lines, turned-out feet and modest, doll-like head positions, Forsythe has been accused of breaking every rule in the classical-ballet book. (There is no one book, if you were wondering.)

Forsythe speaks of classical ballet as "a nice, neutral language. You look at a ballet, and you read history." That doesn't bode well for ballet buffs seeking antique productions dragged out of the closet, the choreography pumped with life by today's athletic dancers.

Instead we've got an intellectual taking a high-art approach toward movement. He's talking about dance as a language. You speak the language; you don't recite it.

Steeped in the Balanchine technique, American born Forsythe trained in the neo-classical style—a way of dancing known for its rigorous arm and head positioning, a.k.a. epaulement. After a few shout-outs to Mr. B with his first choreographic works, Forsythe took his own road.

Today, many critics and peers call his work deconstructionist. But he has simply created a derivative of ballet, a different dialect among many. He uses some ballet steps, but he plays with structure, time, light and what he calls "acoustic space." The work is analytical, reckless, industrial, perhaps esoteric, and everyone from architects to dance critics has been having a field day trying to explain the mystery that drives his movement.

Set to music by Thom Willems, NNNN; Duo; One Flat Thing, reproduced; and The Room As It Was make up the program. It's heavy stuff: NNNNplays with folding joints, as the dancers twist on the floor. In Duo, Forsythe uses two women to represent time, his goal to determine how time fits within space, with movements forward, reversing, slicing and falling. One Flat Thing, reproduced thrusts the dancers around metal tables, moving in a pack and echoing a howling storm. The Room As It Was takes on another difficult subject: the transfer of memory into time.

Ballet gets a bad rap since it leans so heavily on its pompous history. Many forget that, in the 1920s and '30s, Diaghilev scandalized audiences with erotic productions in front of backdrops by Matisse and Picasso and that, 30 years later, Balanchine jazzed up the standard steps (have you ever seen Bugaku? Racy!), and hunks like Baryshnikov (pre-Sex and the City) infused the '80s with a much-needed jolt. These days, people like Forsythe are keeping it real.

Ballett Frankfurt performs at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, Segerstrom Hall, 600 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa, (714) 556-2787. Fri., 8 p.m. $20-$75.
 
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