Forsythe Company At Sadler’s Wells: Whooshing Vocals and Rippling Spines

With the rapid and dynamic 1987 ballet In the middle, somewhat elevated our only prior experience of William Forsythe’s choreography, his latest bill of N.N.N.N and Study #3, which is currently showing at Sadler’s Wells, was a real disappointment. While Forsythe has some interesting ideas, most of the choreography lacked excitement and it was impossible, alas, not to let our minds drift to thoughts of what to have for dinner and the office tasks needing completion.

N.N.N.N is a work for four male dancers, set against Forsythe’s trademark bare stage, with ladders, rails of costumes and other backstage items clearly visible, In silence, the movement begins as one dancer swings his arm and then catches it, as if the arm is out of conscious control. This continues into sequences of movement that feel like children pretending to be Power Rangers or other hero figures, albeit rather oversized children with an evidently high level of dance training. Their vocalisations (‘pow’ and ‘whoosh’) punctuate each movement and we are transported into this youthful fantasy world, but it didn’t have the power to hold our attention.

In Study #3, which is making its UK premiere this week, a cast of 15 males and females perform on the same bare stage. Dancers take it in turns to stand behind a microphone, making a range of sounds from whispers in a foreign language to birdsong and yelping, while others dance. Forsythe’s choreography bears no relation to the vocals, changing neither style nor speed according to the tonal backdrop, with dancers wiggling on the floor, rippling their spines, protruding their jaws, skipping and falling to the ground in seemingly random patterns.

Some of the movement caught our attention – for example when four pairs of dancers formed contorted shapes – but the majority was unfortunately uninspiring. There was also an uncomfortable conflict between the sound and the visual that didn’t match (or clash) effectively. However, there was a central section of dry humour that we loved, where the vocalist described the action onstage: “He’s got a real nice lime green tank top… She’s got  a real nice way of tying her hair into a ponytail… The lights have a real nice way of making sure we’re not in the dark.”

The Forsythe Company are a talented troupe of dancers and this bill is a showcase of their skills and Forsythe’s inimitable style, but it lacks the punch and entertainment value of earlier works like In the middle.

The Forsythe Company are at Sadler’s Wells, Roseberry Avenue, Islington, EC1R 4TN tonight only. Tickets priced £12-27 are available from the Sadler’s Wells website. Londonist received a complimentary ticket to review this performance.

Photo: Dominik Mentzos

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