The BLOG: Culture

Boston Ballet Offers an Enticing Glimpse of William Forsythe’s “Artifact”

Boston Ballet’s Lia Cirio and Paulo Arrais, William Forsythe’s Artifact; Photo by Rachel Neville

A ballerina stretches her arms out to each side, and the dancer behind takes one in each hand. They begin to dance: her legs jet out on pointe, in line with her arms. She twists and he follows her movements attentively. They are angular, strong and vigorous. After no more than 30 seconds of dance, Choreographer William Forsythe calls them to a halt, pleased.

“What would you have liked to do differently,” he asks the couple.

“Everything,” Principal Dancer Dusty Button replies, to her audience’s amusement and admiration. She and her partner, Principal Lasha Khozashvili are rehearsing Artifact, a contemporary ballet by Forsythe, in front of an audience at Boston Ballet’s headquarters. This season, Boston Ballet is the first company in North America to perform Artifact in full.

“I would have liked to put more surprise in it,” Dusty continues.

“So how would you put more surprise into it?” Forsythe prompts.

Dusty and Lasha regroup into their initial pose, an artistic process visible on their faces as she stretches her arms and he grabs her wrists once again. They repeat the choreography, this time with noticeably more spontaneity. The interaction between a choreographer and his dancers is imperative to ballet, and a rare sight for audiences. This interaction is particularly special—Forsythe’s presence in Boston marks the beginning of a significant relationship between Boston Ballet and this world-famous choreographer.

Last week’s installment of BB@home, Focus on Forsythe, allowed a small audience inside the mind of a prolific choreographer. He rehearsed two casts in two different sections of Artifact. Forsythe said he aimed to make us an informed audience, advising how to understand what we’re watching in his choreography.

“It’s a series of neo-platonic ideals,” Forsythe tells us as Dusty takes an arabesque, digging into relativity, art and appearance. “There are no arabesques. She never truly gets to an arabesque,” he says. The audience giggles, and Forsythe acknowledges that Dusty is, in fact, giving us an arabesque as darned close to perfect as it can be.

He’s an obscure, philosophical man full of inspiration, and his ideas border on nonsensical. But we’re drinking the Forsythe Kool-Aid. This artist doesn’t shy away from experimentation, and for this reason, audiences eat up his work, and why Boston Ballet Artistic Director Mikko Nissinen describes him as today’s Marius Petipa—his work is revolutionary in the world of ballet and movement.

Forsythe walks us through the two couples’ dances in this section, then explains the inverse relationships between their choreography. We see it: the theme of Dusty and Lasha’s pas de deux, followed by its variation danced by Principal Seo Hye Han and Soloist Paul Craig. Later rehearsing a men’s section, Forsythe gives us a lesson on counterpoints, the relationship between dance and music, and the importance of silence in movement.

This ballet demands artistic intelligence from the dancers. They have a million steps to remember and concepts to consider while doing those steps, but they must make it look effortless. They’re getting there. Seo Hye Han and Paul Craig are particularly arresting—they embody the ideas that Forsythe wants to portray, smartly utilizing variations of momentum to glide across the stage. Together, they capture the ethereal effect that epitomizes the art of their craft.

These are very talented dancers performing this BB@home. Forsythe says that if he’s going to spend five years working with dancers, he wants the best—and with him, they certainly look it. They’re sharp, inspired, confident, and they respond to his coaching.

A glimpse into Forsythe’s radical mind piqued my interest in Artifact. Watching his choreography casually is a pleasure, and watching it with a critical eye is fascinating. This will be a momentous run for Boston Ballet.

Boston Ballet will perform William Forsythe’s Artifact at the Boston Opera House, February 23–March 5. For tickets, visit the Boston Ballet website or call the box office: 617.695.6955.