Review: The Forsythe Company in Decreation at Sadler's Wells

Performance: 24 - 26 Apr 09
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Monday 27 April 2009

'Decreation' 24-26 Apr, Sadler's Wells. Chor: William Forsythe. Dancers: Ballett Frankfurt. Photo: Dominik Mentzos

Reading about the world Sudoku championships on the way home from Sadler’s Wells, it dawned on me that the later works of William Forsythe are intensely mathematical. I had left the theatre after seeing Decreation in an unsettled state, frustrated at feeling unable to decipher a puzzle that nonetheless left me in awe at its unfathomable genius.

The work is delivered by seventeen dancers, working alongside an onstage composer (David Morrow) who creates a live keyboard score responding to words and movement and the bodies’ complex inter-action with the performance space. The performers are connected – they speak to one another, for example – but they also seem to occupy separate worlds for much of the time. There is a lot of text, which seems at various times to be both fragmented and part of an ongoing narrative; phrases and statements come round in cycles but the pattern is always different and never in harmony with the movement. If this is a mathematical puzzle then it presents itself in a tidal wave of overlapping dimensions. The complexity was clearly too much for some. Within ten minutes, I’d been disturbed twice by people leaving from my row, and a small but noticeable exodus indicated that the intellectual challenge of Decreation was not palatable for some.

It is hard to describe the work as enjoyable entertainment but it is challenging, stimulating and never ceases to be an absorbing spectacle. It’s a work to be soaked in, to see many times – if possible – but not one to be taken for superficial pleasures. Whenever the text spoke of the absurdity of what took place on stage (for example, after an uncomfortably long silent stillness) it was met by an immediate response of laughter from the audience; it was hard to tell whether this stemmed from a recognition that the performer was speaking what these audience members were thinking, or whether this was playing along with the intended irony.

I have long been fascinated by Forsythe’s deconstruction of dance performance, which permeates his later work and is illustrated in many ways by the video installations and films that accompanied these performances at Sadler’s Wells. Here, we almost have the ultimate in deconstructed dance, in its Decreation. In the complex world of these seventeen players, we sense (in around an hour) every conceivable emotion – vulnerability, anguish, anger, love, displacement, divinity and much, much more.

In my confused state, I found some comfort in seeing the work through mathematical shapes and patterns (an idea that gains greater credence through a closer examination of the patterns of interactions in another Forsythe work – One Flat Thing, reproduced – through the Synchronous Objects research at Ohio State University – see http://synchronousobjects.osu.edu, which is well worth visiting) and others may find different sources of stimulation in a multi-layered, fascinating and dense piece of innovative dance theatre. It may not be enjoyable or entertaining in any conventional sense, but it has an immense internal power and a logic that I felt but have yet to comprehend. Another two or three viewings needed!

What’s On