The Life of Work

Written By William Forsythe

William Forsythe's Artifact © Dominik Mentzos

William Forsythe's Artifact

Photo credit: © Dominik Mentzos


As a maker, a question I am frequently asked about my work is “Where does it come from?”

Pennsylvania Ballet in William Forsythe's Artifact Suite

Photo credit: Sasha Iziliaev

Dana Caspersen and Fabrice Mazliah in Artifact

Photo credit: Dieter Schwer

Pennsylvania Ballet in William Forsythe's Artifact Suite

Photo credit: Sasha Iziliaev

Dana Caspersen and Fabrice Mazliah in Artifact

Photo credit: Dieter Schwer

A question both interesting and of course almost impossible to answer if one were to assume the question addressed the mysteries of the self. But a simpler genesis is available if one sees artistic practice through the less occult lens of craft-related labor and its attendant, practical imperatives.
 
I began my tenure as director and choreographer of Ballett Frankfurt in September 1984 and encountered the dilemma that all new director/choreographers encounter, which is a dearth of new ballets suitable for the first half of the first season’s repertory offerings. As there is seldom enough time for the existing repertory to be rehearsed, much less mount a new full-length production, the possibility of making a new work that would signal the beginning of a new era in the life of the company seemed remote, if not impossible.

I considered my options: Accept the inevitable routine or squeeze every last minute out of the already full schedule and risk not finishing. I obviously chose the second option and threw myself into the work assuming I would somehow finish. In three weeks. For those not acquainted with the practicalities of ballet production, a rehearsal period of four weeks is more or less the bare minimum for a single, one-act work. Full-length evenings are usually allotted anywhere between nine and 12 weeks with months and sometimes years of pre-planning involved. Somehow we were going to spontaneously manifest a set design, light design, costume design and music composition in three weeks. In that kind of situation, doubt is not your best friend, but a very sober outlook is. The key to the efficiency we needed was to realize that in this extreme production situation, too much of a certain kind of collaboration could actually slow decision-making processes. To that effect, I put on several hats and thereby eliminated I reckon, about two months of meetings alone. I took responsibility for lighting, set and costume design and had only one other main production collaborator: the brilliant concert pianist and composer Eva Crossman-Hecht.
 
Eva was Juilliard trained in the '60s and was destined for a stellar career but decided not to follow that dream, but rather that of her opera singer husband, which is how she ended up at the Frankfurt Opera with me, acting as chief pianist for the company. A classically trained pianist, Eva had the particular gift of being able, like a Mozart or Bach, to effortlessly, spontaneously, compose in the classical style on any given theme. The themes were provided this time by J.S. Bach as I had decided to use the Chaconne in D minor for solo violin for one entire act of the ballet as I was already very familiar with the work having studied violin with my grandfather, an accomplished concertmaster. Eva suggested that she use Ferruccio Busoni’s transcription of the Chaconne, considered a masterpiece of keyboard literature.

William Forsythe's Artifact by Dieter Schwer

William Forsythe's Artifact

Photo credit; Dieter Schwer

Needless to say, Artifact premiered within the time constraints but with one caveat: This was not by any means a finished work. Over the next 30 years any opportunity that presented itself to amend, revise or invent a section of the work that needed a less spontaneous relationship to craft, was taken. For example, this current production for Boston Ballet contains a complete new section in the last act of the work. The entire men’s dance has been re-invented with a greater focus on the frequency of contrapuntal change between the subdivisions of the men’s groups, and the introduction of a fugal canon that also includes the entire female ensemble. This revisiting of the creative spirit of the work makes it possible for the ensemble and myself to immerse ourselves in the joys of making and promotes a collaborative vision for the exciting future that our next five years of creative invention at Boston Ballet promises.

 

Forsythe-Signature

William Forsythe

The illusion we create is intended to deepen your understanding of reality.

Mikko Nissinen, Artistic Director
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