Dancer Insight: Working with William Forsythe

Misa Kuranaga and Patrick Yocum

Photo credit: RACHEL NEVILLE Photography

We got the inside scoop from Company dancers Misa Kuranaga and Patrick Yocum on what it is like to work with the renowned choreographer William Forsythe.

Misa Kuranaga and Patrick Yocum in rehearsal

Photo credit: Ernesto Galan

William Forsythe

Photo credit: Liza Voll

Patrick: It is just amazing. This is the third time we’ve gotten a chance to have him in our studios, and we are really excited to start our five-year partnership. He is so generous with sharing his intelligence and knowledge of ballet, and he does it in such a wonderful way–it’s witty, it has gravity, and everything he says makes you feel like what you’re doing is very important.

He always says, “Let’s make this about right now. Don’t try to imitate what someone did before. Just make it about you guys. Don’t try to impress somebody. Don’t even try to do this for me.” If something doesn’t work on a particularly body, he’s more than willing to change it. Gosh, it’s just so much fun.

Misa: It truly has been an amazing experience. When you hear that you will be working with William Forsythe you might panic or feel nervous because he is such a brilliant choreographer. However, when you actually work with him, he is the nicest person. He just treats you like you’re his friend. He creates this amazing atmosphere to engage dancers to work with him. There’s no tension. He works with you, just as you are.

Would you say working with him is a life-changing experience?

Patrick: Absolutely. You can apply what he says to all sorts of situations. There are so many times when I’m dancing where I recall things he said. “The hands say what the feet want to express;” that’s my favorite quote from him. He changes you because he gives you a fresh perspective on how you can approach even classical ballet, not just contemporary.

Misa: Sometimes you feel like you need to change yourself because you’re not good enough or you’re just not there yet. This actually makes your dancing smaller and less powerful because of the extra stress and pressure you put on yourself. But with William Forsythe, it’s okay to be you. He tells me, “Just tell me what you know, show me what you know. You have done so much–show me your experience.” It’s an eye-opening experience because I’ve never been told that. It makes me feel that it’s okay to be me, instead of trying to be something that I am not. Working with him brings my dancing to another level because I can fully be myself.

What would you say to someone who isn’t familiar with contemporary works and may not know what to expect from a ballet like Artifact?

Patrick: Although William Forsythe’s ballets are not narrative, the language is still there. And if you like ballets with a story, you actually get a very similar experience with a work like Artifact because it is very grand show. Artifact invites you to explore theater through dance in a way that still speaks to the human condition. Although it is not narrative, it still gives you something to think about. Artifact is particularly engaging because it is beyond dance–there are speaking roles, musical roles, and the use of lighting–there’s just so much to take in. It’s not just dance, it’s not just contemporary ballet, there’s just so much to see. I think it is just a really awesome ballet and so much fun to watch.

Misa: You don’t need to know the story of this ballet to relate to it. In Artifact, there are two people speaking and they’re arguing about something, but it’s something that really doesn’t matter. You see that in your everyday life; you argue with someone, it could be your husband, boyfriend, siblings, parents, and although they’re little things, it matters to your life. I think that is what this ballet is about. It is also an architectural ballet, you see so many lines and dancers making shapes with their bodies, the whole thing is about architecture. You see it and it’s just beautiful.

Misa Kuranaga and Patrick Yocum in rehearsal for Artifact

Photo credit: Ernesto Galan


From the perspective of a dancer learning this work, what do you think that means?

Patrick: In Artifact, he addresses various sources that have influenced ballet throughout the years. He takes us on a journey. For me, it’s an ode to ballet because it is about how we learn to dance as just humans, whether we take it from watching other people or learning or seeing how dance relates to life itself.

Misa: William Forsythe said to us, “Don’t modernize my ballet. My work is a ballet about ballet, not contemporary. We do a lot of ballet fundamentals in Artifacttendus, piques, those things are what we know. We do it 1,000 times every day and that’s what we show on stage. Even the pas de deux is about two people bringing all of our experiences we’ve gained as dancers into this one moment on stage. My goal is to show everyone what I’ve done as a dancer for the last 20 years. It’s time to show what I know.