Superstar choreographer William Forsythe showcases his newest works as part of Melbourne Festival
God help anyone who comes to A Quiet Evening of Dance with a bout of sniffles or an audible cough. The performance – a collection of contemporary choreography superstar William Forsythe’s repertoire – more than lives up to its title.
As the first dancers move through ‘Prologue’, their crane-like movements are backed only by birdsong, and it only becomes more quiet from thereon in. ‘Catalogue’, a jarring, grounded work performed by longtime collaborators of Forsythe, Jill Johnson and Christopher Roman is completely silent, bar the huffing of the dancers and the occasional percussive gesture.
‘Catalogue’ is a bit like the dance world’s version of ‘Blue Poles’ – the uninitiated might watch and petulantly think “I could do that” (yeah, but you didn’t). Given the dancers move through possibly every human movement imaginable, ‘Catalogue’ is an appropriate title. Despite the avant-garde nature of the work, there is humour – whether it’s intentional or not is yet to be seen. Have a grown man jerkily thrust his hips for an audience and a few giggles are bound to escape.
The first taste of real music comes with the beginning of ‘Epilogue’, where the dissonant score is accompanied by a relieved chorus of coughs and sniffs from the audience. As the music climbs like an Escher-staircase, the majority of the cast comes onto the stage in twos and threes, their black-clothed forms offset by lurid fluro evening gloves and shoes as they animalistically move around the entire stage.
The only two dancers not present in ‘Epilogue’ return for ‘DUO2015’ a thoughtful work reimagined by Brigel Gjorka and Riley Watts to close out act one. It was first performed in 1996 with two female dancers – when it was reworked in 2015, Gjorka and Watts (originally understudies) stepped into the role. Act two is another story altogether. Every part of the performance, from the costumes to the score, gets an upbeat facelift.
The stage is literally lit up as A Quiet Evening of Dance turns into a visibly joyous series of onstage vignettes that take on a more narrative tone (no doubt aided by the ‘Waltz of the Flowers’-adjacent score by Jean-Philippe Rameau). It’s a refreshing way to regain the audience after act one’s avant-garde extremes.
There’s no doubting the technical beauty of A Quiet Evening of Dance. Every movement feels measured to within a millimetre and the dancers seamlessly move from autonomous to synchronised. The performance requires an active presence from the audience – it’s not the sort of show you can sit back and leisurely enjoy. Like a pungent blue cheese, A Quiet Evening of Dance is best enjoyed by those already with a taste for it.