Sunday, November 3, 2019

Forsythe and Denes Enliven the Shed

Jill Johnson and Brit Rodemund. Photo: Mohamed Sadek.
Clearly, choreographer William Forsythe meant it when he titled his Shed bill A Quiet Evening of Dance. So much so that he appeared before the show, acting as a kind of flight attendant, showing us how to turn our phones to airplane setting, and running through the four steps to silence an Apple Watch. Nothing said about the dance, just ensuring his ideal setting in which to watch it. (It also feels a bit like managing expectations, for whatever reason.) Unfortunately, the Griffin Theater—the traditional proscenium theater in the Shed—seems to abut a hallway in which someone wearing hard-soled shoes walked repeatedly, and faint music could be heard playing, a la Trisha Brown’s Foray Forêt.

The first act comprised a series of duets, solos, and trios, with only some birdsong and Morton Feldman to accompany it. Forsythe is adept at many different styles—from conceptually crunchy installation/performance works, to straight up (often breakneck) ballet, to the genre he brought to the Shed, a contemporized ballet peppered with street dance and other influences. There is indeed something velvety and quiet about this style—epitomized by Jill Johnson—with its basic vocabulary moving bonelessly between rigid posés and attitudes, and held poses to meter the flow. His influence is profound in modern ballet, right down to his frequently-copied use of thick socks instead of ballet slippers. Here he took it one step further, slipping colored socks over sneakers, and pairing them with matching long-sleeved gloves to spiff up simple t-shirts and pants.


Riley Watts. Photo: Mohamed Sadek

The second part, Seventeen/Twenty One, was accompanied by excerpts from Rameau’s 
Hippolyte et Aricie, lightening the fairly serious atmosphere of the first half and adding some social dance and ritual aspects. The dynamics increased, and with it the amplitude of movement, shifting toward more presentational. The street dancer Rauf “Rubberlegz” Yasit curled into bug shapes and bounced off the floor. Riley Watts seemed to most boldly express Forsythe’s extremely lifted ribcage and forward-thrusting sternum, seen in his signature posé—a tendued pointed foot, arms thrust at diagonals. This piece celebrated the grander aspects of Forsythe’s balletic-modern, while the first act seemed to be more of an analysis. Together, they were an intense dose of the real thing from which so many contemporary choreographers have drawn inspiration.

Agnes Denes. Model for a Forest in New York, commissioned by the Shed. Photo: Susan Yung
Two other floors of the Shed featured an extensive survey of artwork by Agnes Denes, best known for Wheatfield (1982), an environmental installation planted over the construction debris from the World Trade Center in what is now Battery Park City. Documentary photos recording the work double as memorias to the WTC, a sight that will forever haunt. Denes’ body of work has been overlooked, so this survey is a welcome treatment. Many projects utilize scientific models and practices, with an ecological thrust. Much of the work resembles architectural or engineering drafting. Several recent projects are included, including a proposal for Model for a Forest in New York, commissioned by the Shed. The proposed site is Edgemere landfill in Queens, where 120 acres of hardy, carbon-scrubbing trees would be planted. Is it one more in a slew of unrealized projects by Denes, or is the moment right for a dream to come true? After all, the Shed now exists after a long period of development, and acknowledges the oeuvre of Denes. Why not?

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