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Jack Anderson

Forsythe's Contrived Chaos

The Forsythe Company
Closed May 6, 2006
Brooklyn Academy of Music, 30 Lafayette Avenue, Fort Greene, Brooklyn
Information: (718) 636-4129
Reviewed by Jack Anderson May 6, 2006

In "Kammer/Kammer," William Forsythe creates chaos for his Forsythe Company, which now has dual headquarters in Frankfurt and Dresden. Because Forsythe is a brainy choreographer, the chaos is cunningly contrived. That's why this two-act piece is often pretentious and yet, for me at least, finally gripping. But the key word here is "finally."

First, act one: When the audience enters the theater, the troupe is warming up on stage amidst a clamor of music and voices. Ah, yes. We have all seen this sort of production many times before.

Then the work itself gets underway to a collage ranging from Bach and Biber to electronic sounds by Forsythe's frequent collaborator, Thom Willems. Forsythe draws upon two tales of romantic obsession: Anne Carson's "Irony Is Not Enough: Essay on My Life as Catherine Deneuve (2nd draft)," which appears in her "Men in the Off Hours" (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000), and Douglas A. Martin's "Outline of My Lover" (New York: Soft Skull Press, 2000). Carson tells of how a classics professor, who likens herself to the actress Catherine Deneuve, becomes obsessed with a female student. Martin's novel concerns a neurotic and insecure young man's affair with a rock star. Both are simple stories with theatrical possibilities.

But Forsythe is seldom simple, one reason why his choreography provokes both thought and exasperation. He has two dancer-actors portray the stories' protagonists: Dana Caspersen (the professor) and Antony Rizzi (the boy). He gives both much text to speak, and both speak very well. But he gives them little to do. The professor looks stiff, which is appropriate to her up-tight character. However, most of the time, the boy just whines. That's unfortunate, for he comes across as little more than a tiresome nerd, whereas his character in the novel, though also whiny, is more complex: he's from a broken home, was a sickly child, and has a troubled life in high school and college.

Members of Forsythe's ensemble get entangled with one another, often on mattresses. Movable walls slide about, sometimes obscuring the choreographic action, which has to be peered at between cracks in the walls. Or it can be watched, frequently in close-ups, on screens stationed throughout the theater, for this is not just a dance, but also a film of the dance. Meanwhile, the stories tend to fade away into the conceptual clutter. Late in the novel, Martin's boy wryly remarks of his lover, "He's being watched, so he knows he exists." Yet although Forsythe is also fascinated by states of watching and being watched, his stories scarcely exist. And that's the rather messy first act.

Then comes act two.

Again, much must be watched on the screens. But now Forsythe presents his dancers in tumultuous convulsions on a mattress that can be regarded as symbols of the boy's unruly passions, and following the erotically troubled people about on the screen provides faintly pornographic pleasures. Dancers also enter on stage and grow equally unruly so that watching them in the flesh invests the drama with additional immediacy. Even the professor loses her cool to writhe on the mattress. But, eventually, both professor and boy are left drained.

In the first act, Forsythe choreographically appeared to be distancing himself and holding himself back from his drama. Now, in the second act, he zeroes in on its emotions. The effect is shattering.

Because, before that, he had alienated parts of his audience (and not in the Brechtian sense), that made me wonder why this work, which lasted about an hour and fifty minutes, intermission included, needed an intermission at all, other than to give the cast a rest. If "Kammer/Kammer" could have moved along unbroken, its emotional crescendo might have been compelling.

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