Bill Forsythe - Make your own work! Feb 16, 2011

by Maureen Whiting, Choreographer

In 1995 I got the chance to hang out with Bill Forsythe pretty solidly for three days at a mutual friend’s downtown NY apartment where we were both staying. He opened the door for me and it went on from there…

I never got over being star struck but rather got constantly distracted from that fact because I was compelled by the fiery quality of his mind, an amazing combination of the imaginative and the logical, and the absorbing engaging consuming quality of his spirit. It was fun!   We would talk about math and dance and then… “Let me show you this…” and it was a self-made video of him under a plastic green tarp tying his own body into different shapes over and over.  He also told me that one evening while waiting for his wife he climbed a street lamp and lashed himself to the pole…with tape.

In the dance world we think of him as a technical dance master because of his artistic contributions to ballet (his own early dance form).  He worked for many years with the highest caliber of dancers using his innovative physical improvisation techniques to create stunning unparalleled dances. His ballets have all the best juiciness of “do it or die” great live dance, rich with human pathos, speed, amazing sets, great lighting, rockin’ music and of course unbeatable dancers executing brilliant choreography.

Yet from talking with him I began to see him fundamentally as a researcher driven by a passion for visual art. I gathered that movement in it all its forms and mutations is his basic research, a great curiosity for him, and his pursuits seem scientific in its thrust rather than aesthetic. His output of course is extremely aesthetic but he is a movement scientist.  He explained to me how he researched. “For example you could look at your fingertips or a three-dimensional object, and understand how it functioned as a two-dimensional plane.  Then you physically retrace it back into a three-dimensional event. We discovered that different types of objects and visual stimuli would determine quite a lot…”

I do think that what drives him first and foremost is the ongoing pursuit of his images more in the visual art realm. He fearlessly delves deeply into his psyche excavating image. He experiments, researches, draws, and then he paints human spirit with multidisciplinary kick ass dance.

He reinvents himself and his interests through his work wanting to destroy his past work mentally so he can make his most current be the most interesting (to him) work. I recently hung out with Hilda Koch (a choreographer for Seattle Dance Project’s Project 4) who was one of his earliest dancers and she confirmed by saying he was always pursuing many ideas at once (visual art etc) and that often in the early days there would be five people left in the audience by the end of the show. When I talked with him in NY he was not interested in any of his past ballet work at all. Currently he seems focused on gallery and installation work. It’s not to say his past work is not brilliant but he is always pursuing more than what he has created.

His artistic DNA is a peculiar passionate combination of intellect soul and vision.  His presence in the field is a guiding light.  Fearless image excavator and physical experimenter is what I chose to see him as rather than the master dance technician he is. Maybe because I feel his technical skills are a means to an end in order to serve up his vision most deliciously. 

Inspiration? My take away from being in the presence of one of our great dance artists like Bill (besides the fact that he is totally fun, serves a perfectly unbeatable mean green tea and has a cute butt) was to heed the calling to delve more deeply into my work. May we all as artists delve into our own images fearlessly and with the best technical ability we can master make our best original work. (We cannot be Bill and he would not want that anyway). May our contributions be driven by our own unique pure curiosity in this strange art form of dance. May we each look at our work and each others work as a body of exploration and research as we attempt to broaden and deepen the field of dance performance fearlessly.

Thanks Bill and rock on with socks off!!