Conversations on Pacific Northwest Ballet
-- William Forysthe's 'Artifact II' and Lynne Taylor-Corbett's 'Mercury'

by Francis Timlin

October 28, 2003 -- Seattle

On Tuesday, October 28, I attended a panel discussion on two of the works that will be performed on the November Repertory program: "Artifact II" and "Mercury." The discussion was part of an ongoing series, "Conversations at PNB," tied into each series of performances and held in the relative informality of the PNB Board Room in the Phelps Center.

William Forsythe stager Glenn Tuggle was on hand to lead off the discussion of "Artifact II" with an introductory explanation of some of the unique aspects of Forsythe's choreography. He explained that while the choreography is classically based, it requires very strong dancers. The women end up in some very extended and extreme positions; the men must be quite strong in order to hold the women in these positions. The result, he said, is very exciting as well as very musical. Mr. Forsythe also did all of the lighting design for Artifact. Mr. Tuggle stated that he thinks PNB is very well-suited to both "Artifact" and "In the middle somewhat elevated." "Artifact II" is part of a four-act ballet, requiring a company of 40 dancers. Frankfurt no longer does the full length ballet because of downsizing in that company. Altogether, it is a piece that provides a sort of analysis of classical ballet in its use of corps and soloists. Currently, Paris Opera Ballet, Munich, and Royal Danish Ballet are interested in acquiring the full-length work. Sadly, he stated that Frankfurt Ballet's current format will be dissolved as of July 4, 2004. Forsythe will regroup his dancers as a smaller company elsewhere -- as yet unspecified -- but probably in Germany.

Ariana Lallone indicated that while the choreography is really pushing the body past what it "wants" to do, the dancers still need to be cognizant of retaining the classical line while building enduring stamina.

Patricia Barker commented that Forsythe's vocabulary is very different from any other ballet. Single forms are created by two people. The upper body work is very difficult, especially for the women. There is almost never a point at which she is able to let go of her partner.

Olivier Wevers added that in becoming a single entity, the partners must find the balance within the mechanics of the partnering to make it work and not to fight against one another. Finding the level of comfort and trust to make a single entity is the challenge.

Jeff Stanton finds the work to be physically exhausting -- "Artifact II" is very much about the partnering. He also finds that there is a great emphasis on musicality -- Forsythe has found a musical note for very nearly every single placement.

Glenn Tuggle commented that women tend to work too hard in pas de deux -- that they want to do it all themselves. "Artifact II" is very much about a certain perspective on male/female relations -- at least as it is expressed in the choreography for the two principal couples. It is difficult for the women to be willing to trust their partners to the point of allowing themselves to relax and find ways to physically interpret the music. He enjoys the crashing of the curtain between the several disjunct scenes onstage -- finding it the perfect way of refocusing the attention of the viewer. He noted that most of the time the work is two couples onstage with the corps.

Patricia Barker noted the difficulty of moving from Odette/Odile to Forsythe's extreme physicality....

An audience member inquired how the dancers knew when things were going well.

There seemed to be consensus that the couples could tell by the way things felt and looked.

Another questioner asked about the crashing curtain.

Glenn Tuggle, in addition to his point about rearranging the audience's focus, mentioned that there was a practical reason: the corps is completely rearranged each time the curtain is down, so the curtain reopens on a new tableau. He also thinks that Forsythe wanted a strong contrast to the inherent beauty of the Bach Chaconne -- and got it with the hard, metallic crash of the curtain.

Another questioner asked about Forsythe's preference for very loud music. Although it is a Bach Chaconne for solo violin, Forsythe insists on using a recording and cranking the volume up. Mr. Tuggle explained that Forsythe wants a physical response from the audience to the sound of the music. Moreover, the music needs to be on the extreme edge in order to match the extreme movements onstage; otherwise there would be a mismatch.

In response to a question about Balanchine influences, Mr. Tuggle emphasized Forsythe's admiration for Balanchine and stated that Forsythe's movement has simply expanded upon what Balanchine began. He believes that if Mr. B. were alive that he would be continuing to expand, stretch and explore the extension of technique in much the same manner.

Lynne Taylor-Corbett appeared following a rehearsal of "Mercury." She is in Seattle for two full days and part of a third to clean up and touch up her work. She explained that the piece was choreographed for the Diamond Project at New York City Ballet and was, to a certain extent, a "made to order" work. Peter Martins approached her and indicated that the program needed a "closer" and asked if she would be willing to work to that end. She said that she found it helpful to be given an assignment. Although she had never before used classical music, she had always loved Haydn and was pleased to be able to rise to the occasion. The piece is named "Mercury" in honor of the changeable and volatile nature of that element. She also mentioned that one of her ideas came from her days as an usher at the New York State Theatre assigned to the upper rings and admiring Mr. B's patterns of floor movement.

Ms. Taylor-Corbett noted that while she had limited ballet training when she was young, she did spend time at the School of American Ballet at age 17. Her first job was in the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre. She did commercials and theatre. She enjoys knowing the people for whom she is setting work. She finds that she is becoming a more literal storyteller -- exploring how far you can take an audience without dialogue. She is also directing plays these days. "Mercury" feeds off of her personal knowledge of the dancers with whom she originally worked.

For a report on the "Ballet Now" Program Preview Rehearsal, please click here.

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