Dance review: William Forsythe at Sadler's Wells - Our shocker-in-chief runs out of moves

2.00

It's never good when you spend longer in the bar than your seat ...

Pushing the envelope. It's a strange phrase, is it not? It appears to have crept into general use in the late 1970s, having originated in the field of maths, where the "envelope" describes "the locus of the intersections of consecutive curves". Within that locus, then, is charted territory. Pushing its limits enters the unknown.

The American choreographer William Forsythe has been pushing the envelope for ballet for the past 30 years, reorienting it away from its identification with decorous 19th-century stories and reshaping it as an artform of the here and now.

It was Forsythe, in his work with Ballet Frankfurt in the 1990s, who would start a performance before the house lights had dimmed, sending panicked patrons scuttling to their seats. It was Forsythe who defied opera house protocol by using taped music, very loudly and very obviously, flipping the "on-off" switch seemingly at random. It was Forsythe, too, who redefined the performing space by stripping the stage back to the brickwork. And Forsythe who took dancers moulded by classical technique and gave them microphones and ungainly moves. In short, he lobbed a live grenade into the laps of those who'd always seen ballet as picturesque and safe.

But has the shockmeister run out of steam? It looks that way from this low-key, three-night showing from the Forsythe Company at Sadler's Wells. A late-in-the-day change of programme didn't bode well. And nor did the pervading absence of any sense of occasion. The first piece, performed by four guys in work vests on a dusty bare stage, to no music but their own puffs and grunts, lasted all of 19 minutes, followed by a 20-minute interval. It's a rum do when you find you've spent longer at the bar than in your seat.

Study #3 is more substantial, but its material has been recycled from earlier work. While Forsythe might argue that the re-use of tropes is what classical traditions are about, the knowledge that this is a re-tread is a definite dampener.

The dancers are superb in their origami pliancy, with Forsythe's long-term muse, minuscule Dana Caspersen, a stand-out. The choreography's lithe but wibbly lines, like regular symmetrical ballet viewed in a fairground mirror, is occasionally enthralling. But the stubborn refusal to light or dress the dance or dancers in anything that might be perceived as flattering serves up the equivalent of an undressed bowl of lettuce. Worthy but dull.

Critic's Choice

Sampled returns to Sadler’s Wells for two nights only with a taster menu of dance: £8 standing, £12 for a seat. In this year’s line-up, Stuttgart Ballet’s excerpts from John Cranko’s Romeo and Juliet, hip hop from Brooklyn visionary Storyboard P, a world champion tango showcase, and Jasmin Vardimon’s new work for the National Youth Dance Company (Fri & Sat). A bargain.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent