Focus on Forsythe, Sadler's Wells, London


Tracing the steps of life and death

The Sadler's Wells celebration of the choreographer William Forsythe ends with a month-long bonanza, going beyond dance works and beyond the theatre itself. Over the next month, Forsythe installations will be set up around London, from nightclubs to galleries to a railway goods shed.

Forsythe, an American based in Germany, is probably best known for his wrenching, aggressively fast ballets. These earlier works are in the repertory of most major companies worldwide. With his own company, Forsythe tends to make works with speech, with more explicit use of theory, with deconstruction. There's an obvious overlap with conceptual art, something this Sadler's Wells season makes clear.

The performance installation You Made Me a Monster is in this category, putting the audience on stage with sculpture and dancers. When the show begins, it's dance as geography field trip, with the audience parcelled into groups, taken to on-stage tables and given tasks. The tables, about a dozen of them, have long metal rods, with cardboard shapes wound around them. The cardboard comes from models of skeletons, though they've been built up at random. We are urged to keep building, adding more cardboard bits to the growing sculptures. After that, we make pencil tracings of the shadows cast by the tangled, skeletal bits. The tracings make a script for the dancers, so the performance changes every time.

The other script is projected, line by line, onto a screen. It's an account – without names, just "my wife" and "I" – of Forsythe's wife's death from cancer. It focuses on details: how he and his wife felt treated by doctors, how they were creating a piece on xenophobia, with images of the body invaded from within. He remembers her as a dancer, how illness affected her body, her smell. The cardboard skeletons are another memory, a Christmas present. Years after her death, he made up the skeleton, but at random, not according to instructions. He created "a model of something I understood. It was a model of grief."

Then dancers start to move among the tables. Their movements look uncontrolled. Heads twitch spasmodically, feet are twisted on to their sides, hands curled up into claws. They howl and mumble as they move. Bursts of electronic sound build and clash.

The dancing is in sync with the projected lines of script; the one female dancer twists and roars as the text describes the wife as a dancer. The screen also shows images of hands building the skeleton. As the script reaches Forsythe's image of "a model of grief", I noticed for the first time that the hand wore a wedding ring.

That lucid prose is the strongest thing in You Made Me a Monster. Forsythe's memories are both clear and angry, evoking rage and grief. The audience's skeleton-building exercise makes you focus on the narrative. How much does the dancing really add? The lurching and howling express inarticulate grief, but are less powerful than the personal experience of the text.

There are more installations around the theatre. In the film Solo, you can see Forsythe moving from classical ballet into his own twisting, wrenching vocabulary. Here, the twists get repetitive, frantic for too long. In Suspense, Forsythe ties himself up in ropes, sometimes dangling for a while before screaming and untying himself.

The strongest film is the double video Antipodes I/II. Set up opposite each other, two films show Forsythe dancing around a table. One is hung upside down: the other side of the globe. In both cases, up isn't where you think it is. In the right-way-up film, what looks like a wall (with a poster and a first aid box hanging on it) is a polished floor. Forsythe plays games with space and perception, a slide becoming a jump.

City of Abstracts, set up in the foyer, is the most fun. This installation films people as they pass, projecting but also distorting the image. There's a time delay, so your movements don't show up immediately. Sometimes wild ripples go through the image, a single body suddenly undulating or being pulled into loops around other figures. The weird, shimmering image makes you look at how people stand and move, then breaks it into a whirling abstraction.

Focus on Forsythe season continues until 10 May. Box office 0844 412 4300

Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May


Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama


Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year


Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before