Kammer/Kammer, Sadler's Wells

Love is an artificial saga in the hands of Forsythe
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Do you need to see Kammer/Kammer, or is it enough to talk about it? William Forsythe's dance/theatre piece is so self-conscious, so busy regarding itself, that it hardly seems to happen at all.

Kammer/Kammer, brought to London as part of Dance Umbrella, is Forsythe's last work with Ballett Frankfurt. He's leaving after a messy falling out with the city politicians, who have planned to close the company from under him, perhaps to replace it with a more traditional ballet troupe. There are a total of 20 dances in Kammer/Kammer, but it's closer to a play than a ballet.

It starts with two love stories: a professor fantasising about a student and a rock star's young boyfriend losing touch with his lover as they travel around the world. Love stories are a surprise from Forsythe, whose dourly athletic ballets never seem to have much time for shades of feeling. And in fact it's hard to take love seriously in Kammer/Kammer: there's so much deconstruction, so little to deconstruct. The ironies are built into a very tricksy staging, but they are also part of Forsythe's source material. The professor story is from an essay by Anne Carson, who imagines herself as Catherine Deneuve playing a professor and keeps picking her own fantasy apart.

Deneuve's encounters with her female student are acted out on stage, but they're also filmed, projected onto screens around the auditorium. Since half of their meetings take place behind bits of scenery, the screens show much more than the stage does.

Forsythe spends most of the evening underlining the artifice of performance. We start with a long, fake rehearsal. Antony Rizzi, playing the boy, keeps breaking off to talk to the audience, to his colleagues, to complain when they call him Tony. When he laments his breaking fictional relationship, he slides into self-pity. The on-stage dancers make sarcastic "ahh" noises.

This is the trouble with Kammer/Kammer. Forsythe is showing characters whose fantasies dominate their lives, then collapse. Yet he never shows us the needs that drive all this. Even when he doesn't exaggerate the self-pity, Rizzi doesn't show us the boy's fears and affections. He plays him as an adolescent Woody Allen, insecurity as a comic turn.

Dana Caspersen, as Deneuve, marks every philosophical point by twitching her eyebrows, every emotion by talking faster. But at the end, Kammer/Kammer settles down. Caspersen reads the Carson text, about love in a fragment of Greek poetry, without her usual mannerisms. Forsythe's sources have more impact when he leaves them alone.