Audiences may have learnt to approach William Forsythe with an open mind, but the last thing anyone expected from the arch deconstructionist was a disco anthem.
I Don't Believe in Outer Space, his latest creation for the German-based, 18-strong company of uber-dancers that bears his name, has almost nothing to do with the universe, and almost everything to do with a certain 1979 hit by Gloria Gaynor.
"I Will Survive" indeed. The song's resonance for Forsythe, even if tongue in cheek, isn't hard to guess. In 1979, when the record was everywhere, the choreographer was 30, had a beautiful young wife, and the world at his feet. Since then he has suffered crisis after crisis, first with the loss of his wife to cancer, then with the implosion of his career, when funders pulled the plug on Ballett Frankfurt, his laboratory and shop window.
This piece, then, is a testament to the randomness of life, half disco camp, half deadly serious. On a stage strewn with balls of screwed-up gaffer tape, resembling small black meteorites – random scatter-shot from outer space – dancers in vests and hoodies variously lurch and squirm in the disjointed, verging on paraplegic, fashion Forsythe has made his own. One guy has padded the seat of his jeans with the plasticated lumps, and wiggles them lasciviously.
Thom Willems' score is a patchwork of lunar pulsings and scraps of jazzy lounge music. Not once does the melody of Gloria Gaynor's No 1 hit impinge. But there is spoken text – torrents of it. And the joke is the way that pop song's lyrics, slyly slipped in among other voluble ravings, and delivered with great poetic seriousness, gradually trigger recognition. Chuckles erupt in different pockets of the audience as the penny drops.
In 70 minutes of what mostly feels like chaos, there are a few memorable cameos. Funniest is a furiously competitive, ball-less game of ping-pong, in which one player has two bats and the other has none. More funny-peculiar is an unsettling turn by Dana Caspersen, in which she acts both of two neighbours – one pushy and witch-like, the other timid and harassed – while also voicing the stage directions ("leans forward, hands clasped" etc), gradually accelerating like a cartoon animation. As a picture of chance in relation to mortality, what Forsythe seems to be saying is: don't even try to make sense of stuff – I can't.
As the Royal Ballet unveils its first new full-length ballet in 15 years, Jenny Gilbert hopes for a veritable wonderland
Dancing horses are the stars of The Centaur and the Animal at Sadler's Wells (Tue to Sun), while at London's Southbank, English National Ballet makes a spectacle of its Emerging Dancer Award, preceded by a day of linked events (Mon). Meanwhile Ailey 2 continues its first UK tour visiting Brighton (Tue & Wed) and Bournemouth (Fri & Sat).