Thursday, October 11, 2012

Inkblots anyone? The Forsythe Company’s I Don’t Believe In Outer Space.

Name a work of art that’s changed the world. A poem or a painting. Guernica? Blue Poles? Philip Larkin’s ‘This Be The Verse’? They’re not like manifestos hammered on the door of the church are they? Not at the coalface of our intellectual culture are they?

How about a choreographer or a work of dance. Harder that one. It’s more likely to be by Mats Ek than Matthew Bourne you reckon. Or not. Who’s to say that Bourne’s Swan Lake isn’t more life altering than Ek’s travesty of Giselle? That Bourne’s beefy swans weren’t every bit as profound -- as alien and mystical and shockingly new -- as the very first swans in tutus?

If, like me, you’re starting to rebel at the idiocy of these questions -- questions I’m only posing because of William Forsythe’s I Don’t Believe In Outer Space, which had its Australian premiere last night -- you’ve probably got a short list happening already.

Off the top of my head, I’d fire off the following names: Raimund Hoghe, that gorgeous freak of a man. Bill T Jones circa Still/Here. Meg Stuart and the scintillating works she and Damaged Goods produced in the mid 1990s. Anything by Lloyd Newson. Perhaps all good art makes micro-changes in the world. God. Of course it does.

But even totally abstract works -- works without an obvious agenda -- are impactful. Valuable. In its premiere season -- in its premiere week! -- I saw Wayne McGregor’s Dyad 1929 four or five times. I reckon I could sit through it every day for a year without tiring of it.

But spare a thought for poor Billy Forsythe. He wants to be Sontag. Wants to be Hitchens. Wants to be Dworkin. He wants to be a player. If he can’t rule the world, he wants to be a thorn in the side of those who do. Pity him. He is a genius agitator stuck inside the body of a choreographer. But it’s even worse than that.

I’m sure, on this blog, I’ve mentioned philosopher and academic Arran Gare who argues most persuasively that postmodernism is responsible for the increase in the suicide rate. After long meditation on this I believe he is only partly correct. Postmodernism only kills academics and artists. To the rest of us, PoMo is the bar Moe Szyslak opens in The Simpsons, where Moe helpfully defines postmodernism as “weird for the sake of weird.”

To Billy Forsythe, it would appear, postmodernism guts art. It makes ‘meaningful’ art a futile and barren pursuit. It makes the gesture -- or any other attempt to create or communicate -- futile. In PoMo Land, beauty’s pretty suspect too.

Imagine that... having 17 of the world’s most accomplished and most insanely talented dancers and having nothing to bang on about except the pointlessness of banging on! Well, that’s what I Don’t Believe In Outer Space is like. It’s a treatise on entropy. It’s atomised and atomised again. Instead of having an arc, a trajectory, or even 17 individual trajectories, it has 17 times 17. Life is happening off-stage, somewhere beyond the O.P. flats.

It’s not even a Girl Talk mash-up. It’s a scrappy mess. Not so much a kaleidoscope as the smashed up bits of coloured glass from the kaleidoscope... without the tube.  Or mirrors.  Or lens.

I’m tempted to say that Forsythe uses songs like blue poles, as a half-arsed attempt to tie up the twigs into a bundle, but that would be to insult Jack-the-Dripper. One can find patterns: is that Jack Nicholson-style voice meant to be Screaming Jay Hawkins? (‘I Put a Spell On You’ is one of the polar songs.) Or is Jack Nicholson really Clint Eastwood, Walt from Gran Torino, as the good neighbour? But, hey, one can find patterns in anything if you stare at them long enough and hard enough and gullibly enough.

“Welcome to what you think you see” -- indeed.

I Don’t Believe In Outer Space will test your powers of observation, concentration and discrimination to the very limit... and won’t reward them in the least bit.

For a recent example of Forsythe nailing it, check out my review of the silent-but-deadly Three Atmospheric Studies.

I Don’t Believe In Outer Space. A work by William Forsythe with music composed and performed by Thom Willems. Staging William Forsythe. Sound design by Niels Lanz. Graphics by Dietrich Krüger. Costumes by Dorothee Merg. Lighting by Tanja Rühl and Ulf Naumann. Dramaturgical assistance by Dr. Freya Vass-Rhee. 

The Forsythe Company. Melbourne Festival. At the Playhouse, the Arts Centre, October 10. Season ends October 16. Then Kampnagel, Hamburg (November/December 2012) and Haus der Berliner Festspiele, Berlin (July 2013).

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