- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 16, 2004

As Ballett Frankfurt appears tonight at the Kennedy Center Opera House, the German group and its American-born choreographer, William Forsythe, mark 20 years as a dominant force in European dance. These performances mark the company’s farewell in America.

More than a year ago, the city of Frankfurt announced it intended to disband the group. What followed sometimes became farcical.

As word of the closing became known, a brouhaha erupted. Mr. Forsythe’s dances — cerebral yet full of raw energy — arouse strong reactions, and they did in this offstage drama, too.

Thousands of protest e-mails arrived in Frankfurt, but as city officials reconsidered and decided to keep the company going, Mr. Forsythe pulled away. He came to realize he would prefer a more informal way of working, with a smaller group of dancers.

So, beginning early next year, a new company, the Forsythe Ballet, will be born. Its funds will come in Germany from both city and state budgets as well as from business executives determined that the area maintain its cultural appeal.

The 54-year-old choreographer, born and bred in New York City, says he did not consider relocating here.

Looking at the situation of American companies, he sees the trouble boards create as some of them try to exert control over artistic matters.

“We’re not critiqued as enthusiasts or aficionados; we’re critiqued as professional artists,” he says, “so why should we be subjected to amateur guidance?

“The audacity — to assume that a field like this requires no expertise whatsoever. Yes, arts organizations have to be fiscally responsible, but they are not producing commodities. I don’t want to even consider that sort of scenario, as much as I appreciate the support I’ve received over here.”

His years abroad have given Mr. Forsythe a broad perspective on artistic trends.

“Do I feel European?” he asks, amused at the question. “I walk around all day not contemplating my cultural affinities. I’m extremely fluent in German, moderately fluent in French, and I can chat and get a good dinner in Italian. Once you’re fluent, the culture opens up and reveals itself to you.”

Europe is not monolithic, Mr. Forsythe points out.

“It depends on the image a particular country wants to present. Can you imagine France without cultural tourism? It’s an industry there — the Paris Opera, et cetera. Italy’s culture is organized toward painting, historical architecture, opera to some degree, but dance is not important in Italy.

“Dance is very important and extremely well-attended in France. Holland has a nice balance between architecture and urban sites like Amsterdam. They’re very egalitarian and make everything available to everyone — that’s very Dutch.”

Although he dismisses generalized comparisons, Mr. Forsythe adds, “I will say one thing, that in Europe, light fare is not always considered necessary. Art is a discursive field; they don’t mind it being serious. In America, perhaps because of financial pressures, entertainment seems to have acquired a connotation of un-seriousness or frivolousness.”

As an example, Mr. Forsythe cites one of his most popular ballets. “For instance,” he says, “‘In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated’ is entertaining, but it’s not frivolous.” (“In the Middle” was seen here last fall, danced by the Washington Ballet.)

For its repertoire this week, Ballett Frankfurt is bringing its newest 21st-century works.

Describing the way his work has evolved, Mr. Forsythe says of his demanding dances: “The bravura are less focused on the individual body and more on structural concerns, more on people working in ensemble with each other and trying to make complex structures manifest themselves.”

While his work is generally abstract, one dance on the program has a literal title.

“The title came from the ballet itself,” he says. “In ‘N.N.N.N.,’ there are four men in the piece; at one point they’re in a line with their hands on each other’s heads, and it looks like four N’s to me — you’ll see.”

WHAT: Ballett Frankfurt

WHEN: Tonight through Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

WHERE: Kennedy Center Opera House

TICKETS: $30 to $67

PHONE: 202/467-4600

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