William Forsythe’s Decreation, photo by Dominik Mentzos
William Forsythe’s 2003 piece Decreation, which opened last night at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, is a meditation on the messiness of life. The work takes its title from an essay by Anne Carson, and as the title suggests, the eighteen dancers dissolved into nothingness while in states of rage, tenderness, love, and jealousy. For sixty-five minutes, dialogue, movement, live video, and jarring sounds joined forces to create a chilling, frustrating commentary on the emotional self.
A heated dialogue occurred between a man and woman questioning their love for one another as they tugged at their own clothing and jerked at each other’s limbs. Their argument was re-contextualized and distorted as other dancers repeated their words elsewhere in the piece. A man matter-of-factly presented his own needs to a moaning woman (“This is the deal. You give me everything and I give you nothing.”), a lonely, lustful woman pressed herself between two stoic men, and a raging man ripped at his own skin while shouting in German. Contributing to the dense, claustrophobic atmosphere was the sound design, which amplified or changed the pitch of the dancers’ voices, or drowned them out with electronics. In addition to suggesting that the speaker and listener have different perceptions of what they hear, the dizzying sounds also reflected the chaos of conflicting internal voices.
However distressing the on-stage communication was for the audience, it was surely more challenging for the dancers of The Forsythe Company as they courageously, meticulously navigated through the performance. With remarkable commitment, they conveyed a range of emotional states through dialogue and movement – which shifted among convulsions, fluid softness, and combative, tangled duets and solos – while also working with a video camera and sound equipment that depicted and altered their own images and voices. Besides battling with each other, the dancers were forced to face their own projected images, illustrating the hidden interactions that occur within an individual.
“This is irritating”, said one of the dancers to the audience, and as this line was repeated throughout Decreation, those words felt increasingly true of the piece itself. Perhaps this was Forsythe’s intention – to show how vicious, loud, insincere, confusing, and tender our communication with one another can be. And to make us realize what the same dancer asked aloud, upon removing herself from an argument: “Is this it? This is our life?” If there was a spiritual component in the piece, or an attempt at a journey of the soul, it was buried beneath the dancers’ extreme states and the forces that shaped them.
Decreation continues at BAM through October 10th, and there will be a free post-performance talk with Forsythe on October 8th. Tickets can be ordered online or by calling BAM ticket services at 718.636.4100.