William Forsythe’s “Sider” at BAM

William Forsythe's "Sider", photo by Dominik Mentzos

William Forsythe’s “Sider”, photo by Dominik Mentzos

There are very few dance works more frustrating than those of choreographer William Forsythe. More often than not, I find his work irritatingly complex, leaving me with more questions than answers (I don’t believe in outer space was moving, but it still irked me). Forsythe’s Sider, performed at BAM last week, was no exception.

In this meandering, 70-minute work, eighteen dancers abruptly stop and start under flickering fluorescent lights and the pounding of Dietrich Kruger’s score. Using large sheets of cardboard, they kick or bury themselves beneath them. One sheet says “in disarray” and another says “is and isn’t”, while the rest are blank. At one point, the dancers use the sheets to build a shack at the front of the stage, and moments after hiding beneath it, they tear it apart. As the program essay explains, Sider  “will make these sheets mean something or represent something, but in the end they revert to what they were in the first place, nothing more than a heap of cardboard sheets.”

The other piece of Forsythe’s puzzle is the gibberish spoken by the performers. Each dancer had a tiny earpiece that transmitted Elizabethan patterns of speech from the soundtrack of a film version of a late 16th-century tragedy. Some of the dancers take on a character and use the cardboard as a prop in their monologues. Others appear and murmur one line before disappearing, and still others are heard backstage in a fit of laughter or shouts.

Meanwhile, supertitles light up on a small screen, with phrases including “They are to us as we are to them.” Perhaps this suggests a relationship between the audience and performers, but whatever relationship exists is too baffling to attempt to solve. And as the piece progressed, there seemed to be more raveling than unraveling. The worlds that Forsythe creates on stage are so alienating – at least for this viewer – that perhaps they aren’t worth visiting again.

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