The Vertiginous Thrill of Forsythe is an evening of three works by acclaimed choreographer William Forsythe – The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude, New Suite and In The Middle Somewhat Elevated. Dance and dancers are the protagonists of these works in which the dancers of the Pacific Northwest Ballet revealed a new side of themselves and added another facet to the company's artistry.

Jonathan Porreta in <i>In the Middle Somewhat Elevated</i> © Angela Sterling
Jonathan Porreta in In the Middle Somewhat Elevated
© Angela Sterling

From the first notes of Schubert’s fast-paced Symphony no. 9, The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude leaves no moment to contemplate. Classical ballet is stripped to elemental form and void of dramatic narrative; even the womens’ tutus have become mere references of themselves in the shape of lime green discs. Two men and three women speed through intricate phrases in solo variations and pas, including a pas de cinq, which twists and torques classical technique to new physical possibilities. We race along with them, counting the music and the steps and at times having to remind ourselves to breathe. The piece becomes an experience of the performance from the dancers’ perspective, and of the immense physical exertion in search of heightened artistic expression. The dancers’ occasional struggles with stamina detracted at times from the overall pace, but were masked by earnest efforts and broad smiles. Carrie Imler and Jonathan Porretta stood out for their clean execution and brought ferocity to the piece. As brusquely as it began, it finished with the five dancers posing abruptly in some kind of épaulement to the audience; both sides spent and exhilarated.

Each of the nine pas de deux that make New Suite seemed like a destined pairing. The clear relationship and unique chemistry in each of the pairs brought commendable honesty to each duet. Notable were Laura Tisserand and Karel Cruz who danced to Gavin Byars’ String Quartet no. 1. They were dressed in silvery white, Tisserand with a small disc-shaped tutu reminiscent of those in Vertiginous, but with no further similarity otherwise. Their moments of tension and release evoked contrasting emotions of fragility and strength, which shifted alternatively – and fluidly between them. Delicate notes of the solo violin seemed to follow their every move, making it clear that the dancers, not the music, led the way. 

In The Middle, Somewhat Elevated portrays the habitual exercises of ballet company dancers against a track of sharp, industrial sounds by composer Thom Willems, and invites us to the grittier side of company life behind the veneer. The stage was a black cavern lit by sharp overhead lighting with its side wings drawn open to expose the mechanical pulley systems – its inner workings. The sole decoration, a pair of golden cherries positioned above the stage, has been said to give the piece its title. Originally created for the Paris Opera Ballet in 1987, In the Middle has become a staple ( or challenge) in the repertoire of many companies, each iteration made more exciting by personalities that shape the piece as they perform it.

Lindsi Dec in <i>In the Middle Somewhat Elevated</i> © Angela Sterling
Lindsi Dec in In the Middle Somewhat Elevated
© Angela Sterling
It begins with two women standing in the center pressing the tips of their shoes into the ground. They shoot glares of unyielding confidence towards each other seemingly provoking the same in the other, setting the tone for the piece. This sharpness works well to express a powerful, united ensemble, but the pas de deux and solo variations lacked vulnerability and at times, seemed falsely arrogant. The solo variations could have played with being more spontaneous, which the choreography permits. Nevertheless, the dancers did not disappoint. They met the physical demands of the piece with sharp exuberance and clarity, and they commanded the stage with their confidence.   

The dancers of Pacific Northwest Ballet had the rare opportunity to work directly with Mr Forsythe himself, who rehearsed with the company for a week and a half leading up to opening night. At the post-show talk, dancers Leta Biasucci and Benjamin Griffiths described how Forsythe didn't only teach them different ways of moving, but also nurtured them as individual artists. His influence will have shaped them indefinitely.