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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

In Context: Sider

Sider runs at the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House from October 3—5. Context is everything, so get even closer to William Forsythe's beguiling Elizabethan foray with this curated selection of articles, videos, and original blog pieces related to the show. For those of you who've already seen it, help us keep the conversation going by telling us what you thought below.

From BAM

BAM Blog Questionnaire: Francis Chiaverini with the Forsythe Company
The Forsythe dancer talks donuts, family, and Werner Herzog.

William Forsythe at BAM
Take a trip through William Forsythe's colorful history in the Howard Gilman Opera House.

Around the Web

"Moving to the Cadence of an Elizabethan Text" (The New York Times)
For William Forsythe, Sider is the logistical extension of a four-decade long investigation.

William Forsythe in Conversation (
Forsythe discusses ballet as a geometric-inscriptive practice, “hip-hop-ifying” the shoulders, counterpoint, and more.

Sider Composer Thom Willems (
Balanchine and Stravinsky. Cunningham and Cage. Forsythe and Willems?

Interview with William Forsythe and Elizabeth LeCompte (YouTube)
Forsythe discusses acting vs. choreography, booing audiences, and more with the Wooster Group director.

William Forsythe with John Tusa (Ballet Magazine)
What’s the difference between deconstruction and destruction? Forsythe explains.

“One Flat Thing Reproduced,” by William Forsythe (Vimeo)
Forsythe redefines tabletop dancing in this work, scored by Sider composer Thom Willems.

I don’t believe in outer space by William Forsythe (YouTube)
Forsythe was last at BAM with this gripping evocation of absence

Worthwhile Words

William Forsythe on Sider:
The sound and the movement of the scenes is generated in great part by the performers’ kicking and manipulating the boards they are holding before them, in rhythm with the syllables of the text. [...] But there are many variants. When, for example, there is a dialogue, each dancer can decide which character they are going to assign themselves to, but then they have to look at the organization that is emerging, and decide how to balance or shape that by either staying with the character they are listening to, or change to the other one. Each person has to make the decision about the acoustic density, and how to musically support the choreography of the scene.

Now Your Turn...

So what's your verdict? Was Forsythe's Elizabethan translation a convincing one? Does silent speech beget compelling movement? Once you've seen the show, tell us what you thought in the comments below.


  1. Some interesting dance vocabulary, and imaginative use of cardboard, but almost totally devoid of any emotional interest. I liked the dancers very much, and I thought that the idea was interesting, but I couldn't have cared less about the piece. I was glad when it was over.

  2. I agree with Anonymous. At the outset, I was intrigued and amused. But I then found it incresingly repetitive and empty. I appreciate Forsythe's ideas as he articulated them above, allowing his incredible dancers to improvise, etc. For me, though, there needed to be something more to ground the piece and provide, not narrative necessarily at all, but some continuity. I've always loved Forsythe's work. But I got bored, then irritated and wanted to go home.

  3. I purchased tickets to “Sider”, because I had never seen any work by William Forsythe, but knew that he is considered one of the great choreographers of our age, and this was a chance to finally see his work. My background is in theater, not in dance, so I knew that I was might not get the piece, but I was greatly intrigued to see it, having read that the work engages with Elizabethan drama.
    There were fleeting moments throughout that I found the movement compelling: the first time the dancers come out with their cardboard, their movement jagged, almost like an old film accompanied by the squeaks of their sneakers; several moments where they created dynamic moving structures with the cardboard; and towards the end they all turned in unison while holding the cardboard on the horizontal. I could see they were physically referencing Elizabethan performance. I saw glimmers of Renaissance court dance gestures as well as hip-hop break dancing. Certain costume elements clearly referenced the period. It also seemed that there were three performers, 2 men and 1 woman who seemed to be the principle players in the work. They were in the opening image of the piece, and in a repeating image at the end, and they were the ones who seemed to have some sort of journey in the piece.
    Overall, however, I felt that I as an audience member was completely being left out of the experience. I wasn't being provided entry points to appreciate the work, and engage with the dancers' interaction with the Elizabethan drama. I didn't know what play they were listening to and was never given an opportunity to hear what they were hearing, in order to appreciate how their movements related to the rhythm of Elizabethan text. Was the text performed with Original Pronunciation, which indeed does effect its rhythm? The overwhelming majority of the spoken text in the performance, was a dancer speaking for long periods of time speaking in gibberish. In one section, the dancer seemed to be playing out a scene, in gibberish, that he was listening to on his headset. He was playing two roles, indicating each by his movement from one side of the cardboard to the other. In the one moment when English was spoken, it seemed to be a count of numbers and letters, where at one moment some said the combination 2-B which stuck with me. In the next scene, the ensemble created a wall of cardboard with one of the principal dancers sitting on the other side of it. With the aforementioned fleeting reference to 2-B was he supposed to be a solitary Hamlet alone with his thoughts? Was I just grasping at straws for any sort of meaning to the work as none was provided through the performance?
    At the back of the stage there were supertitles that came up every so often. But because they were at the very back of the stage, right below the florescent lighting installation, I could only make out the latter half of the screen. It was obstructed for those sitting in the Rear Mezzanine. Once again, my attempt to engage with the work, its meaning was frustrated. Couldn't they have put the screen somewhere more visible? That screen became a metaphor for my experience. I felt like I was trying to meet the work more than half way, leaning forward in my seat, binoculars in hand, but the work wouldn't meet its audience half way.
    I can appreciate work that is completely abstract without any imposition of meaning, simply enjoying the virtuosity of the dancers, and the movements and patterns they execute in the choreography. In this case, the movement wasn't, for me at least, virtuosic or compelling. Because the piece was in dialogue with Elizabethan performance and the dancers were listening to a performance of a play throughout, I acutely felt that my attempts to connect to the piece either emotionally or intellectually were being frustrated, and that was ultimately frustrating to me. I came into the performance with a good faith effort to understand it, or at the very least appreciate it, and I felt that at every turn that I was being shut out.

  4. Audience 'left out of the experience' -apart from the part where they literally came into the audience and the front row had to fend of cardboard pieces. The main dancer actually sat on one woman's knee and drank from her water bottle!
    It was not a pleasant experience, with the harsh lighting, pounding sounds and erratic, and somewhat aggressive repetitive movement... But I found it interesting and challenging.

  5. I find Forsythe's dances to be extremely emotional to watch - he is an artist who is making dances that convey human alienation and the pains of connection. I find him a supremely humanist artist - and found Sider to be intensely engaging ... Frances Chavariani is an amazing dancer and artist - cheers to her for joining the Forsythe Company ... art offers us a chance to go beyond what we already know ... an artist moves in blindness toward the new ..

  6. After reading the Times review, I didn't think I would enjoy it, so I opted for a nice quiet evening at home. I could tell it was going to be overwrought and that I would be squirming to leave as soon as it started. Reading most of these comments seems to tell me I did the right thing.

  7. forsythe is brilliant, the dancers are wonderful, and they're working very very hard. yet Siders is not just challenging, it is extremely obscure. i am very engaged by work based on multiple and conflicting systems or registers of significance. still, without endowing this complex situation with some even small amount of legibility, the author is apt to leave his audience scrambling or bored. the effect, i think, was not to be moved by the problem of sense being concealed, encoded, or just out of reach; it was (for me,in any case) closer to mere frustration -- which has its place, esthetically, but also its limitations. but i wouldnt have missed it -- an artist like forsythe can take me where he likes, even if there is no guarantee that it all comes together between us in the end.