A piece by William Forsythe
The Forsythe Company
Brooklyn Academy of Music
New York City
May 3, 2006

by Nancy Dalva
copyright ©2006, Nancy Dalva

“I wanted the audience to misread the tone of the performance right off the bat. Once they have warmed up to the apparent casualness in the opening scene, they can be confronted by the hyperconsciouness of the spoken texts and receptive to them in a different way than if we had started the show in a more serious tone. The fact that this is very similar to the strategies of seduction is not at all coincidental.” — William Forsythe, in conversation with Rebecca Grove, dramaturg of the Forsythe Company.

Oh, boy. Seduction, and betrayal. William Forsythe knows just how to get to a girl. His concepts for “Kammer/Kammer” are complicated. In fact, the work is a ferrago of notions and ideas, and is quite interesting to read about. As I understand it from from walking into the theater to observe the company faking a live pre-rehearsal or taping situation, at the opening of this work we are supposed to think that what we see is real. And that what follows is “art. That’s the major set up.

But there are other little seductions. One is the notion that we have a choice, that we are deciding how to see the work, and ordering our experience by selecting which part of the stage to observe. (Yet of course one always does, and we have seen pieces here dealing with this, by artists including Neil Greenberg and John Jasperse, to name two.) Another is that we are smart enough to be very interested in high concept work, and not bogged down by dreary expectations. This is confusing, considering that we are supposed to be taken in by the beginning–but then again, perhaps we weren’t? Supposed to be? Or taken in?

The plot of this work — and it’s an elaborate one–is that (after the opening faux reality show) we are watching the making of a film, and that the stage is a kind of back lot. You know, like the one in "Singing in the Rain" where Gene Kelly sings to Debbie Reynolds, and you see the wind machine take effect, and you see a ladder. That kind of thing. Here, there are backdrops which we clearly perceive as painted scenery, but on the 12 plasma screens suspended in the house, they appear as real scenery.

So what’s the film about? Its about two stories, intertwined. They have some parallels. Both are love stories, neither very appealing. One is narrated by a young gay man who is involved with an older rock star, based on a work by Douglas Martin. The other is based on a story by Anne Carson about a professor who, while imagining herself as Catherine Deneuve, enjoys an unrequited love affair with a female student. The actor in the Douglas Martin narrative introduces himself as an actor from the outset, at the opening seduction set up. He seems to be channeling Woody Allen from the beginning. So, got it? An actor named Tony Rizzi, who looks something like, and whines a lot like, Woody Allen is playing a gay man involved in a mutual use/abuse relationshipwith an age inequity. And Dana Capersen, the blonde beauty who is Forsythe’s wife, plays the Denueve-playing professor, in an unrequited, power-shifting non-relationship with a dishy young female student. Both characters are unhappy, and while he has bad sex, she has none. He wears a watch cap, she wears killer high heeled boots. She looks delish on close up, and he looks like a ferret. Both talk a lot, a lot, a lot. Reader, do you care about this yet? Because I didn’t when I was watching it. I didn’t care about it on the stage, I didn’t care about it on the plasma screens, and I felt manipulated by all the manipulation.

The ongoing conceit that we, the audience, are a pack of auteurs choosing among various things put before us is a lie. Forsythe is the chooser. However, we can choose to watch the performance in front of us, or we might choose to watch a partial view of it on one, or several, screens. (There are multiple cameras in operation.), There is also, in addition to this live material — about which more in a moment–pre-taped material, in the form of a video by Martin Schwember, of a boy playing a violin in a hotel room. Kammer means room, and this is one of the rooms of the piece.

There are also real rooms — that is, rooms in front of us on the stage, although they are more like cargo containers. However, the room on the pre-taped video is, or appears to be, an actual hotel room, and the real-time video on the twelve screens in the theater is of, if you will, unreal rooms. They are unreal because they are stage sets, mere allusions to real rooms. Formed by moveable wood panels, each has a large mattress in it. These are occupied by the casually dressed Forsythe company dancers, who lunge at each other and hurtle about in complex and violent forays. These are at first seen partially, because one room is visible only through a kind of door, and one only if you are at a very oblique angle in the house. However, the cameras look in on the room from positions on stage. So, for instance, you can look into one room and see two dancers doing something from the side. (This makes you a voyeur.) Or, you can look at the screens and see them from the foot of the bed. (This makes you a cineaste.) So much for the dancing.

There was no telling what these movement passages had to do with the two stories. Were they enactments of the desire and frustrated desire of the narratives? Were they objectifications of inner feelings? Were they elaborate deconstuctions of something in the texts, translated into movement vocabulary? It beats me.

Perhaps the key is in the backdrops, the clearest depiction of the real/unreal concept Forsythe is elaborating. He’s interested in illusion and illusions. By the end, when the action was completely concealed behind the panels and visibile only via video, I wondered if the video actually was live. The illusion was that whatever you saw on the screens was really going on behind the panels. And yet. The cast could all have been back there reading books and playing poker, and what you saw on the screens could have been pre-recorded. In other words, when you left your orchestra seat at the end of the piece, you didn't know whether you'd seen a work of real time realism, with illusion revealed, or if you'd participated in a Forsythe illusion.

Throughout, I was interested in the mechanics more than the players, in how the cameras framed the reality, or realities, or unreality, or unrealities. (That’s how you start thinking watching this.) The videos were more compelling than the live performance. In Forsythe-speak, this is because “the image keeps reminding us of its own artificiality. It becomes a fetish when we want to believe that it is real even though there are so many indications that it is a simulation.” A fetish? In my-speak, the reason the videos were more interesting was that they were tightly framed and edited. On stage, despite the panels and the careful framing, there was something not at all tight about this piece. It is all over the place, and it does not cohere. But maybe it isn’t supposed to.

Ideas, ideas. The stage is awash in concepts. Because this is the first time The Forsythe Company (as opposed to the Ballet Frankfurt, Forsythe’s previous troupe) has appeared here, some took this piece as indicative of a new direction. However, it dates from 2000, and the choreographer has since moved on to staging works in all kinds of non-theatrical spaces. With text, he moved on next to "Woolf Phrase," made the following year. Some of his latest works involve viewer interaction with cameras in public spaces, and he is involved, too, in a total occupation, room by room, of the Pinakothek de Moderne, the contemporary art museum in Munich. You know, all the world’s a stage. But my idea, for I get to have one idea, is that Forsythe has left the stage, really, despite his occupation of it in Brooklyn. If I were a palm reader and his hand were in mine, I’d look in his eyes and say, “ Ah, so. You want to direct films.”

Images, all of "Kammer/Kammer," courtesy of BAM.

Volume 4, No. 19
May 15, 2006

copyright ©2006 Nancy Dalva



©2006 DanceView