William Forsythe and Sang Jijia

A year of mentoring

Overview (Chapter 1 of 3)

Alone among the senior partners of the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative, Forsythe proposed a steady collaboration throughout the mentoring year. In literature, music, theatre, and the visual arts, periodic meetings of mentor and protégé were to be the norm. But for Sang Jijia, to explore Forsythe’s labyrinth would take sustained exposure.

William Forsythe and Sang Jijia

A year of mentoring

Meetings (Chapter 2 of 3)

New ensemble member
Forsythe’s vision of mentorship demanded that he integrate Sang Jijia into Ballett Frankfurt as a member of the ensemble. For the first several months dancing with Forsythe, Sang Jijia tended to connect movement in long, smooth arcs. He lacked the sense of spontaneous impulse characteristic of the Forsythe regulars. Unperturbed by the difference, Forsythe cast Sang Jijia side by side with the others in works old and new.

Choreographing new work
But there was more. Forsythe also invited Sang Jijia into the choreographic process as his assistant in the creation of (N.N.N.N.) a quartet for four of Forsythe’s most individual and gifted male dancers. Sang Jijia was present throughout rehearsals, and was asked for his reactions as the piece progressed. Forsythe says he would not hesitate to cast Sang Jijia in any of the quartet’s roles. Beyond all this, mentor and protégé soon began working together on a new solo. “Sang Jijia has the best seat in the house,” Forsythe said, midway throughout the year.

Refreshing ideas
Sang Jijia did not take long to grasp Forsythe’s central tenets. “Of course, most choreographers have their own ideas, and don’t just work from music,” Sang Jijia noted around mid-year. “I think, as many people do, that Forsythe’s genius is that he can show the same idea from 20 different angles in the same piece. Not many choreographers have as many ideas as he has… When a new dancer comes in, old ideas are set aside and new ideas come in. In this way, Forsythe pushes dancers, refreshing himself and refreshing them. He gives dancers so much freedom! It’s good for both sides.”

William Forsythe and Sang Jijia

A year of mentoring

Impact (Chapter 3 of 3)

Professional
Sang Jijia learned the repertory of Ballett Frankfurt and was invited to propose ideas as Forsythe created a new work for four male dancers, (N.N.N.N.). He appeared with Ballett Frankfurt as a principal dancer in a new Forsythe work, Decreation, which toured cities in Europe and South America bringing Sang Jijia to the attention of new audiences and critics. Most revealingly, Sang Jijia decided to remain in Germany as a member of Ballett Frankfurt for at least one more year.

Personal
“Every day was exciting, full of new ideas and new things to try,” Sang Jijia says, “even when Bill was not working with me directly. Observing his work with other dancers was exciting and surprising, too. We’ve made a very good beginning, but one year wasn’t enough. At this point, I’m just beginning really to understand what Bill wants and what I can do.”