William Forsythe

William Forsythe

The mentor

Published in 2003

Widely recognized as one of the greatest living choreographers, William Forsythe has shaken up classical ballet and turned it on its head. His innovative and often provocative work offers a glimpse of what dance looks like when explored to its limits.

For Forsythe, a 53-year-old-American who has lived in Germany for 30 years, choreography is language. The ballets he creates reflect his interest in linguistics, as well as a preoccupation with science, architecture, mathematics, philosophy and literature. His starting performances question the nature of dance itself.

As a naturally agile teenager, Forsythe gyrated through the 1960s, winning competitions for dancing the twist and choreographing high school musicals. His formal dance education took shape at Jacksonville University, Florida, where he studied George Balanchine’s and Martha Graham’s techniques. Forsythe’s teachers in Florida and later New York encouraged his natural tendency to question things and to consider the complexities of time and space.

Forsythe joined the Joffrey Ballet in 1971, but left three years later when, at the age of 23, he was invited to join Germany’s prestigious Stuttgarter Ballet. He soon became resident choreographer of the company, a position he held until 1981 when he began pursuing an independent career. During the following three years he created such seminal works as Gänge for the Ballett Frankfurt and France/Dance for Rudolf Nureyev at the Paris Opera Ballet.

Since 1984, Forsythe has directed the Ballett Frankfurt, and his large body of renowned compositions include such pieces as Artifact (1984), Impressing the Czar (1988), Limb’s Theorem (1991), The Loss of Small Detail (1991), ALIE/NA(C)TION (1992), Eidos: Telos (1995), Endless House (1999) and Kammer / Kammer (2000). He continues to develop new works for both Ballett Frankfurt and TAT (Theater am Turm) at Bockenheimer Depot in Frankfurt, where he has served as director since 1999.

In choreographing his groundbreaking works, Forsythe collaborates with his close-knit family of dancers who often devise their own variations on his radical movement techniques. “Bill is an excellent enabler,” says Dana Caspersen, Ballett Frankfurt dancer, choreographer and Forsythe’s wife. “His role in each new piece varies, as a catalyst and an editor.”

While Forsythe’s daring productions for the Ballett Frankfurt frequently combine dance and speech as part of his theatrical style, his work for such companies as the New York City Ballet and the Nederlands Dans Theater is adapted to each company’s native style. In recognition of his versatile artistry, he has been awarded many prizes and honours, from two Bessie Awards (1988 and 1998), to Germany’s Distinguished Service Cross (1997), London’s Laurence Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in Dance and Best New Dance Production (1999 and 2001), the Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres (1999), Ballet International Magazine’s Ballet of the Year 2000 for Kammer / Kammer and Japan’s Multimedia Grand Prix (2000). Most recently he was awarded the Wexner Prize (2002) and the Dance Magazine Award (2003).