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wbd: forsythe’s slingerland!

Plus an essay by Marcie Sillman of KUOW!

Slingerland (photo from
White Bird Dance website)

Want to add something fun to this week’s schedule?
White Bird Dance
in Portland presents Aspen Santa Fe Ballet on Wednesday. It’s worth the 3-hour trip to see their performance of William Forsythe’s Slingerland.

What’s so great about Slingerland? It’s a piece that gripped me the moment Aspen Santa Fe Ballet’s Katherine Eberle appeared onstage (not walked, not sprang, but APPEARED—poof!). And it didn’t end, not really. The mystery of the piece stayed with me for hours, quietly dissipating into a dream. Kind of like PNB’s R&J, actually.

Marcie Sillman, who saw the same Slingerland performance I did back in July, incorporated it into an essay she wrote to share with fellow dance journalists a few days later. Sillman usually works with sound (see links to some of her fabulous KUOW shows below) so it’s a rare treat to see her written work. She has graciously allowed SeattleDances to include it here.

Marcie Sillman at ADF
The Art of Seeing Art
Marcie Sillman/July 5, 2009
American Dance Festival

To look. Merriam-Webster defines it this way: to direct one’s sight toward something. “Look Jane, look!” The protagonist of the grade school primer turns her eyes toward the dog, Spot. He is running.

I look at dance. Specifically, I look at two dancers, Sam Chittenden and Katherine Eberle of Aspen Santa Fe Ballet. They are alone on a big stage, dressed in matching yellow unitards. She’s also wearing a foam rubber disc of a tutu. Oh, and toe shoes. I look at William Forsythe’s Slingerland pas de deux, performed at the 2009 American Dance Festival.

“Look, Jane, look. See Spot run.” To look. To see: “to attain awareness or understanding through the act of looking.” Is awareness like nirvana? How do I attain it? One colleague counsels the importance of clearing the mind before each performance. Enter the theater without expectations. (Except, it’s William Forsythe, and I love his work. And my program says he’s not only the choreographer, but the costume and lighting designer, too).

Never mind this distraction. Take a cleansing breath. Hold no expectations. What do I see? Two dancers, lit from the sides and from behind. Their faces are partially obscured by shadow. I see two bodies forming a kaleidoscope of shapes. They lean away from each other into triangles. These transform into pyramids as the dancers bring their heads close, in Forsythe’s mysterious half light. It is a dance of geometry, of bodies in space, of long planes sculpted out of the raw material of the dancers’ limbs.

I have looked, I have seen, and now I struggle to understand: to grasp the meaning, to accept the truth of what Forythe has created. Why does this dance, this evening, entice me forward in my seat? The Slingerland pas de deux is lean and concise. There are no gratuitous flourishes, nothing extraneous. It is a sophisticated, polished dance from a master of the craft. It leaves me wanting more.

To look, to see, to understand. A dance writer has one last task. To communicate, to transmit to an audience information I have taken in through my eyes and ears, and processed in my brain. They will see this artwork only through me, understand only through my words, my voice. I want to shout: Look, audience, look. See this dance. See these artists reach for the stars.


Back to White Bird Dance….

Also on the White Bird Dance program is Jorma Elo’s flashy Red Sweet (if you haven’t heard of him yet, Elo is the hot resident choreographer for Boston Ballet), a revival of Twyla Tharp’s Sue’s Leg (it was cute when I saw it at American Dance Festival this summer, but folks who had seen the original said it lacked a certain essential whimsy), and Fugaz by Cayetano Soto.


Links to a few of Marcie Silllman’s dance-related radio segments:

Marcie Sillman of KUOW, gathering ambient sound at PNB for an
upcoming radio segment

PNB Renews Contract With Pacific Northwest Ballet – 9/30/09

Dominique Gabella, Dancer – 04/10/2009

Louise Nadeau Retires From Pacific Northwest Ballet – 01/15/2009

Twyla Tharp at Pacific Northwest Ballet – 09/22/2008

Dance, Dance, Evolution: Shindig – 04/18/2008

Dance, Dance, Evolution: Men in Tights – 04/17/2008

Dance, Dance, Evolution: The Turning Point – 04/16/2008

Rhinemaiden Workout – 08/05/2005