REVIEW: William Forsythe’s “i don’t believe in outer space” at BAM
[dropcap]A[/dropcap]ll the way home from Lafayette Avenue at the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House to Washington Heights I have been processing Forsythe. I am swimming in his images, in the sounds of his performers’ voices, in their wild presence, and in the bucket of feelings delivered this evening by i don’t believe in outer space.
Experiencing this piece is much like you sat down with a total stranger and listened as they told you every strange, beautiful, awkward and profound moment of their life, not leaving out irrelevant or dirty details. Because life is the subject, with its sudden bursts of action and unexpected insights, the piece does not follow a linear narrative, so it would be strange to respond to it in a linear fashion. I choose instead to talk about William Forsythe’s images which have lingered in me, leaving me chuckling, sighing, contemplating.
First, the set. The stage is covered in black balls, which I find out from my notes are balls of electric tape. The balls become the ultimate amorphous playthings for Forsythe’s crew. They are shoved up shirts and in pants for character effect. They are bounced off heads; kicked like soccer balls. They become suddenly heavy or weightless in a snap; they are gathered and then avoided. With such a simple and plain object, Forsythe does what kids do: he imagines their possibilities into reality, and creates a vivid world with parameters of his choosing. Along the back wall there are four doorways that are blacked out for sudden exits and entrances. To one side is a brightly lit corridor with collaged walls, reminiscent of a college dormitory. The dancers are dressed in street clothes: ordinary people.
But they are extraordinary. Forsythe’s company reveals so many levels of talent: singing, acting, comedy, ball tricks, etc. that it does not seem adequate to call them dancers. For example, in one returning scene, a performer switches voices and body form between characters like in a one-woman show. The switch in personnae is disturbingly quick and distinct. One character is a crotchety (and somewhat threatening) new neighbor and another is the sweet, meek and unassuming lady he comes to visit. Theirs is a conversation too familiar, reminding us of privacy, intrusion, and social etiquette.
I don’t believe in outer space maintains a steady reference to the famous pop song “I Will Survive”, made famous by Gloria Gaynor, and gives it new context by fitting the lyrics to absurd or desperate scenarios. They speak it, shout it, breaking it down into phrases that sound like insults or even pleas.
We see a dancer singing “I Will Survive” in full-blown opera to another on the ground with what seems like broken legs in a split. One performer is an expert soundmaker, playing imaginary ping pong with his partner, and making such real bouncing sounds you could swear you saw the ball. Later, there is a hilarious moment where one dancer just shamelessly plays, to the audiences delight. He bites the tape balls, stacks them, steps over them and rolls them down his body. There is a man hiding behind a giant Jack of Spades. There is a dancer dressed in neon doing aerobics. There is one concealed behind a poster of a face, making phonecalls.
We don’t see the full cast on stage much, but when we do it is a frenzy of choices for whom to watch. At one point, they gather to engage us in a long physics proposition of the what-ifs of “stuff moving in space as if by chance.” Only one dancer is speaking but because they are all mouthing the words I cannot tell who. The confusion seems to directly relate to the ideas of kinesthetics. Soon we see “science” return, this time when a “researcher” tries to explain his methods with three attentive dancers illustrating potentially unrelated things.
It is non-sensical, but none of this is real life nor is it sensational fiction. It is an impressionistic remembrance of being in life’s moments, which is why it works. We live this every day; this chaos is our experience.
When death approaches, and you knew it would, it is in the form of a gorgeous entagled duet. This is a chance to take a breath and focus on the beauty of Forsythe’s choreography and not just the cerebral capacity. It comes with piercing sentiment. Our speaking dancer’s familiar voice returns, listing all the “no mores” of dying–all the little things to miss like perfectly flat pebbles, sunshine and wind, margaritas with friends, a face accompanied with a very specific hand placement. At this point I know the piece is ending and I am okay with it. As it goes, I savor it like the last two bites of a great meal. Then it’s “I just walked in to see you here with that sad look upon your face.” and Forsythe’s wacky team are gone in a blackout.
It is the pieces that leave you reeling that are the ones you remember.
There is one more show of i don’t believe in outer space tomorrow at 7:30 PM at BAM as part of the Next Wave Festival.