Image: Choreographer William Forsythe © Dominik Mentzos

This Spring, we present THE FORSYTHE EVENINGa special programme celebrating one of the most important choreographers working today, William Forsythe.

We are proud to honour the esteemed choreographer and his enduring love and curiosity for ballet.

Here is the master, in his own words.


On his background

“My first memories of dance had to do with Hollywood films in which Fred Astaire starred! But I think what made the biggest impression was Walt Disney’s Fantasia, an animated film where they had taken classical music and made very imaginative choreographies or interpretations that were abstract and narrative.”
The Talks

“I dance ballet and I speak it, I could stand up and improvise something for you like a musician could. But actually no, it’s not the mother tongue. I began dancing in clubs and musicals. I come from an entertainment background. I was almost 18 when I began to study ballet and at the same time the Martha Graham technique. When I decided to turn professional, all these influences came together. You can’t separate one from another. In the end the style was maybe ballet with a funk influence.”
Frieze Magazine

On his approach to ballet

“Ballet is Olympian. You can’t fake it. There’s no “sort of.””
Dance Magazine

“Ballet demands reserves of strength and focus that very few people would be willing to muster.”
The Guardian

“[The challenge of ballet] is intellectual and it’s physical. You use your body to solve problems, and these problems are basically physics problems. You develop the skills to solve the challenges of centrifugal force and gravity and balance, plus fulfilling all these aesthetic criteria at the same time — it’s very, very complicated and I liked that.”
The Talks

“It’s a balance thing – the muscle chain alters according to how you use the middle finger of the hand, say, will affect the rotation of the upper arm, which forms a huge chain of muscular reaction – which affects your technique, and finally alters the effect of your dance.”
The Arts Desk

“I had to find my way around Balanchine, Petipa, Cranko, MacMillan, the whole crowd… I realised I had to move on”
Daily Telegraph

“Why do we love it? It’s partly the sensation of dancing… It’s a way of being that is really unique. It has so many complex, interesting and beautiful demands all at the same time. It’s not easy… It really is an Olympic profession.”
Houston Ballet

“I said to the ballet dancers… What does everyone like the most about what you do? They like the fact that you can fail because that’s what makes it exciting.
ICA Boston

English National Ballet dancers in Playlist (Track 1, 2) as part of Solstice at the Southbank Centre's Royal Festival Hall © Laurent Liotardo

On being a choreographer

When you look at the great works of Bournonville, Petipa, Balanchine, you realize that the possibilities are endless.
The New York Times

“My job is to be at the service of talent looking for the right place to practise.”
Financial Times

“I say to the dancers, you must make a discourse when you dance. You have to make a re-affirmation of ballet and yet at the same time bring into question how ballet is danced.”
The Arts Desk (on his piece Artifact)

Choreographers should be capable of harnessing what is important — the aspects of craft, which locates it in the historical trajectory of classicism — while being able to recontextualize it to a degree that it has contemporary relevance.
The Talks

“There are a gazillion rules, and it’s just which ones you decide to investigate.” 

“I always assume I can do it better: this is because 25 years ago I didn’t have the breadth of skills I have now. I have more distance to the works now, so I can entertain the idea that I’m somewhat objective. I can definitely be critical of my own work, even though it might be “fine” for other people. I’m like a plumber, I’m always looking for the leaks.”
Nederlands Dans Theater

“You’re always going to be a student. There’s no real mastery.”
Houston Ballet

“Choreographers are composers; subjects are continually reiterated and played in another key, so to speak, against each other, backwards. In choreography, there is all kinds of motion going on, countless levels of kinetic juxtaposition, many beyond the immediate, visible sphere of dancing.” 
Bomb Magazine

On his style

“If dance only does what we assume it can do, it will expire, I keep trying to test the limits of what the word choreography means.”
New York Times

“Some 25 years ago, [my style] was not standard but now this is not the case. It’s been adopted, accepted and naturalised. I find it gratifying to watch people do it now, because it’s much more native.”

“[Ballet] doesn’t need modernisation. It’s just a misunderstanding. People associate me with some idea of liberty. Liberty from what? Ballet offers me everything.”
Financial Times

Ballet sees itself as full of tradition but you realise it’s a mindset that keeps people in their place. You shouldn’t feel constrained by history — it offers so much to work with, but it should never box you in.
The Spectator

English National Ballet dancer Noam Durand in Playlist (Track 1, 2) by William Forsythe © Laurent Liotardo

On dancers

“It’s the dancers who continue to make dance interesting for me.”
Dance Australia

“What I’m really interested in right now at this point in my career is giving dancers permission when they’re onstage to demonstrate how much they love it and why it should be here.”
Houston Ballet

I love ballet dancers — I know how hard they work and how much they worry. A lot of what I do is try to make that moment they’ve hoped for in their career happen.

I think it’s important to find opportunities for the dancers where they can exercise their judgement in more than one capacity.
Nederlands Dans Theater

By revisiting and renovating work I’m able to keep connected to the dancers of each new epoch.”
Nederlands Dans Theater

On music

“I grew up playing the violin, the bassoon, the flute, and I sang in choruses. I think that’s the only reason I went to church. It was because I got to sing. My grandfather was a concert violinist… He would play me pieces of music and he said ‘this is the greatest,’ ‘don’t listen to them,’ ‘listen to that.’ So, I grew up with a really strong classical music background and, in the meantime, I was getting into clubs and shaking.”
Houston Ballet

[Pop music] has very clear structure, just like classical music; the nature of the syncopations and the underlying contrapuntal motors of the music allow the same kind of drive that Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev and Stravinsky brought to ballet music.”
The New York Times