Artifact – Royal Ballet Flanders: Sadler’s Wells, 20 April 2012

Step inside love

The green goddesses of Royal Ballet Flanders begin to regret their choice of new deodorant.

Originally created for Ballett Frankfurt in 1984, William Forsythe’s Artifact has been kept alive by Royal Ballet Flanders following the demise of the German company in 2004. And thank god they have; it’s a stunning work and they perform it superbly.

If there is any narrative it revolves around the confused but rhythmical proclamations of Kate Strong’s witchy Character in Historical Costume and Nicholas Champion’s white-haired Character with Megaphone. A disconnected wraith-like The Other Person struts around from time to time while claps and commands served to set the corps in motion.

The emphasis was on female strength. The male corps danced mainly with languid feminine delicacy as their excellent female counterparts darted around with urgency and pointed dynamism. The flaccid chap with the megaphone drifted listlessly about in thrall to his silver-flared Carabosse as his indecipherable mutterings struggled to be heard. She, meanwhile, commanded, ordered and generally made her overbearing presence felt.

With the wings removed dancers were sometimes out of view of vast sections of the audience. The simultaneous action was often placed at the extremities of the stage, forcing you to choose what to watch; lights flicked on and off, the curtain slammed up and down in Part 2 like a camera shutter and Part 3 started well before the end of the interval which caused a very British ‘oh dear am I missing something?’ trot back from the Sadler’s Wells bars. Initially this all created a frisson about what intrigues may lay elsewhere but it gradually led to a focussing of the mind on ignoring distraction and concentrated it instead on the joy of watching pure movement.

Many of the corps’ formations, such as when the women, with exaggerated steps on pointe and arms curved outwards, slowly crossed the stage like green flamingos about to take flight, were breathtakingly beautiful. The final sequence where the corps all stood in military parade and thrust their arms around in precise mathematical equations combined symbiotically with Eva Crossman-Hecht’s repetitive, jabbing piano and created something spellbindingly powerful.

If this all sounds cold and clinical; it wasn’t. Words cannot really do justice to the physical landscape of the movement Forsythe created for Artifact. Wonderful.

Gerard Davis

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