St Petersburg, Mariinsky II

The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude. In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated. Infra

one-act ballet

Fifth performance of the eighteenth subscription


Age category 12+


Choreography, staging and lighting: William Forsythe
Music: Franz Schubert, Symphony No. 9 in С major, Op. 31 (Finale)
Costumes: Stephen Galloway
Assistant Choreographer: Noah D. Gelber

About the production

William Forsythe began to assimilate the world of choreography with the language of classical dance, vital for any ballet dancer. His productions, however, are very distant from classical harmony. In his works Forsythe rethinks the laws of the structure of dance plots, deconstructing classical movement and the typical logic of a composition.
In The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude the choreographer offers a view of classical pas from positions of his own time. This ballet is part of a diptych the choreographer entitled Two Ballets in the Manner of the Late 20th Century. Forsythe places himself within the historic system of co-ordinates of the ballet world, representing his position with regard to the mainstream of “home-grown” American ballet of the 20th century – namely the choreography of George Balanchine. On the one hand, Forsythe “grew” out of Balanchine with his intoxication of the technique of classical dance, while on the other hand the world is alive today and so things move in different ways. This is precisely why in Forsythe’s 1996 opus the “iron” classical verticals and arms are cast aside, forgetting about classical softness and airiness, springy lynch-pins in order to change quickly the angles and the retention of balance in unstable poses. Initially it seems that the choreographer is submitting to the romanticism of Schubert’s music and gives the dancers language from a classical dictionary in an intoxicatingly fast tempo – the leaps, the spins and the  pointe technique – but that’s just at first glance. In attitude the dancer almost loses balance, the centre of balance shifts from the supporting leg to the working leg. Neither do the backs look classical – suddenly for a moment they lose their fixed evenness, they become curved, with a sense of each and every vertebra rather than the typical solidified ramrod. It’s as if the choreographer is showing how the borders of classical dance have shifted today, enriched by modern dance and the tremendous variety of 20th century dance techniques. And in this contrast there is a slightly ironic play in which the serious is mixed with the non-serious, even so far as the costumes are concerned – here the tutus are not traditional and fluffy, but resemble cardboard circles. The thrill of exactitude comes when the dancers sense and underscore the difference between typical classical elements and Forsythe’s amendments to them and, feeling free in the unrelenting tempo, dance with a change of style. The logic of the production’s composition is entirely traditional – each of the five participants in the dance performs some solo expression, and in-between the choreographer offers various forms of development of the relationships within the quintet – duets, different trios and a quartet.
In In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated, staged in 1988 at the Opéra de Paris, the compositional structure is less predictable. The kaleidoscopic glimpse of the countless solos and duets in this ballet are dictated by the stage space. And for Forsythe as a postmodernist choreographer stage space has no centre. Its life is filled with the creative play of numerous voices that resound from different sources. On the stage there are several centres of development of the action. Sometimes they dance together, sometimes alone, sometimes with the effect of invisible presence when the dancers are standing on-stage just outside the lit areas. The choreographer also plays with the individual space of the dancers, extending in movement the lines of the arms and legs to the extreme, as if trying to take it all to the very limits of what is humanly possible. As a result there is virtuoso dance bordering on stability. The nature of dance language here has nothing in common with classical movement, even though they do dance en pointe and certain classical pas can be recognised. Here there is no primacy of the vertical axis required in classical dance in the grand poses and turns, here the axes of the bodies freely bow to different angles and in different directions. The dancers, like a perpetuum mobile, are in constant movement in the dance, and if they freeze in a pose it is only because of inertia – freezing in one spot like a statue so that on the return path they can bring to life the energy they have amassed. It’s like a “clockwork” ballet – to stun the public, stun them with technology and not inspiration. And our entire industrial age has been an era of technology, not discoveries. And here the mechanics of dance takes centre stage. Forsythe’s dance is powerful, and the tension in it is not concealed. Although in the duets the choreographer does not make the audience feel sorry for the backs of the partners who lift the female dancers up high. In his duets the function of the partner is to support and not to withstand, to serve as a support from which, as if on elastic, the dancer is drawn back, to provide an impulse for the next pas. The unusual focus of the movements with the maximised amplitude and the impressive tempo of Tom Willems’ music, aggressive in its mono-tonality, bereft of melody but with an underlying rhythm that gives a drive to the dance structure – that is what In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated is all about.
And Forsythe’s dance, highly prized in its own right, creates emotionality – cool, but enthralling and refined in terms of its intellectualism.
Olga Makarova

Premiere: 20 January 1996, Ballett Frankfurt
Premiere at the Mariinsky Theatre: 3 March 2004
Premiere of the revival at the Mariinsky Theatre: 3 March 2013

Sponsor of the production: Mr Toshihiko Takahashi

Running time: 11 minutes

The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude had its world premier with the Ballett Frankfurt on 20 January 1996. Originally coupled with another ballet and performed under the title Two Ballets in the Manner of the Late 20th Century, it closed William Forsythe’s full-length evening work Six Counter Points. Here removed from its original context, The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitudes parklingly holds its own. It is a masterfully constructed celebration of the elegance of superb dancers and superbly rendered dancing. Utilising the soaring final movement from Franz Schubert’s 9th Symphony in C Major, William Forsythe complements the music’s layered intricacies and thunderous bravura with sophisticated complexity and dynamic momentum. In its playful employment of the familiar components which we have grown accustomed to associating with classical ballet,The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude pays homage to a rich history of great dance achievement and choreographic precedent. This is achieved in a spirit of overall inclusion, rather than limitation. As the piece delves relentlessly through a series of riveting solos, duets, trios and group constellations, the audience is offered timeless images well in keeping with traditional interactions between ballerinas and their male counterparts, while individual eccentricities and indulgences are maintained (if not encouraged). Showcasing five dancers (two men and three women), the swiftly unfurling choreography dares its participants to surmount the technical challenges posed by employing sheer pleasure and abandon. This continual manifestation of unbridled expertise pushes their artistic accomplishments to ever greater heights. The effect is invigorating, precarious, even dizzying. The balletThe Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude has been achieved considerable acclaim worldwide for its speed, brilliance and remarkable musicality. It received New York City’s “Best Ballet of the Season” critics’ choice award in 1998 and appears in the repertoires of some of the most world-renowned ballet companies. Insider circles have referred to it as “the most technically difficult ballet ever performed.” Others have found it “the most liberating experience of an entire career.” For the dancer, it is a triumph of euphoric perfection. For the audience, it is eleven elegant minutes of exhilarating excellence.
Noah D. Gelber

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