It’s difficult to know what to expect with modern ballet, especially when it’s not a standard, story-driven piece like “Sleeping Beauty” or “The Nutcracker.” Certainly, you’re probably going to see people who have spent their lives learning how to move in ways that look effortless and graceful and sometimes virtually impossible–but what are they going to do? What are they dancing to?
“Kylián, Peck, Forsythe,” currently showing at Sidney Harman Hall, is quite possibly one of the most profoundly beautiful, sensual, and fascinating pieces of contemporary choreography. It consists of three parts, each choreographed by a different person: “Petite Mort,” by Jiří Kylián, which originally premiered at the 1991 Salzburg Festival, is set to the music of Mozart; “In Creases,” by New York City Ballet wunderkind Justin Peck, set to the music of Philip Glass; and “In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated,” by William Forsythe, a 1987 work paired with the electronic, almost industrial sound of Thom Willems.
…one of the most profoundly beautiful, sensual, and fascinating pieces of contemporary choreography.
The first segment begins with nearly naked men, dancing in silence with swords. If that sounds a little strange, rest assured–it’s gorgeous. In the background, the female dancers stand behind gigantic black dresses, watching their counterparts. Then, suddenly, beneath a sheet of black, the dancers move like smoke across the stage–and emerge, vulnerable, on the floor. When the dancers begin moving in pairs, the demeanor of the audience is akin to a shocked silence: “Petite Mort” is certainly sensual, nearly erotic, in composition, and markedly different from the staid performance of a work like “Swan Lake.” The contrast between the intimacy on stage and the classical music in the air is almost comic.
“In Creases,” the second part of the program, has the dancers dressed in white, moving in large groups. They are accompanied by two live pianists, Gleen Sales and Eric Himy, onstage. Compared to the sensuality of the previous part, “In Creases” has an almost manic energy, and the dancers are playful, bringing to mind a school playground or recess. As in the previous segment, the dancers do not necessarily move as one expects from a ballet dancer, reflecting the youth and modernity of choreographer Peck, who became the New York City Ballet’s resident choreographer at just 26.
The final portion of the program, Forsythe’s “In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated,” can be almost disturbing; at the very least, profoundly unsettling. Composed in the last days of the Cold War, the rhythmic but harsh music evokes a totalitarian wasteland, the green-clad dancers moving against the noise in almost unnatural ways. The dance is very primal but aggressive; the dancers seem angry, dangerous, even as they move across the stage in both traditional and nontraditional forms. This 30-year-old piece of dance still feels functionally contemporary, tapping into an almost visceral response to movement and behavior.
All in all, the most prominent feature of “Kylián, Peck, Forsythe” is the unexpected. This is not for the faint of heart, or the casual viewer–it requires close attention and a strong appreciation for unconventional beauty. That being said, “Kylián, Peck, Forsythe” is remarkably beautiful and endlessly fascinating. It will, in some moments, leave you breathless.
Running Time: 1 hour 40 minutes with two intermissions.
“Kylián, Peck, Forsythe” is playing at Sidney Harman Hall in Washington, D.C. through April 2. For more information, click here.