In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated was created by dance maverick William Forsythe in 1987 with the etoiles (the first stars) of Paris Opera Ballet: Sylvie Guillem, Isabel Guérin, Laurent Ilère, and Manuel Legris. At the time, under the artistic leadership of the late Rudolf Nureyev, Forsythe sent shock waves through the ballet world presenting a contemporary ballet suited for a 21st-century opera house. He choreographed razor-sharp long leg kicks, entwined with fast lifts and pirouette arabesque attitude on pointe on the young Sylvie Guillem. The dancers occasionally accent aspects of the industrial sounds of Thom Williems score with an understated passé. The reactions and reviews at the time where mixed, but the repertoire has endured a fabulous and long life across major world stages with companies such as Mariinsky Ballet, Royal Ballet of Flanders and Royal Ballet, to name a few.
In the United States of America, the premiere of the piece was not well received. The New York Times reported that it was ’roundly booed by a gala audience that obviously does not like music consisting of loud electronic chords and choreography that has dancers looking like bodybuilders and engaging in aggressive duets and solos in near darkness’ (1988). But, like with many cutting-edge artworks, people react with assertive but very different statements. Forsythe has constantly been ahead of his time and he hit the nail in the head and propelled a new era for the ballet landscape worldwide by changing the potential of ballet vocabulary even when not everyone was ready to absorb a new viewpoint on a traditional art-form such as ballet. New York City’s Mayor Ed Koch (1978-89) joined the company on stage in an alliance with Forsythe announcing, ‘I like Billy Forsythe’s work, and those who booed him would probably have booed Mozart.’ (The New York Times, 1988). Another man ahead of his time!
Twenty years later, In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated was still profound. The contemporaneity of Forsythe’s legacy remained just as fresh in 2007 as it did in 1987. ‘This one-act deconstruction of the classical language was radical enough to the average ballet audience’, said Judith Mackrell from The Guardian in 2007. Few contemporary ballets have the longevity of In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated. Fast forward to 2017 and Sara Crompton from The Guardian describes the work beautifully:
‘It has an almost elemental energy as it sets its six women and three men prowling around the stage, like fierce creatures exploring an alien space. Where most dance faces the front of the stage, these nine face all directions, their solos and duets deliberately disrupting the focus. Balletic formality is jettisoned in favour of a wild, off‑kilter theatricality that rethought conventions even as it held them up to the sharp, bright light.’
Happy birthday to William Forsythe, one of the most admired choreographers of a generation.
Here's the moment he stage-bombed the encore at the world premiere of his piece for @ENBallet earlier this year.
He knows how to party! 🎈🥳🎂 pic.twitter.com/W8yvg2CrQx
— Sadler's Wells (@Sadlers_Wells) December 30, 2018
Dresden Semperoper Ballett is performing Impressing the Czar, including In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated 15 & 16 March at Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay.
This post is sponsored by Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay.