The Forsythe Evening; Traplord review – a sugar rush and a bitter bill


Show caption ‘Deliriously gorgeous’: English National Ballet’s The Forsythe Evening at Sadlers Wells, London. Photograph: Elliott Franks Dance The Forsythe Evening; Traplord review – a sugar rush and a bitter bill Sadler’s Wells; 180 Studios, London

William Forsythe delivers a dazzling fusion of classical ballet and pop, Ivan Michael Blackstock a bold examination of black masculinity Sarah Crompton Sun 10 Apr 2022 09.00 BST Share on Facebook

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Dance takes many forms and can fulfil multiple functions. Over his career, the choreographer William Forsythe has explored most of them. When he started out, he was hailed as the successor to Balanchine, a creator of work full of off-kilter balances, striking juxtapositions and unexpected twists and turns, but clearly rooted in the classical tradition.

Yet he has also always been fascinated by what dance can communicate, and has taken challenging journeys into more experimental territory, mingling words and micro-movements to create his effects. A lot of his early admirers disliked the exploring; I found it difficult but still more stimulating than anything around it.

Now in his 70s and a freelance without the burdens of his own company, he has turned again to ballet in its purest form, but teamed its bravura steps and expressive symmetries with pop music. The result is deliriously gorgeous, a sugar rush straight to the heart that leaves you cheering and breathless with joy.

It’s not just the elevation that thrills, it’s the weight, the way the dancers slope on and then suddenly fly

The Forsythe Evening by English National Ballet pairs Blake Works 1, set to James Blake’s album The Colour in Anything and created for Paris Opera Ballet in 2016, with Playlist (EP), a new version of the work he made for ENB’s men in 2018, now expanded to include women, and danced to a propulsive, funky score, including Lion Babe’s Impossible and Natalie Cole’s Everlasting Love.

It’s this second piece, with its great sweeps of women in formation like a jazzy chorus line – throwing off pirouettes, flicking their feet and changing direction like so many spinning tops – and the men defying gravity to jump across the stage, swaggering like jocks, that brings the audience to its feet. It’s not just the elevation that thrills, it’s the weight, the way the dancers slope on, swinging their arms as if at a disco, and then suddenly fly. They own it.

Blake Works is less overtly showy, but almost unbearably beautiful, with its groups moving contrapuntally, building patterns of beats and extensions, holding poses for a split second longer than you’d expect, and then snapping to change direction just that bit faster. There’s a duet for Isaac Hernández and Emily Suzuki that’s full of tender gestures with the hands; there’s a section for the women, marked by sweeping arms and grace. It’s heavenly.

In addition to his choreography, Forsythe has built a set of computer programmes around dance-making; the programmes are popular, apparently, with hip-hop dancers and you can see why. The forms are different but have in common the qualities of groups moving in unison, of flexion and control through the limbs. Ivan Michael Blackstock’s Traplord, a bold, brave, upsetting examination of depression and the pressures of black masculinity, also shares Forsythe’s belief that you can say anything through movement.

‘Incredibly honest’: Traplord at 180 Studios. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

It’s a truly impressive piece, a confident mixture of speech, theatre, music and dance (by Blackstock and associate choreographer Chaldon Williams), tied together by Ian William Galloway’s video design, which means that at moments the dancers seem both to be real and part of a disturbing game being played.

Blackstock stalks the world, a nervous figure in rabbit ears, often isolated, striving to be the perfect human. A dancer dons a pig mask and becomes a symbol of police brutality, breaking Kanah Flex’s apparently boneless body, until he can sling it over his shoulder like a dummy. A figure raps about becoming more powerful, egged on by his gang. It feels incredibly honest; it’s also extraordinarily powerful.

Star ratings (out of five)

The Forsythe Evening ★★★★★

Traplord ★★★★

• The Forsythe Evening is at Sadler’s Wells, London, until 10 April

• Traplord is at 180 Studios, London, until 16 April