Make your own monster

The small bones are so fiddly - it's easier to play with something bigger. After looking around for a moment, I spot a fibula and start to twist it.

Yes, I'm a critic but, despite popular belief, I'm not actually a serial killer. The bones are made of brown cardboard, and the entire audience is playing with them, standing around tables in groups of ten on the stage at Sadler's Wells. This is You Made Me a Monster, the opening event of the Focus on Forsythe season, celebrating the 60th birthday of the questing American (but German-based) choreographer.

The modelling makes for a disarming beginning. Thin metal spikes on the tables already hold an intricate collage of cardboard bones - folded, twisted, pinned together in shapes no skeleton ever saw. We add to them, skewing and pinning new bones as the fancy takes us: the aim, our chirpy guide tells us, is to make interesting shapes and shadows to provoke the dancers. It's strangely absorbing: I curl a clavicle into a ring, dandle it from the superstructure with a little gold pin. It takes me a while to notice that a dancer has arrived and begun moving, lurching round the tables.

You Made Me a Monster perfectly opens a door on Forsythe's world. The audience becomes complicit with the installation/dance piece even as it is thrown off guard. It's a brainy work, but one in which heart and viscera pump alarmingly. The choreographer's first wife died young, from cancer, and years later he found a gift she had been given, a DIY cardboard skeleton. He began bending and attaching at random, until he made what he realised was 'a model of grief.'

This piece too is about the way illness and grief estrange us from ourselves. The dancers rapidly twist their bodies in uncanny directions, just as we've ingeniously played with cardboard. The three dancers are both patients and mourners: weight is arbitrarily and cruelly distributed, from the face downwards. Limbs twist, jaws sag, shoulders wrench. These incredibly articulated bodies become painfully inarticulate. The dancers groan as they move, too, dragging urgent wordless sounds from deep in their throats. It's upsetting to watch - should we back away, try to comfort them? After our concentrated noodlings at the start of the show, play has turned to wounded reality. Bodies are frail, they lose their functionality, as do the people inside them. And so too do those left behind - is the person twisting beside an intricate cardboard structure using it as a model of their illness or their grief?

One of Forsythe's most moving pieces, Quintett, was also an implicit response to his wife's death: a chamber work of falling, failing helplessness set to Gavin Bryars' grinding tramp lament, Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet. Forsythe is interested in exposing process in his work, and the bones of this piece are evident. Despite the trenchant material, the DIY aesthetic kept some in its thrall - including the woman who kept on, noisily bending cardboard, adding to her creation, during a silent thrashing solo. And in the foyer afterwards I saw a woman twist her shoulder awry, and bloke in a bunched ponytail throwing fiddly shapes with his arms - trying out the feeling of a body lost to itself.

April 22, 2009 1:29 PM | | Comments (2) |

2 Comments

Interesting, Sanjoy, but not how I felt about Monster. I admit I was surprised by the way the show wears autobiographical origins on its sleeve - not what I expected from Forsythe - but didn't experience this as special pleading or a bid for sympathy. I didn't read the notes till after, so when I was playing with the cardboard I was simply playing... and the dance and pain arrived out of the blue - just as pain and grief do in life, while we're absorbed in other little activities, frowning and folding a piece of cardboard...

Decreation is certainly a different beast (or, indeed, monster, given the way it buckles together sound, dance, music, film). Deeply interesting but an arduous watch, and my mind is still trying to catch up with it...

You Made Me a Monster actually made me rather gag, and not in a good way. For a start, I really objected to the subtext being handed out to you - on photocopied sheets - as text. Then all the reviews pretty much took their cue from that crib sheet. Also - and this may be overstepping my boundaries - I didn't like the grief and pain. It felt to me more like a pretext, especially as it was so spelled out in those handouts. Implicating us in the whole process with those cardboard skeletons didn't make me feel implicated in a good way, it made me feel co-opted.

None of that happened with Quintett, which as you also say was made in response to his wife's death.

By the way, Forsythe's Decreation, which I have just seen at Sadler's Wells, is fantastic.

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This page contains a single entry by Performance Monkey published on April 22, 2009 1:29 PM.

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