TV REVIEWS : ‘Forsythe at Work’: Narrow but Intriguing

American expatriate William Forsythe is arguably both the most controversial choreographer in international ballet and the most unexpectedly influential. His Frankfurt Ballet seldom tours this country, but imitations of his radical classicism and stagecraft turn up everywhere from the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre to Los Angeles Chamber Ballet.

Tonight, at 7 and midnight, Bravo cable presents an hourlong 1988 profile, “William Forsythe at Work,” that focuses on the man’s choreographic method rather than his creative achievements. Director Andre Labarthe continually fills the screen with date- and time-titles, a countdown to opening nights we never see. Similarly, writer Ann Nugent keeps quoting critics about performances--but we watch only rehearsals, shot to emphasize the choreographer’s perspective.

We begin in Frankfurt, at an onstage run-through of the auction scene from the full-evening “Impressing the Czar,” and then follow Forsythe across the Atlantic for studio rehearsals of “Behind the China Dogs” with New York City Ballet. The sessions involving NYCB principals Peter Frame and Lourdes Lopez become particularly revealing as Forsythe talks to them and the camera about choreography as a process of revision.


“Everything is changeable,” he says.

“It’s not a monument . . . it’s mobile, flexible.” He also speaks thoughtfully about “classical logic,” the structural premises in his work (especially the idea of dance loops) and the effect of different mental states in performance.

Watching his quirky body-language smoothed out and stylized by Frame also proves illuminating, since the final, exciting glimpses of “Bongo Bongo Nageela” (another “Czar” excerpt back in Frankfurt) suggest that quirks interest him above everything. An incomplete and sometimes frustrating documentary, but fascinating just the same.