My review of William Forsythe’s “Three Atmospheric Studies” is in today’s Chronicle:

“Much fuss has been made over William Forsythe’s decision to tackle the Iraq war in his “Three Atmospheric Studies,” which had its keenly anticipated U.S. premiere at UC Berkeley’s Cal Performances on Thursday. The issue isn’t whether choreographers should make dances about the war, but whether William Forsythe should.

Forsythe has long attracted such scrutiny: He’s an American who left for the headier intellectual climate of Germany, where the Forsythe Company, which rose last year from the ashes of his celebrated Ballett Frankfurt, is based; and he’s a former savior-apparent of the ballet world who instead forsook classroom steps for relentless experimentation. He’s also the only dance artist I can think of capable of evoking war with such visceral devastation. “Three Atmospheric Studies” is sobering and deeply disturbing. It is incredibly difficult to watch, which is exactly why it ought to be seen.

There is much that is striking about “Three Atmospheric Studies,” but most important is this: It unfolds entirely from the innocent civilian’s point of view.

Forsythe builds his triptych of scenes around four images. Two are 16th century crucifixion paintings, one by Lucas Cranach the Younger, and one by Cranach the Elder; Forsythe’s interest in each is the bereaved Mary mourning her slain son. The other two images are recent photographs of mayhem on the streets of Iraq. The analogy is not subtle: Mary as an Iraqi civilian grieving over her child; the Roman Empire as — no, this is not a new idea — the American occupation. But even if one takes issue politically with the comparison, there is no arguing with the realities of carnage and suffering Forsythe puts on stage.”

Click here for the full review.

Generally, as I’m sure you’ll gather, I’m a Forsythe admirer. But my response was also very personal. I have a brother, Emmet, serving as an Army sniper currently in Baghdad. It’s the soldiers who have to see this suffering up close–and they hate to see it. They are doing their jobs as best they can, and they know the reality of this war, as we back home watch from afar. Emmet comes home on leave for two weeks March 15; he had been scheduled to end his deployment (and his employment in the Army) in June, but now may be held over for four to six months. Obviously my family is anxious to bring him home.

As to the more trivial discussion of whether “Three Atmospheric Studies” is dance, I don’t see why it matters. It is dance, and it is theater, and it is sound art and it is visual art. It is deeply upsetting, which is exactly what it is intended to be, and dismissing it as “not dance” seems to me myopic.

1 Comment

  • lauren Posted February 25, 2007 2:56 pm

    fantastic. this helped me to understand the piece better. i have to say when i first saw it, i was incredibly confused. i didn’t have enough money to buy the program notes,nothing had been published on it yet (in a language i could read) so i had absolutely no background. as an american watching it in London, it frustrated me because i felt like screaming ‘i didn’t vote for him/this.’

    i didn’t know the background of the four images, though i got the gist of what forsythe was trying to say. it was brutal and painful. several months later, even without program notes, it is the most powerful work of art relating to the iraq crisis i’ve seen yet.

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