William Forsythe’s In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated was created for the Paris Opera Ballet who have performed it at home and abroad since 1987. The piece entered the repertoire of Dresden’s Semperoper Ballett in 2006 and now they are about to invade the Palais Garnier and perform it on the stage it was created for; the first guest company to do so.
The Semperoper Ballett will be dancing it from 4 – 8 January as part of the five-part ballet Impressing the Czar which Forsythe created in 1988 for the Frankfurt Ballet, where In the Middle is the second piece presented to impress the Czar. The title refers to Czar Alexander III’s cool assessment of Tchaikovsky and Petipa’s Sleeping Beauty, after having watched the final dress rehearsal. Tchaikovsky wrote in his diary:
Rehearsal of the ballet with the Tsar present. “Very nice!!!” His majesty treated me very haughtily. God bless him.
I asked Semperoper principal István Simon what connection his company has with Forsythe:
The directors and dancers of Semperoper Ballett are following the philosophy of art and dance represented by Forsythe: creativity, artistic freedom and strong individuals’ cooperation. No clichés but experimenting every day. There are many of his pieces in our repertoire and he often works personally with us.
Simon’s favourite Forsythe works that he dances are The Second Detail and Enemy in the Figure.
His ideas about the dynamics and phrasings are very special and his movements are very complex. However, there is also a lot of passion in his choreography. To be passionate, but precise, yet at the same time attaining the feeling of endless suspension in Forsythe’s movements; that is the biggest challenge for me.
Hungarian István Simon, started as a coryphée with the company in 2007, working his way up the ranks to become a principal dancer in 2013 and is proud of his Dresden company.
If I take responsibility, I get freedom on every level. That is exceptional in the ballet world.
The last of the four soloists in the original ITMSE cast to retire from the stage was Sylvie Guillem, a year ago. The others were Isabelle Guérin, Laurent Hilaire, and Manuel Legris. Quite a lineup, though as Forsythe ‘specialists’ the Dresden group are sure certain to provide exciting dancing too. Writing about ITMSE, The New York Times’s Roslyn Sulcas wrote,
The Dresden dancers… perfectly conjure the wary gazes turned upon one another, the prickly intimacy, the burning quest for center stage… The relationship between the formal elements of that technique and the way it is extended and elaborated here is entirely understood by the Semperoper ensemble, which has benefited from frequent coaching by Mr. Forsythe and is directed by Aaron S. Watkin, who danced with Mr. Forsythe’s company… The dancers inform the dancing with a musical sensibility and a physical refinement that does them honor.
Semperoper Ballett, Impressing the Czar, 4 – 8 January, Palais Garnier, Paris
Impressing the Czar has five sections: Potemkin’s Signature – In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated – La Maison de Mezzo Prezzo – Bongo Bongo Nageela – and Mr. Pnut Goes to the Big Top.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano’) about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman’s Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia’ column for Dancing Times magazine.