‘I don’t believe in outer space’: William Forsythe’s magnificent theatre of disappearance

Time is a strange and fascinating thing. It’s unbelievable how bored you can get, sometimes, watching a performance that takes just one hour. And then there are performances such as I don’t believe in outer space, by The Forsythe Company. After having sat there, in complete awe, at deSingel (Antwerp), for an hour and fifteen minutes, I had the impression of having watched a performance that had lasted at least two hours or so. Such a richness in details, such a wild and varied array of scenes. Weirdly condensed. Magnificent.

Let’s start with a confession first, to put things in the right perspective. Maybe you have a weak spot for Akram Khan, or Wim Vandekeybus, Eduard Locke or Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker. William Forsythe is mine. The way his dancers move on stage, silences me completely. I become zen. Seeing how that foot goes in one direction and the hand in another direction and the body twists in a weird way, in the meanwhile. Their poise, their confidence, the way they look at you. And then there’s Forsythe’s undeniable gift for incredibly well-balanced tableaux. Moments you would want to freeze, take home and study in detail. And there are plenty of them in I don’t believe in outer space, which premiered in Frankfurt in 2008.

And so you’re back from outer space, I just walked in to find you here with that sad look upon your face. That’s the line the title of this piece is referring to. From Gloria Gaynor’s disco classic I will survive, and throughout I don’t believe in outer space dancers frequently use other quotes from that song. Just as they take snippets from 1999 (Prince), I put a spell on you (Screamin’ Jay Hawkins) and Wild world (Cat Stevens) too. Forsythe created this piece as he turned sixty, and it was an attempt to imagine his own absence (read interview in The Observer here). ‘It’s the theatre of disappearance. An absurd memoir. A look at life without me.’

On stage you’ll see lots of black meteorites: balls of gaffer tape. One could say: balls referring to all those past performances, as gaffer tape is always used to tape that surface to dance on to the theatre floor. And then a series of short scenes. With just a couple of dancers or with all of them. And a few strange intruders. An awesome Dana Caspersen acting as the neighbour from hell. An opera singer. A strange character with a cape. A weird scientist (‘What’s the matter with matter?‘) Two guys playing ping-pong. A hilarious aerobics instructor. And then that giant playing card.

For an hour and fifteen minutes it continues, this wonderful and diverse combination of scenes, characters and dancers. Funny, weird and sometimes rather poetic and melancholic. When I close my eyes, I can still see them. Dancing.

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