Review: William Forsythe’s Infectious New Hip-Hop Ballet

Review: William Forsythe’s Infectious New Hip-Hop Ballet

LONDON — William Forsythe’s new “Playlist (Track 1, 2)” for English National Ballet is a blast. Just 10 minutes long, it had the audience whooping during the performance and on its feet by the time the curtain came down. On its opening two nights, Thursday and Friday, viewers were rewarded with an encore in which Mr. Forsythe, a sprightly 68, came onstage for a brief, carefree boogie.

It was a coup for Tamara Rojo, artistic director of English National Ballet, to secure this commission, Mr. Forsythe’s first creation for a British company in more than 20 years. It was presented on a program, “Voices of America” (through April 21), with works by Jerome Robbins and Aszure Barton, and another recent piece by Mr. Forsythe.

Mr. Forsythe built his reputation by breaking the mold of classical ballet while remaining embedded in its tradition. When he began choreographing in the 1980s, he was vilified as much as praised for his exactingly physical and often highly intellectualized experiments. But Mr. Forsythe was soon in demand from ballet companies around the world, eager for a revitalizing shot of innovation. After a period in which he worked on a smaller scale and in a contemporary dance idiom, he has recently returned to the classical style that he considers his home ground.

But he remains a mold breaker. “Playlist” looks as if Mr. Forsythe had asked himself what was the one most powerful force in dance today, and answered: hip-hop. Wisely, he does not imitate it, but lets its spirit infuse the choreography. In the opening scene — or “track” — the 12 dancers in the all-male cast are put through their classical paces, first in a series of formal poses, then in flashy sequences of beaten jumps and turning circles. If the look is balletic, the formations are not far from music video: tight, synchronized and quick cut.

The hip-hop feel, meanwhile, comes from the soundtrack, Peven Everett’s mellow “Surely Shorty.” An infectious R&B number — each verse a rising groove that drops back to base before starting up again — it imparts bounce to the balletic positions and squeezes some soul from the steps. The dancers wear electric blue tights and pink T-shirts emblazoned with their names, as if each were his own cheerleader.

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