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Thom Willems: music for Forsythe's The Second Detail

(February 2018)

WillemsSecondDetail_Maurin.jpg Thom Willems's music for William Forsythe's ballet The Second Detail, a contrasting partner to their classic In the Middle Somewhat Elevated, has been heard increasingly over recent years as the dancework has travelled internationally.

Thom Willems’s music for ballets by William Forsythe continues to be heard around the world, with their collaborations regarded as classics in the repertoire of leading companies. The Second Detail has been programmed widely in triple bills over recent years, with performances by the National Ballet of Canada – who premiered the piece in 1991 – the Stuttgart Ballet, the Moscow Music Theatre and the Ballet de l’Opéra de Lyon on a 15-performance tour in France and Belgium.

William Forsythe has described in a New York Times interview how he invited Dutch composer Thom Willems to create the score for The Second Detail following their success at the Paris Opéra Ballet with In the Middle Somewhat Elevated. The new electronic score was joyous and light-filled in contrast to the driving, hard-edged music for the earlier ballet. Forsythe recalls how "I hadn’t asked Thom for anything in particular, and he gave me this really fun music. It sounds like tuned percussion and has some funk influence and swing and is just really dancey."

The New York Times commented on how "those influences are immediately apparent in the movement, which infuses a classical vocabulary with quirky, jazzy disruptions of form as 13 dancers keep remaking broad geometric patterns, then splintering into contrapuntal groups, duos and solos."

After the ballet was premiered in Canada, Forsythe recreated it for his own company and reworked a number of sections, including the finale in which a woman in a white one-shouldered Issey Miyake dress erupts onto the stage, disrupting the geometrical formality. Forsythe also took The Second Detail to form the first act of a full-evening work The Loss of Small Detail, including spoken texts by Yukio Mishima, Jerome Rothenberg and Forsythe himself.

The Second Detail joined the repertoire of the Ballet de l’Opéra de Lyon in 1995 and the recent revival saw the ballet selected by Jérôme Bel as part of a special triple bill also including danceworks by Trisha Brown and Bel himself. Further performances of The Second Detail have recently been announced by the Staatsballet Berlin for 2019.

"William Forsythe lets the 12 performers in his ballet The Second Detail vary their classical movements in a systematic geometry. The performance becomes more virtuoso, but also more rigorous, until finally the prima ballerina breaks in and brings dynamic disorder to the stage."
Die Welt

"The Second Detail is a précis of William Forsythe’s neoclassical style… the cast dived into it with real energy and attack… What makes Forsythe so thrilling to watch is the way he pushes classical rigour to breaking point..."
Financial Times

"Simple variations (solo, duet, trio, and group) upon a dancing theme are delineated, while the pattern is deconstructed into transformed objects. At the heart of the scientific architecture, built upon the electoacoustic music of Thom Willems, the elements appear and disappear, and the acceleration ends in lamentation… When Dorothée Delabie emerges in a white dress, in the middle of the other dances in their pearl-grey leotards, there is a solo within the ensemble, a dazzling light within the swarm."
ResMusica

The Forsythe/Willems ballet Pas./Parts received its US premiere in San Francisco in 2016 and joins the repertoire of the Boston Ballet this season, part of a five-year collaboration between the company and Forsythe. The new version of Approximate Sonata with a reworked score by Willems, unveiled at the Paris Opera Ballet in 2016, was staged by the Royal Ballet of Flanders last season and joins the repertoire of English National Ballet for performances at Sadler’s Wells in London in April.


>  Further information on Work: The Second Detail

Photo: Jean-Pierre Maurin

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