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      Dana Caspersen in William Forsythe at BAM
      Photo by Julieta Cervantes
      Dana Caspersen
    Moon Rocks and Survival

    William Forsythe takes us from funny to the future at BAM, with I Don't Believe in Outer Space


    William Forsythe tries humor and succeeds in making I Don't Believe in Outer Space surprisingly touching.

    Things begin with the Dana Caspersen show, as she plays two characters — one a creepy "I'm the new neighbor" and the other an oxymoronically mousey actress. Caspersen's elastic voice and body make broad farce seem natural and quickly reel us in. Others in the seventeen-member cast mill about and noodle, coming and going in various small groups, with no particular agenda, always ready to be called into service but generally just playing with and through a stageful of black "rocks."

    In the midst of this, a man lying supine on the floor, with head cocked up, speaks through a longthinish wooden megaphone in the first of many disjointed, dead-serious-but-dead-funny readings of the iconic pop song "I Will Survive." Somehow, even after the third or fourth rendition, these lyrics (and the lyrics to several other pop songs) keep taking us by surprise: because they are delivered as deadpan and unmusically as possible; because they are such a part of our background culture we rarely hear or listen to them; and because they come without warning, at any point in the song and in any context onstage.

    Choreography by: William Forsythe.
    Dancers: Yoko Ando, Cyril Baldy, Esther Balfe, Dana Caspersen, Katja Cheraneva, Brigel Gjoka, Amancio Gonzalez, Josh Johnson, David Kern, Fabrice Mazliah, Roberta Mosca, Tilman O'Donnell, Nicole Peisi, Jone San Martin, Yasutake Shimaji, Elizabeth Waterhouse, Riley Watts, Ander Zabala.
    Music by: Thom Willems.
    Sound design by: Niels Lanz.
    Costumes by: Dorothee Merg.
    Lighting design by: Tanja Rüel and Ulf Naumann.
    Dramaturgy: Freya Vass-Rhee.
    Graphics: Dietrich Krüger.
    Brooklyn Academy of Music
    October 26-29, 2011

    Or once, because they are delivered by Yoko Ando, in the almost impossible form of Japanese English spoken by Japanese to Japanese or to befuddled Americans by first-time-here Japanese tourists. Ando takes turns stealing and driving the show with Caspersen for much of the funny portion. Her extended manic-aerobics-teacher performance could be a show in itself.

    But though humor plays a large role in Outer Space, it often works well because it comes, like the song lyrics, in unexpected places and with no windup after a soft or quiet section. Throughout, there is an off-balance feel; we are never sure what we are watching or why, or even if things are going as planned. A "ping-pong" game midway, for instance, is played as a combination of mime and comedy improv, as sounds of ping-pong come and go, sometimes in synch with the players onstage and sometimes wildly not.

    ping-pong, (L-R) Yasutake Shimaji, Jone San Martin, Elizabeth Waterhouse, and Yoko Ando in William Forsythe at BAM
    Photo by Juieta Cervantes
    ping-pong, (L-R) Yasutake Shimaji, Jone San Martin, Elizabeth Waterhouse, and Yoko Ando

    An extended Caspersen narration, too, uses "as if by chance" as its anchor and seems to involve most of the cast, who come and go, either acting out her words or lip-synching them with her. Obviously, there is some well-planned improvisation happening for much of the piece, an element Forsythe is exploring more and more and even codifying and sharing, at In a pre-performance talk, Forsythe touched on how he thinks of creating emergent counterpoint, in real time, of moving in and out of rhythmic focus, and of thinking more like a composer than a choreographer.

    Moments of beauty strike just as freshly as moments of humor, in the bodies of Forsythe's gifted dancers or even in the operatic singing of Ander Zabala (yes, "I Will Survive" as opera). And imperceptibly, the tide changes from high to low, funny to ethereal. A quiet solo by Yasutake Shimaji, followed by his soft duet with another man, is part of this shift, as is the deceptively effective music of Thom Willems, who brings us to a place of quiet beauty where hybrid creatures move like bird/worms to match the music.

    And finally we allow Caspersen to take us down an unexpected path of "no more," a wistfully evocative wander through the mundane and the wonderful that begins with "no more flatness," as a dancer plays with limbo as a place or an action, and works its way through snippets as diverse as "no more 3-year-olds making walking down a block take 15 minutes" or "no more [hands like this, on a dancer]." By the end, all that is left is the ineffable side of life, sad beauty, fading.

    NOVEMBER 3, 2011

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