Catching Up With Dance Pioneer William Forsythe on His Impending Move to L.A.

L.A.’s dance scene is about to get more exciting now that the choreographer is set to start teaching at USC

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In contemporary dance circles everyone wanted to work for or with William Forsythe. If you couldn’t join one of his companies, you aspired to learn his choreography. Forsythe is the choreographer’s choreographer. For the past 30 years his work has shaped and inspired contemporary and post-contemporary dance in Europe, but the American-born Forsythe is still largely unknown in his home country. That may be about to change as the newly announced USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance has named the 64-year-old Forsythe as a professor; in coming years he’ll be named the Artistic Director of the school’s Choreographic Institute.  

A decade ago I wrote Forsythe a fan letter (the such fan letter I’ve ever written). Unlike most of these stories, this one ended with him writing back. We even met at a rare West Coast appearance of his then company Frankfurt Ballet. When I caught up with Forsythe last week, I couldn’t help but ask if he remembered me. “That’s you?! Awesome! I don’t know many Caitlyns, and I was just thinking about that, actually. How ya doin?” he says. That sums up Forsythe’s cheerful approach. On a given day his schedule might find him anywhere on the planet, but he can still remember a wide-eyed choreographer who once reached out to him. 

Forsythe has been an innovator in his field, always looking for new techniques to inspire his work. He has brought his approach to various mediums and institutions: stage, film, museums.  Now he has a chance to help mold the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance—and its students.

His excitement for the USC environment is palpable. “I am going to be in a situation with really the top professionals. They are sophisticated, but they’re so good they can afford to be relaxed.  It seems like everyone is interested in being inspired,” he says. Adding to his anticipation, the school’s director, Jodie Gates, is an old friend.

“It’s starting out part-time because I still have a lot of commitments that won’t change until 2017,” Forsythe says. That includes closing his Forsythe Company, based in Frankfurt, Germany, in June 2015. “The whole idea for me is to develop a new community. I have a community in Europe, and I realize the university is really a micro-community: diverse people, all different kinds of practices, and professions. It’s totally interesting for me.”

The Choreographic Institute is set to open in 2017 and Forsythe is particularly eager about its possibilities.  “I’m really curious about the students,” he says. “It’s like acquiring a company, in a certain sense. You’ve gotta build them up.”

As for his impressions of Los Angeles, a city he has only passed through on company tours, Forsythe says: “It’s a lot like Tokyo. I like the sprawl. I like the borderlessness of things. In Europe you tend to have things confined. I like enabling stuff that normally couldn’t happen. If I can enable something to be, that would encourage people to think of L.A. as a vibrant dance community. There’s got to be an alternative to New York.”

“You can make it happen everywhere. This myth of the center is so over. Where’s dance? It’s everywhere. It’s in people’s bedrooms. Half the shit I choreographed, I choreographed in my kitchen. That’s where it gets done. It doesn’t happen in some inspirational, cultural mecca. Work gets done everywhere.” 

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