Interview with Choreographic Assistants for Forsythe’s Pas/Parts: Jill Johnson and Christopher Roman


How would you describe Forsythe’s work style and creative process? 

Christopher: Working for Bill [Forsythe] is like working in a laboratory. He’s always revealing new things, screwing up, starting over, converting and revamping, trying and inventing new things. Bill assembles his work in pockets and layers and arranges them in a specific and special way that nobody else can.

Jill: He is not confined to one style. He is consistently influenced by the moment. Like the saying goes, “reduce, reuse, and recycle.” The process informs what we are doing. It’s always evolving. For Bill, dance is not a finished product that can be confined to a museum. It’s living, breathing, and changing.

Christopher: He defies categorization. He’s constantly using the world for inspiration.

Yuan Yuan Tan, Wei Wang and Christopher Roman rehearse Forsythe's Pas/Parts. (© Erik Tomasson)

Yuan Yuan Tan, Wei Wang and Christopher Roman rehearse Forsythe’s Pas/Parts. (© Erik Tomasson)

Jill: People think of him in a contemporary light, but he’s really an expert in the classical form. He really understands classical ballet, so he can use it all to inform his work. He is able to find a way to bridge all these forms of movement and expression. The dancers are like researchers in Bill’s laboratory. They need help to see how things work for them. Bill will feed off whoever he has in front of him. There’s never a finished product.

Christopher: He is process-oriented, not finished product-oriented. Every step has meaning and importance. Bill has the ability to harness the dancers’ unique expression. A work that has no narrative, like Pas/Parts, is not without meaning. So he empowers the dancers to utilize their talents not just as dancers, but as humans.

Jill: There’s a freedom and permission to share new ideas towards a common goal that is constantly changing. His big concept is “it starts at any point.” He can take inspiration from anything, any one moment, or step, or thing, with the intention that no idea should be wasted. Including what the dancers put forth.

William Forsythe, Maria Kochetkova and Francisco Mungamba rehearse Forsythe's Pas/Parts. (© Erik Tomasson)

William Forsythe, Maria Kochetkova, and Francisco Mungamba rehearse Forsythe’s Pas/Parts. (© Erik Tomasson)

Pas/Parts was created on the Paris Opéra Ballet in 1999, and is being given its North American premiere by SF Ballet this season. How will the product seen here compare to the original? 

Christopher: The version of Pas/Parts that will premiere here in San Francisco has the same spirit as the original, although it will have been greatly renovated. Just as the original, Pas/Parts gives the dancers agency to create something meaningful. By the virtue of time passing, 16 years in this case, the work is influenced by that time. When Bill works with the dancers, he will inform them. They’ll dig into the work and find new things. And San Francisco will get to see what that is!

Jill: The dancers are invited to make decisions. They’ll make decisions that inform what goes on stage. Bill often has a powerful effect on dancers, and sometimes we won’t even recognize a dancer after they’ve worked with him.

Lorena Feijoo and Pascal Molat rehearsing Artifact Suite with William Forsythe. (© Erik Tomasson)

Lorena Feijoo and Pascal Molat rehearsing Artifact Suite with William Forsythe. (© Erik Tomasson)

What has it been like for you to work with the SF Ballet dancers?

Jill: It goes without saying these dancers are extraordinarily talented. They are generous, fast, and have good eyes. They’re willing and open.

Christopher: They’re super musical and incredibly willing to interpret the music and soundscape.

What can the audience expect of Pas/Parts? Anything specific to be aware of or look for?

Christopher: There is no expectation of what to “get” with Pas/Parts. The audience is not expected to take it all in all the time. Like a Jackson Pollock painting, there can be so many perceptions. You make it what it is. It is subject to interpretation. There are five brand new sections to what the San Francisco audience will see. It’s like a new ballet in many ways. It’s almost like San Francisco is getting a world premiere.

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