Twenty-first century ballet arrived thirteen years early.
In 1987 an American choreographer working in Europe turned ballet on its head. William Forsythe’s In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated, created for the Paris Opera Ballet and with music by Thom Willems, challenged the company’s classical dancers to move in ways they never had.
As writer Zachary Whittenburg explains, “In less than half an hour, In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated decoupled the spatial-geometric tenets of ballet — that the relationships between limbs make certain positions of the body appear ‘classical’ in nature, or not — from the established list of steps with French names in ballet’s centuries-old syllabus. Where five degrees of torsion, or épaulement, once gave a basic classroom shape some cosmopolitan élan, Forsythe pushed those tensions to their theoretical and physical breaking points.” The ballet set a new standard, making classical dance more athletic and sexier than it ever had been.
A regular contributor to Dance Magazine, Zachary Whittenburg is Communications and Engagement Director with at Arts Alliance Chicago. He is a member of the executive committee for the Chicago Dance History Project, serves on the artistic advisory council for High Concept Laboratories, ad tweets @trailerpilot about contemporary culture and the performing arts.