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A Q&A with choreographer William Forsythe

Esteemed dance leader sees "incredible opportunities" for collaboration at USC

Allison Engelby Allison Engel
William Forsythe
William Forsythe will join the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance as professor in 2015. (Photo/© Stephan Floss)

Choreographer William Forsythe will join the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance as a professor in fall 2015. He’ll work with students from freshman through graduate levels. In coming years, the school plans to establish the Choreographic Institute, with Forsythe as its artistic adviser.

USC News asked Forsythe about his work, teaching and plans for the Choreographic Institute.

What appeals to you about USC Kaufman and USC?

USC is a research university, and that probably means there are many people, like myself, who are interested in processes. I’m very excited at the prospect of teaching components of choreographic process — I really enjoy the challenge of illuminating the fundamentals of motion and aesthetic analysis.

I’m impressed by the flexibility of the people at the university. Vice Dean and Kaufman School Director Jodie Gates and Thornton School Dean Rob Cutietta are both exceptional, and it’s a very open environment.

USC offers incredible opportunities for cross-disciplinary collaboration. Here, you could do a conference with virtually anyone — the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, the Department of Sociology or the USC Marshall School of Business — chiming in about advancing American dance.

Do you see USC Kaufman making a larger impact on dance in Los Angeles?

The potential is significant. There is a push in Los Angeles to make the dance community more interesting, all the time, and in any capacity. In other very established artistic communities like Paris or London, there are a few important individuals, but you don’t have the same kind of community drive.

In your experience, what kinds of students are most suited for success in the field?

I’ve worked with students throughout my career, and the most important thing is a desire to dance. Some students would like you to provide them with a vision, and that in my experience, often doesn’t work. If the student comes in with a vision and a desire, a nascent idea of who they think the professional they want to become is, then there is a person to work with.

Can you describe your teaching philosophy?

Dance training needs to be choreographic because I can’t imagine any choreographer today not working in some collaborative sense. Dancers are asked to be part of the creative process. They need to learn how to think choreographically about their dancing.

I find tandem teaching very effective. When there are two people in the room, one sees things that the other doesn’t. Students get more quality attention that way, and in my experience they work harder in that kind of situation, because they realize they are going to be noticed.

One wants to give students everything one knows about one’s art, so one must go to the limit of one’s knowledge at every instance of one’s interactions. This is the substance of the daily process in choreographic practice. We should help them develop a habit of reflective articulation, as a way of being in the world, a way to offer what is meaningful to oneself.

Can you describe your work in the field of dance?

I’ve done vastly different kinds of work, from neo-classical dance, contemporary dance to highly theatrical work. At my company, I have an open-door policy. Students are welcome to come in and work with us, learn steps, and I usually stay afterward to work with them. So mentorship is already a part of what I do. This appointment is just a little bit more formalized.

What are your plans for the Choreographic Institute?

The Choreographic Institute should act as something that synthesizes the potential for interaction between choreographic thinking and other sciences. I want to create projects that interlink. Rather than working on 10 separate projects, I’d rather work on one project with 10 aspects. That involves working with top professionals from all over the world and those at USC, dispelling mysteries and getting everyone to think differently.

I want to address the needs of the school as a whole. I don’t want to have my own agenda. I like the idea of making a great department, a great school — it’s a creative project. The institute will be created in tandem with the evolution of the school.

You’ve spent considerable time working in Europe. What of European dance practice do you see influencing your goals for the Choreographic Institute?

It seems as if in Europe, there is an unspoken, intuitive mandate to examine a received notion of what the practice of dance truly is, and investigate if it could not be otherwise. There is a quote by René Magritte that states: “An object is not so attached to its name that we could not find another one that would suit it better.” I feel the same way about the practice of dance: Is choreography really bound to the historical notions of its own practices? Could it not be otherwise?

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