Review: William Forsythe’s 'Artifact 2017' performed by Boston Ballet

Angelica Potter

OnStage Massachusetts Critic

William Forsythe’s Artifact 2017, a ballet in four parts, is a revamped version of the original production that world premiered in Germany in 1984 as danced by Ballet Frankfurt. Part III is completely new.  Part IV was redeveloped by Forsythe as he worked with the Boston Ballet company dancers. Subsequently, this gives Boston Ballet audiences the first look at this unique and stunning work. 

The production is set against a simple, black backdrop and no wings on the sides of the stage, allowing for a vast, open space for the dancers to use. In the second half, white flats with simple graphics painted in clean, black lines are placed across the rear of the stage. Forsythe not only created the choreography for this four-part ballet, but also the set, lighting, and costume designs, in addition to the music for part III and the text spoken throughout by the “Woman in Historical Dress” and the “Man with Megaphone”. The technical aspects of the show were kept simple, which truly showcased the stunning dancers and complex choreography.

The “Woman in Gray”, Caralin Curcio, started the show slowly walking diagonally across the stage gracefully moving her arms as she walked. The house lights remained on as the chatter of the audience gradually decreased while they focused their eyes towards the stage. The
“Woman in Historical Dress”, guest artist Dana Caspersen, glided onto the stage as the “Woman in Gray” exited and as she started her opening monologue the house lights dimmed. Once she arrived at upstage center she clapped her hands together and two chandeliers lit up over the audience. The “Man with Megaphone”, guest artist Nicholas Champion, made his way through a space in the black backdrop and began to talk to the audience using his megaphone. His words were at times muddled by the megaphone or eaten up by the theatre space itself; many in the audience seemed to have difficulty understanding what he said during the performance. 

Fascinatingly, the “Woman in Gray” improvised her dancing. Her movement was often angular and very precise. It matched the music so well that the audience would have no idea it wasn’t set choreography while watching her. This makes each performance unique because multiple times during the show the ensemble dancers must mirror her movement without knowing what she’ll do. Even though they were completely in the moment following along, their movements were wonderfully in unison. The pas du deux sections danced by Kathleen Breen Combes with Eris Nezha and Misa Kuranaga with Patrick Yocum were exceptional and each pair danced together beautifully.   

The ensembles’ dancing was crisp and clean with majestic lines. The males were sharp and powerful while the females gracefully melted from one motion to the next. Many of their sequences were done in a ripple effect with each person or group starting a count or two after another. It made even some of their simpler, positional dancing that much more interesting and captivating to watch. When they were in unison it was absolutely mesmerizing. While some of their movement was very staccato, others were smooth and fluid. The sections of back and forth clapping were really well done. The male dancers had a few connected line sequences that were exquisitely executed. At one point, as the male dancers were walking around the stage, most led with their heels making quick, purposeful steps, however, I noticed a few of them leading with the ball of their foot and rolling through their foot as they walked, causing them walk more gracefully than the others. 

During part II, the audience was jarred by the curtain that would quickly drop to the floor while the music continued to play. When it ascended moments later, the lighting would be different and the dancers would be in different positions. This happened multiple times and while it worked creatively, it seemed to confuse much of the audience. Part III opened with the male company on one side, the female company on the other and the “Woman in Historical Dress” and the “Man with Megaphone” sitting in between them. What transpired next was incredibly fast and ever changing. She quickly spoke to him and the company members interjected with tapping of their feet, clapping of their hands, slapping of their knees, and vocalizations of their own. Both groups kept their own tempo and clashed with the other, but remarkably the contrasting rhythms blended nicely. This went on for a while, but because it kept changing in some way, it continued to enthrall the audience. Joining together, with staggered counting and moving through ballet positions, they transformed from two separate clashing groups to one magnificent dancing ensemble. It was impeccably done. Moments later, the bickering of the man and woman as they walked through the dancing company amused the audience; though it was a bit difficult to hear them both. 
William Forsythe’s masterful choreography is so detailed and intricate it’s stunning to watch. I couldn’t take my eyes off the stage. He perfectly mixes classical ballet technique with fresh, bold and innovative choreography that push the boundaries of what people think ballet is or should be. 

Artifact 2017 is an incredibly creative and complex ballet. While I encourage readers to attend, it is not a story ballet so having a previous knowledge or love of dance will certainly help audience members more fully appreciate the production. This riveting ballet is unlike any I have seen before. It was truly an amazing two hour experience that flew by far too quickly. ©

Artifact 2017 performs at the Boston Opera House (539 Washington St, Boston, MA) through March 5th. Tickets and more information can be found at or by calling the Box Office at 617-695-6955.

Photo: Reina Sawai & Nicholas Champion in Artifact 2017. Photo credit Rosalie O'Connor

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