Tony Rizzi: "Why Wait?" - © Maciej Rusinek

Tony Rizzi: "Why Wait?" - © Maciej Rusinek

Tony Rizzi: "Why Wait?" - © Maciej Rusinek

Tony Rizzi: "Why Wait?" - © Maciej Rusinek

Magazin #9: A Late Summary

Why Wait? by Tony Rizzi, a dance performance about 20 years of dance art revolution at Ballet Frankfurt

by Eva-Elisabeth Fischer

What do you see when at that moment the dancer Tony Rizzi is not dancing or is otherwise moving like a dervish? Correct: his dazzling smile as the pars pro toto of his nature. While you are still happy about the warm welcome, you are already being carried away by a tsunami of words. Because Rizzi is unstoppably communicative. In other words, where he stands right now, what he's doing right now and what he's experiencing – and that's always a lot – as a person, as a dancer, as a choreographer, as a videographer and photographer. And he talks a lot with his hands – or rather with his whole body. You think the man is always in a good mood (which, naturally, isn't true, since for a few seconds you've experienced him quite differently). In this respect, he doesn't become older or even grows up, although there have been times during his by now 58-year-old life when it wasn't certain whether he would actually become so old or even older.

With a blunt implicitness, with an irresistible attack, he publicly deals with his medication-controlled illness and lives out his sexuality as well. And that's exactly how he goes about his artistic work – with temperament, wit, and inevitable daredevilry: very directly, even promiscuously, come hell or high water. His most recent oeuvre: A stage performance entitled Why Wait?, a belated burlesque obituary for the Ballet Frankfurt 20 years later, which, God forbid!, should by no means be an obituary for its guiding spirit and manager William Forsythe. That is the reason why Rizzi asked himself: Why wait? If not now, then when? The six performers include three former Forsythe dancers: Alan Barnes, Irene Klein, and Tony Rizzi himself.

In Why Wait? video and live performance overlap and you want to laugh and cry at the same time. It is this ludicrous group dance, the ingeniously silly satire of a folk dance from the Israeli folk song Hava Nagila, called Bongo, bongo nageela in the work, that not only closes Bill Forsythe's evening-length piece Impressing the Czar. Tony Rizzi chose this ingeniously silly number, performed as a round dance performed by the whole company in pleated skirts and blond bob wigs, for his humorous but also wistful film remembrance, and by doing so evokes ambivalent feelings: extreme euphoria about the unimagined possibilities of ballet, and sadness about an irretrievable loss.

Tony Rizzi, himself a resident of Frankfurt by choice, created this piece about William Forsythe and the Ballett Frankfurt with his loose group based in Frankfurt, which, even if you only know him a little, is certainly not called The Bad Habits by accident. He himself joined the Frankfurt Ballet in 1985 when he was 20, a boneless rubber man with outrageous acting talent. And he stayed with the company until it dissolved in 2004. During these years, Rizzi created an archive of photographs and videos that is second to none. And so, he has all of the material at hand, overlapping in his stage performance Why Wait? original recordings of various dance scenes, which the aforementioned former Forsythe dancers cannot remember in their entirety; the excerpts, however, are recreated and danced in a live performance as well as possible: memory as a process.

Bill Forsythe is now 74 years old and lives in Vermont. The Italian-American Anthony Rizzi from West Newton, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston, is 58 years old; he was a dancer and Forsythe's assistant and later on his artistic advisor. Forsythe and Rizzi are in contact with one another, and they share almost 20 years of a glorious past together. And they have a similarly bizarre, screwed-up sense of humor.

In 2004, Bill Forsythe destroyed what he had built up from 1984 onwards through a tremendous amount of work und effort, by using his mind and body, his immense knowledge of dance, and his ability to lead to international renown a group of young, curious, and incredibly talented dancers as a ballet company that was finally no longer hierarchically structured thanks to his brilliant oeuvres. Incidentally, diversity and equality were lived and practiced as a matter of course at Ballett Frankfurt – a ballet of difference, which incidentally also included Richard Siegal, who added the diversity to the title of his own company.

What Forsythe and Rizzi also have in common is that one could say both of them have a certain anarchic potential. In any case, Forsythe's rehearsals were, if memory serves me correctly, therefore by no means chaotic. In fact, in the ballet hall one learned to understand what constituted the suspense of his choreographies and the quality of his work. For example, there was a morning when the group, as was so often the case, was asked to improvise. With expansive, pointed movements, Stephen Galloway began a breathtakingly rotating variation. Bill Forsythe, who wants his people to think and create at all times and not act like puppets, likes what Galloway was doing and he wants to see all of it again. But "without the big swing." The conclusions from this not insignificant side note: the grand gesture; showtime is sometimes good, but not always; lunacy is desired; but on the other hand, physical exertion to the point of excess is necessary.

Tony Rizzi demonstrates in his associative stage excursion Why Wait? the typical Forsythe quality of movement itself as a kind of pictorial side note: He rounds out his arms in a port de bras a little less roundly, instead it is more tense and at the same time less agravic than in classical ballet. Wrong! For the dynamics of a (in itself moving) Forsythe pose, the stretching is greater, and the tension is at a maximum, without it looking tense. Bill Forsythe had a precise vision of every detail of movement as the foundation for the addictive Forsythe drive, the syncopated flow of his contemporary neoclassical extrapolation. George Balanchine beckoned from beyond the grave as one who with the neoclassic chapter added a crucial chapter to the history of ballet. Forsythe added his brand-new chapter, Mr. B. wrote an update. Since then, nothing essential and certainly nothing innovative has been added to this chapter in ballet.

And the alleged chaos on the rehearsal stage? There was chaos on the night of the premiere. For now, on a fixed, immovable date in a municipal theater's season, such as it was in opera and theater in Frankfurt, something that was only supposedly finished had to be performed in front of an audience. Often the curtain was raised for a staged event that was being rehearsed up to the last second, a staged event that actually was quite unfinished and with Forsythe conducting in the wings by giving instructions to the performers; the instructions were often inadvertently heard in the auditorium.

One time, on the spur of the moment he succeeded in doing something brilliant, like Artifact, and then again there was an incomprehensible, coarse, rustic piece of buffoonery, such as Robert Scott, a piece about the polar explorer's failure, which Forsythe had reworked already by the second performance into a heartrending elegy accompanied by a brand-new soundscape, which, as always, the composer Thom Willems conjured up overnight. No, none of these episodes indelibly engraved in one's memory are among the videos juxtaposed with live dance scenes from Forsythe's choreography in Tony Rizzi's Why Wait? Created for Tanzplattform Rhein-Main 2021, in other words, during the Corona period smugly commented on by Rizzi, here Rizzi not only wanted to retrospectively document what he himself contributed as one of the style-defining dancers with often enough disturbing kamikaze dance actions.

So Why Wait? Rizzi wondered. Waiting with a late, but by no means nostalgic summary of two decades of ballet extrapolation with other means, or better, a breathtaking dance art revolution during the years between 1984 and 2004 in Frankfurt am Main. It's like this: William Forsythe – himself creatively on the brink – destroyed his work, the Ballett Frankfurt. He no longer wanted to continue working with a large company of 36 dancers, but rather with a small group, which from then on was known as the Forsythe Company and commuted between Frankfurt and Dresden-Hellerau. The city's austerity measures, which to this day have resulted in the dissolution of the ballet division, were not an inconvenience for him.

The rest is legend. And not just revived as an associative performance, but documented by Tony Rizzi in black-and-white photographs that will be exhibited at DANCE. The dancers in the photographs appear to be in motion and are clear and detailed. Most likely only a dancer can succeed in identifying the right moment and pressing the shutter release. Rizzi, dancing along in his mind's eye, can do this. And how!

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