How Forsythe Started a rEVOLUTION

an editorial about legendary choreographer William Forsythe's game-changing ballet, "In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated," written for Boston Ballet's behind-the-scenes blog

Lasha Khozashvili and Viktorina Kapitonova
Photo credit: Rachel Neville Photography

Dive into the historical significance of William Forsythe’s electrifying global sensation In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated.​​​​​​​

William Forsythe in rehearsal with Principal Dancer Lia Cirio
Photo credit: Liza Voll

William Forsythe with Boston Ballet dancers in rehearsal
Photo credit: Liza Voll

Where It All Began
Known as “the work that changed ballet forever” (The Guardian), In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated put choreographer William Forsythe on the map.

By the 1980s, Forsythe had already established his influential presence in the industry as Resident Choreographer of Stuttgart Ballet and Director of the Ballet Frankfurt. However, it was the world premiere of In the Middle in 1987 that garnered him the international recognition that ignited his now legendary career.

Created for the Paris Opera Ballet, In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated features nine dancers (six women and three men) and an electronic score by Forsythe's longtime collaborator, Thom Willems. Forsythe describes the piece as “a theme and variations in the strictest sense,” meaning the piece begins with a central combination of choreography that is developed and repeated in altered forms.

The work’s title refers to the minimalist design of the performance space. The simple, black stage is inexplicably accented by two golden cherries that are suspended “in the middle, somewhat elevated.”
"The work that changed ballet forever."
- The Guardian

Lasha Khozashvili and Viktorina Kapitonova
Photo credit: Brooke Trisolini

A New Era for Ballet
In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated received immediate and immense critical acclaim. According to The New York Times, “a new era for ballet had begun.” So what contributed to the piece’s monumental distinction as a turning point in ballet history?

Ultimately, it was the bold and brilliant combination of classical ballet and modern dance. Dance is an ever-changing art form, and Forsythe was celebrated for his uncanny ability to honor classical ballet while creatively deviating from it. This innovative style became one of Forsythe’s trademarks.

Throughout the piece, Forsythe strays from tradition through shocking physical movements with striking angles and extreme flexes of the dancers’ bodies. Yet, the piece remains rooted in a classical domain through its demanding technique and athleticism.

Three decades after the premiere of In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated, Forsythe is recognized as “one of the most visionary and influential choreographers on the planet” (The Boston Globe).

“Bill Forsythe took the ballet world by storm with In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated,” said Artistic Director Mikko Nissinen. “It established his legendary partnership with Thom Willems and has been performed widely by all major companies in the world.”

Nissinen regards Forsythe as “a profound American voice” (The New York Times), and Forsythe’s enriching impact on ballet continues to blossom through his ongoing partnership with Boston Ballet.
The Return of a Masterpiece
This spring, Boston Ballet returns to the masterpiece that launched Forsythe’s illustrious career and forever transformed the landscape of ballet.

rEVOLUTION highlights the modern pioneers of dance who boldly shaped the art form into what it is today. Given its remarkable significance, In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated proves to be a fitting and worthwhile part of such a dynamic showcase. The program also includes the trailblazing works of George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins.

Boston Ballet’s premiere of In the Middle in 2002 was the first Forsythe piece performed by the Company shortly after Nissinen was appointed artistic director. Having been 15 years since Boston Ballet last performed the work in 2005, Nissinen said, “I am very much looking forward to seeing Boston Ballet’s current roster in this masterpiece. After last year’s record-breaking Full on Forsythe program, I am excited to share this piece with our growing audience of Forsythe fans.”

rEVOLUTION emphasizes the Company’s dedication to fostering the development of cutting-edge ballet while preserving its legacy, and In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated is a true embodiment of this mission.

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