Artifact Suite, a condensed, pure-dance version of William Forsythe’s full-length ballet, “Artifact” was first presented on 15 September 2004 by the Scottish Ballet. Taken from three sections—parts 1, 2 and 3—of the original 1984 ballet, the work has subsequently taken on a life of its own as an abstract work that distills the protocols and principles of classical ballet into a mesmerizing theatrical event.
It opens with a glorious double pas de deux, framed by 30 corps de ballet dancers, set to the Chaconne from Bach’s “Partita No. 2 for solo violin in D minor.” Surging unexpectedly from the symmetrical sleek-bodied rows of dancers lining the sides and back of the stage, two couples perform simultaneous dances of breathtaking beauty, full of off-balance extensions and unexpected shifts of weight. These dramatic pas de deux gloriously elaborate and extend ballet’s formal positions and planes; but these traditions—and our expectations—are abruptly subverted as the curtain crashes down heavily in mid-sequence, only to rise again upon a renewed vision of loveliness.
The second section of “Artifact Suite” is set to a piano score by Eva Crossman-Hecht, and its repetitive, urgent lines of sound underscore the image of the corps de ballet as a complex, almost martial machine, with ballet as its precision tool. It offers a demonstration of spectacle and tradition—the visual power of a uniform ensemble, principal dancers, powerfully moving music, a proscenium frame— even as it questions and changes their usage, and our ideas of what ballet can be.