William Forsythe, known for his innovative choreography that helped lead contemporary ballet into the twenty-first century, brought his piece, I don’t believe in outer space (2008), to BAM this week, where it’s being performed through Saturday night.
I don’t believe in outer space is a response to growing older. Forsythe, now in his early sixties, used this piece as a vehicle to explore the randomness and fragility of being alive. But this does not mean that his work is purely serious—in fact, it has plenty of quirk and humor to match weightier musings on existence.
One interesting quirk is the actual set. Dance companies tour with at least one layer of flooring that technicians tape down and remove when the dancers travel to the next venue. The black tape is usually discarded; however, for this piece, Forsythe balls up the tape and saves it for the next performance’s set.
Balls of tape are strewn around the stage. Their materiality changes throughout the performance depending on how dancers interact with the space. The clumps of tape are childish balls that the dancers kick around, or meteorites surrounding a lonely solo, or even tumor-like bulges under a dancer’s costume. They take on weight when the score gives them sound and lightness in silence.
The score provides a transformative background as well, lacing contemporary classical sounds with pop culture references. Dancers frequently speak, laugh, or sing, often in different languages, creating both an aura of mysticism and chattery chaos. The piece warps several pop songs into speech, most notably Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.” Words from this song emerge at unexpected and hilarious times.
Language gives structure to the movement’s randomness. The words, “As if by chance” resonate throughout the piece, first introduced when company member Dana Caspersen repeats them in different scenarios, describing the creation and movement of matter—“As if by chance things falling. As if by chance the idea of things falling.”
The dancers act out her narration. They spiral; they fall; they enter and exit the stage. Different dancers step forward and mouth Caspersen’s words while making elaborate gestures like odd academic lecturers.
Even when this scene ends, the words endure, their implication present without being spoken. As if by chance, the stage fills and empties, and the dance takes on unpredictable textures—humorous, dark, light, and strange—the movement defies classification.
I don’t believe in outer space concludes when Caspersen’s voice returns and dictates that there will be “No more.” Her words trace general absences to intricacies. “No more tree roots, no more tripping over tree roots.” And later, “No more blue. No more beautiful blue dress that you wore to a party when you were 15. No more 15.”
She then looks to a dancer sitting on the ground. The dancer smiles. Caspersen touches her smile and it transfers to her own lips. “No more of this,” she says. The dancer bends her leg, and Caspersen bends her leg in imitation. “And that. No more of that.”
Caspersen stands and the lights begin to fade. She steps backward into the dark as she repeats a verse from “I Will Survive” one last time. Her final words—“that sad look upon your face”—slide into absence, as all signs of life on stage disappear.