(American, born Italy, 1935)
Simone Forti began her career as a dancer in the mid-1950s when both she and Yvonne Rainer started taking classes in San Francisco with dancer and choreographer Anna Halprin. Forti’s teacher and mentor was embarking on the exploration of a new form of contemporary dance that rejected the structured choreography of modern dance in favor of improvisation and everyday movements. Taking Halprin’s revolutionary technique as her touchstone, Forti relocated to New York in the early 1960s. There she developed her own approach, rooted in improvisation and natural movements, which has influenced her contemporaries and generations of younger artists.
In New York, Forti was working alongside and had close friendships with the choreographers who founded the groundbreaking artist collaborative known as the Judson Dance Theater, among them Rainer and sculptor Robert Morris. At Yoko Ono’s loft in 1960, she debuted her Dance Constructions, so called, as she has explained, because they are “dance[s] but [they] also can be seen as sculpture[s] made of people.”1 Improvisation and chance shape the individual works that together comprise the Dance Constructions, which are characterized by understated, shifting movements, sounds, and formations. Among them are Accompaniment for La Monte’s “2 sounds” and La Monte’s “2 sounds”, Platforms, and Huddle.
Sound is a central element in Accompaniment for La Monte’s “2 sounds” and La Monte’s “2 sounds” and Platforms. Minimalist composer La Monte Young’s discordant recording, “2 sounds,” serves as the soundtrack for Forti’s “2 sounds” dance construction. To the loud, scraping tones of Young’s recording, one performer approaches a second performer, who stands in a looped rope suspended from the ceiling. The first performer turns the second one around in the rope. When it is tightly wound, the first performer releases the rope, sending the second performer twirling as he or she rides out its untwisting. For Platforms, the performers themselves provide the soundtrack. This piece features two plain wooden boxes, each propped up on one side by a wedge. One performer lies beneath each box, whistling, as if to communicate with the other.
Huddle, a piece performed in silence, involves six to nine performers interlocking their bodies in a huddle. Taking turns, the performers disentangle themselves one at a time and climb over the others, until reaching solid ground and re-joining the huddle. As each performer breaks away, the others react, coming together to close the resulting gap and re-form the huddle so that it can support the climbing performer. Describing her motivations behind the choreography for this morphing live sculpture, Forti has said: “I wanted to see something where you could watch people moving in a way that wasn’t stylized, that you could just see what it was like to have somebody climb, and to have people support that climbing, and to watch people in action doing something kind of unusual.”2
To represent in or make conform to a particular style, especially when highly conventionalized or artistic rather than naturalistic.
The act of improvising, that is, to make, compose, or perform on the spur of the moment and with little or no preparation.
The art of creating and arranging dances or ballets; a work created by this art. A person who creates choreography is called a choreographer.
A three-dimensional work of art made by a variety of means, including carving wood, chiseling stone, casting or welding metal, molding clay or wax, or assembling materials.
Cotton or linen woven cloth used as a surface for painting.
The method with which an artist, writer, performer, athlete, or other producer employs technical skills or materials to achieve a finished product or endeavor.
Modern can mean related to current times, but it can also indicate a relationship to a particular set of ideas that, at the time of their development, were new or even experimental.
An artistic movement of the 1960s in which artists produced pared-down three-dimensional objects devoid of representational content. Their new vocabulary of simplified, geometric forms made from humble industrial materials challenged traditional notions of craftsmanship, the illusion of spatial depth in painting, and the idea that a work of art must be one of a kind.
An artistic movement made up of American artists in the 1940s and 1950s, also known as the New York School, or more narrowly, action painting. Abstract Expressionism is usually characterized by large abstract painted canvases, although the movement also includes sculpture and other media.
A term coined by art critic Harold Rosenberg in 1952 to describe the work of artists who painted with gestures that involved more than just the traditional use of the fingers and wrist to paint, including also the arm, shoulder, and even legs. In many of these paintings the movement that went into their making remains visible.
Experimentation in Painting, Then Dance
After moving to San Francisco to paint, Forti began taking dance classes casually and met Anna Halprin, a pioneer of contemporary dance. Halprin’s experimentation with improvisation resonated with Forti. She decided to put aside her brushes and canvases and focus on dance. Forti explained: “I really liked the improvisation. I had been making these enormous abstract expressionist action paintings, and I didn’t know what to do with them. I realized that with Anna [Halprin] I could make the same movements without having to deal with canvases that were left over.”3
Giving the Self to the Whole
In January 2016, Athena Christa Holbrook, collection specialist in MoMA’s department of media and performance art, traveled to the Netherlands to gain a deeper understanding of Forti’s Dance Constructions. Her research involved both observation and participation. “With all of the Dance Constructions, a huge part of it is trust,” Holbrook relates. Speaking of Huddle, she describes: “When you’re learning the piece, at first it feels a little bit awkward, because we’re not used to being that close to another person. So as you’re learning it, you’re becoming comfortable not only with trying to support the weight of the other performers…but also with being that close to the people around you and forming a unit that is so interconnected that it really becomes about the group rather than the individual.”4
While her emphasis on improvisation and chance has remained steady, Forti’s work has evolved over the course of her career. She is particularly influenced by news and current events, and characterizes the trio of elements underpinning her later choreography as “body-mind-world.” As she elaborates: “You are not just body and mind, you are in the world, and I think it’s important to acknowledge all the voices that come to us through the media, to interpret the information, to try to understand how the information is formed and how we can relate to what is happening, how we get our impressions.”5