As a soloist with William Forsythe’s Ballet Frankfurt and later as his assistant, Elizabeth Corbett got to experience firsthand the groundbreaking choreographer’s influence on contemporary ballet. “I find it fascinating and never-ending,” she says of his work. “It was a repertory that was constantly changing over time and still is.” Now on faculty with the American Dance Festival, Corbett brings Forsythe’s repertory and processes to the dancers in class every summer.
To start, Corbett centers her students through a series of breathing exercises and yoga stretches. Then, as she takes the class through a barre of pliés, dégagés, tendus and ronds de jambe, Corbett challenges them by throwing in a change of facing or movement away from the barre. “We’ll explore what happens when we let go of the barre—how we find the support from within,” she says. Like Forsythe, Corbett creates many opportunities for dancers to make choices throughout class and conduct peer-to-peer feedback. “What happens when we change directions?” she says. “What happens if two of us look at each other instead of everyone standing with their left hand on the barre?”
Although she uses a traditional ballet-class structure as the framework for her class, Corbett teaches fewer exercises and takes more time with each one to allow students to fully investigate all the movement possibilities. “We take time to ask questions about how we get into this and how we get out of that. It’s a deeper exploration,” she says. “We are taking what we would do with classical ballet, and we are twisting it and turning it inside out and upside down.”