An innovator and specialist in dance improvisation, and creator of a surprisingly varied and groundbreaking body of work, comprising performance art, drawing, film, photography, installation art, and writing, Simone Forti has won the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at Biennale Danza 2023 following the recommendation of Wayne McGregor, director of the Biennale’s Dance Department. “Forti’s art has often combined elements of movement, sound, and objects into new and surprising hybrid articulations – work that has been as seminally influential in the development of post-modern dance as it has been revelatory to minimalism,” McGregor commented.
The Silver Lion went to the TAO Dance Theater, a company founded in 2008 in Beijing that soon afterwards was performing at major international festivals and theatres.
Simone Forti was born in Florence in 1935 but left Italy for the United States just three years later due to the race laws. She still lives and works in Los Angeles, where she has developed a new mode of expression, free from conventions and mainly focused on improvisation. “Self-defining as artist or movement artist, rather than being bound to the conventions and orthodoxies of ‘choreographer,’ Forti has moved freely and seamlessly between creative worlds, wildly mixing disciplines and in doing so, championing the primacy of body, or rather ‘thinking with the body,’ as a force for experimentation, play, and (re)invention,” continued McGregor.
She took her first steps in dance in the second half of the 1950s, when she took part in Anna Halprin’s Dancers’ Workshop in San Francisco. She later worked with Robert Dunn, who introduced her to the work of John Cage at the Merce Cunningham studio in New York. (Cunningham also won a Golden Lion Award for Lifetime Achievement in 1995.) It was also here that in 1960 she debuted as a choreographer of two dances in the form of happenings (See-Saw and Rollers). This was followed in 1961 by Five Dance Constructions and Some Other Things, during an evening in Yoko Ono’s loft. This performance combined movement and structures for the first time, using everyday actions such as running, climbing, and standing in ropes. After a few years in Europe, in the ’80s and ’90s Forti developed an improvisation practice based on the relationship between words and movement (now known as logo-motion) and News Animations, which involves speech and movement on political issues. Forti is a complete artist who has not only worked in dance but has also been involved in drawing, film and video, photography, and installation art, as well as writing. And her works have been displayed at major museums around the world. A retrospective of the Italo-American artist is taking place until April 2 at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.
“Her nature-based improvisatory dance techniques, first transmitted by Anna Halprin, are taught to eager students desperate to connect to their own essential dance power, a power that recognizably sits at the heart of Forti’s daring dancing,” continued McGregor. “The conceptual strength of Forti’s 60-year trajectory, its rigor of idea and simplicity of execution, its sly wit, and its unending curiosity all cement Forti’s legacy as a true arts genius, constantly surprising the imagination and invigorating us, the public, to see again, to reach back into the (Forti) past and move forward into the (Forti) future. A legacy unrivaled, and how grateful we are.”
Established in 2008 in Beijing, TAO Dance Theater is still led by two of its founders, Tao Ye and Duan Ni. The first Chinese contemporary dance company invited to the Lincoln Center Art Festival in New York, this year it will be at the Biennale Danza 2023 on July 28th and 29th with three new works in their European premiere performance at the Teatro Malibran, three choreographic works that continue the sequence of the Numerical Series that launched them on the international scene, titled 11, 13, 14.
“Forsaking narrative, message, and elaborate stage design in their work,” writes Wayne McGregor, “Tao Ye and Duan Ni have built a unique and evolutionary dance genre that has enraptured with a mesmeric, minimalist force. Their company, TAO Dance Theater, founded in 2008, has committed to a stripped-back, ‘pure dance’ aesthetic, eliminating any categorization of movement and, by extension, of themselves. The body is presented as an element to be perceived for its optical allure – devoid of representation, narrative, or context, simply existing as an object alone. This is only ever amplified by the use of light and sound design, allowing viewers to be confronted and often challenged by the rigorous body focused techniques, vocabulary, and forms.
“TAO Dance Theater is therefore a company with a vision, mission, and purpose. Like the great dance makers of the past, they understand the very nature of body as a ‘microcosm of the universe’ and have found their special territory to explore and expand. Their deep dive here, in this unfamiliar territory, is ingenious, significant, and edifying, as we are simultaneously embraced and provoked by their brilliance.”
Individual photo credits are included in each gallery image