William Forsythe

2024 Kyoto Prize Laureates

Arts and Philosophy

Theater, Cinema

William Forsythe

/  Choreographer

1949 -

Achievement Digest

The Choreographer Who Opened a New Horizon of Performing Arts by Radically Renewing Methodologies and Aesthetics of Ballet and Dance

William Forsythe radically questions and deconstructs the structure and style of traditional ballet to create new methodologies and aesthetics of theatrical dance. He continues to go beyond the conventional concept of choreography and to extend the potential of the art form using human bodies through various innovative works.


William Forsythe radically deconstructs the style of traditional ballet to create new methodologies and aesthetics of theatrical dance. He continues to extend the potential of the art form using human bodies through various innovative works.

Forsythe, born in 1949 in Long Island, New York, studied ballet at Jacksonville University in Florida and subsequently worked with the Joffrey Ballet in New York. He then joined the Stuttgart Ballet in Germany in 1973. While performing as a dancer there, Forsythe created his first professional choreographic work, Urlicht, in 1976. In 1984, he became director of the Ballet Frankfurt and gained international fame by releasing a series of major choreographic works, including those commissioned by top ballet companies, such as the Paris Opera Ballet. After the Ballet Frankfurt was closed in 2004, he led The Forsythe Company from 2005 to 2015. Forsythe, now based in Germany and the United States, has been active in creating ballet, dance, and installations worldwide.

Forsythe’s innovation is prominent as he continually questions and expands the structure of ballet pieces. In Artifact (1984), for example, the sudden falls of the stage curtain, while the dancers’ moves are going on, often violently discontinue the developments of the performance. The accumulation of these fragmented scenes with no logical conclusions brings about a mesmerizing experience to the audience, as though a mighty force, such as a crashing giant wave or lightning, confronted them.

The dancers’ movements, destructively exploiting the established norms, unfold beautiful but overwhelmingly tense scenes. In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated (1987) shows off dancers’ sharp steps, most prominently hyper-extensions of their limbs, while creating the powerful impression that the tips of their toe shoes are being thrust into the floor amid the electronic sounds. Forsythe herewith asserts the aesthetics of thrill and strength, a stark contrast to the harmony and elegance that have been the hallmark of traditional ballet.

Forsythe’s originality goes beyond the conventional concept of choreography, where choreographers conceive and direct movements and poses for the consistency of the narrative and styles, and dancers perform them. Forsythe pioneered a stunning methodology to expand the potential for improvisation, allowing dancers to generate movements during the performance spontaneously. To make this methodology public, Forsythe produced Improvisation Technologies. A Tool for the Analytical Dance Eye (1994, 1999), a digital learning material simultaneously displaying body movements, verbal descriptions, and animations to trace these movements.

Furthermore, Forsythe examines the human bodily experience and the principles of performing arts in a series of works called Choreographic Objects, including installations and videos. Examples include Nowhere and Everywhere at the Same Time No. 2 (2013), a room with numerous pendulums hung from the ceiling. The audience must attentively avoid the pendulums moving irregularly to walk through the room. In this installation, the audience appears to perform a dance choreographed by the physical environment. In Black Flags (2014), two pre-programmed industrial robots wave a giant flag respectively. This work is a practice of choreographing nonhuman objects. Choreographic Objects stimulate the audience to question the relationship between their bodies and the environment.

Among Western art forms, most of which tend to be dominated by visual and auditory sensibilities, modern ballet and dance have been remarkable in highlighting immediate physicality and showing new orientations in arts and philosophy. Forsythe has been at the cutting edge of this movement for almost 50 years, and the fundamental impact of his achievements will remain uncontested far into the future.


Born in Long Island, New York, U.S.A.
Began classical training at Jacksonville University
Received scholarship to the Joffrey Ballet School
Joined the Stuttgart Ballet
Created Urlicht, his first professional choreographic work
Appointed Resident Choreographer of Stuttgart Ballet
Director, Ballet Frankfurt
Director, The Forsythe Company
Selected Awards and Honors
1988, 1999, 2004, 2007
New York Dance and Performance Award (Bessie Award)
1992, 1999
Olivier Award
German Federal Cross of Merit (First Class)
Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres, France
Wexner Prize
Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement for Dance, Venice Biennale
Lifetime Achievement, German Theater Prize DER FAUST
Selected Works
In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated
Impressing the Czar
Limb’s Theorem
The Loss of Small Detail
Eidos: Telos
Improvisation Technologies. A Tool for the Analytical Dance Eye (CD-ROM)
Three Atmospheric Studies
Human Writes
I Don’t Believe in Outer Space
Nowhere and Everywhere at the Same Time No.2 (installation)
Black Flags (installation)
The Sense of Things (installation)

Profile is at the time of the award.