She was GOING for it.

Editor’s note: This month on Stance on Dance, several dance artists have been asked to share a pivotal dance experience that changed their trajectory or the way they think about dance. 


William Forsythe’s In The Middle, Somewhat Elevated, San Francisco Ballet 2010

I have been obsessed with William Forsythe’s In The Middle, Somewhat Elevated for years. YouTube allowed me to watch clips of Sylvie Guillem over and over, stretching her legs FURTHER than anyone could imagine, pushing the limits of what the human body could do.

Watching videos of In the Middle online, I thought – this is it. THIS is extreme dancing. The dancers are going so far, doing so much. I was drawn to the athleticism of the piece and to its virtuosity.

Occasionally, I’d come across a clip of another company performing it. Most clear in my mind are renditions by the Mariinsky Ballet. The dancers would hit their turns, and their legs surely went as high, but…something was missing and I couldn’t figure it out. So, I chalked it up simply to Guillem being a superlative dancer and left the query at that.

In 2010, I had the great privilege of seeing In The Middle live, on stage, with real three-dimensional bodies, not just the grainy, flat and distant footage from 1987 I had been pouring over for years. San Francisco Ballet had brought it back, and one of my favorite new hires, Sofiane Sylve, was dancing.

My then boyfriend (now husband) was, as always, my loyal date. I duly prepped him on the exceptional experience that we were about to have: we were going to see LA DANSE! That night, at the War Memorial Opera House, I promised that everything perfect and beautiful in the world of late 20th century dance was going to come to light before our eyes.

And it did.


Sylve fell out of her double back attitude turn during the huge finale grand pas de deux. Boyfriend grabbed my leg – “Oh no, she failed! How disappointing!”

At first, I agreed. With a frown on my face and a slight shrug, I conceded that the SF Ballet dancers, like those at the Mariinsky, just couldn’t compete with Guillem. Oh, well.

The ballet continued, Sylve kept dancing. Her attack seemed emboldened. I then realized something important. She fell (and believe me, this was a minor misstep, not an on-your-ass wipeout) not because she was a bad dancer, but because she was GOING for it. My entire conception of In The Middle changed immediately. I finally understood it’s not a ballet about demonstrating virtuosity; the extreme athleticism we see is a result of the dancers taking enormous risks. Not risks a gymnast takes to win a medal, but risks an artist takes to see where the edge of possibility lies.

In The Middle ain’t no music video, and it ain’t no pole vault. This ballet, like dance at its best, is people bearing, expressing and pushing the very boundaries of their own existence. Concert dance requires humans to be both strong and vulnerable, and to allow kinetic reality to unfold in real time and space, with a live audience – no editing, no quick fixes.

What I learned from this performance was that dance is not about execution, but about creating a real space where people can, alongside all that crazy technique, be real people.

For more information on Charles Slender-White’s work, visit

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