William Forsythe

Black and white portrait of William Forsythe
Year of birth, place
1949, New York, United States
lives and works in
United States
Role at the ZKM
Guest Artist, in the archives
Institute / Department
Institute for Visual Media, Wissen – Collections, Archives and Research

William Forsythe (*1949, New York, US) has been active in the field of choreography for over 50 years. His work is acknowledged for reorienting the practice of ballet from its identification with classical repertoire to a dynamic 21st century art form. Forsythe’s deep interest in the fundamental principles of organization of choreography has led him to produce a wide range of projects including installations, films, and web-based knowledge creation.

Raised in New York and initially trained in Florida with Nolan Dingman and Christa Long, Forsythe danced with the Joffrey Ballet and later the Stuttgart Ballet, where he was appointed Resident Choreographer in 1976. Over the next seven years, he created new works for the Stuttgart ensemble and other ballet companies worldwide. In 1984, he began a 20-year tenure as director of the Ballet Frankfurt, where he created works such as »Artifact« (1984), »Impressing the Czar« (1988), »Limb’s Theorem« (1990), »The Loss of Small Detail« (1991), »Eidos:Telos« (1995), »Kammer/Kammer« (2000) and »Decreation« (2003).

After the closure of the Ballet Frankfurt in 2004, Forsythe established a new, more independent ensemble, The Forsythe Company, which he directed from 2005 to 2015. Works produced by this ensemble include »Three Atmospheric Studies« (2005), »Human Writes« (2005), »Heterotopia« (2006), »I don’t believe in outer space« (2008) and »Sider« (2011). Forsythe’s works developed during this time were performed exclusively by The Forsythe Company, while his earlier pieces are prominently featured in the repertoire of virtually every major ballet company in the world. More recently Forsythe has created original works for the Paris Opera Ballet, English National Ballet, Boston Ballet, Dance Theatre of Harlem, La Scala Ballet Company, as well as »A Quiet Evening of Dance« produced by Sadler’s Wells Theatre (London) and »The Barre Project (Blake Works II«) created for the digital stage.

Forsythe has been commissioned to produce architectural and performance installations. These Choreographic Objects, as he calls these works, have been presented in numerous museums and exhibitions, including the Whitney Biennial (New York, 1997), the Louvre Museum (2006), 21_21 Design Sight (Tokyo, 2007), the Wexner Center for the Arts (Columbus, 2009), Tate Modern (London, 2009), MoMA (New York 2010) and the Venice Biennale (2005, 2009, 2012, 2014), ICA Boston (2018), Museum Folkwang (2019), Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (2020) and Kunsthaus Zürich (2021).

In collaboration with media specialists and educators, Forsythe has developed new approaches to dance documentation, research, and education. Core elements of his CD-ROM »Improvisation Technologies: A Tool for the Analytical Dance Eye,« published in 1999 and developed with the ZKM | Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe, are now accessible online via the website »Improvisation Technologies – The Lectures« as of June 30, 2023.

In 2002, Forsythe was chosen as the founding Dance Mentor for The Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative. Forsythe is an Honorary Fellow at the Laban Centre for Movement and Dance in London and holds an Honorary Doctorate from The Juilliard School in New York.

In February 2023, William Forsythe donated his archive to the ZKM.


 Dance studies at Jacksonville University
1973-1980Choreographer of Stuttgart Ballet
1984-2004Artistic Director of Ballett Frankfurt
2004The Forsythe Company, independent ensemble
2005-2015Director The Forsythe Company
Awards (selection):
1988, 1998, 2004Bessie
1992, 1999Laurence Olivier Award
1999Commandeur des Arts et Lettres
1997Federal Cross of Merit 
2002Wexner Prize
2004German Dance Prize
 In the International Critics' Poll, Forsythe was named Choreographer of the Year several times.
2010Golden Lion of the Venice Biennale
2012Samuel H Scripps / American Dance Festival Award for Lifetime Achievement
2020German Theater Prize DER FAUST for Lifetime Achievement
Works related to the ZKM:
»Improvisation Technologies«, 1994
»Improvisation Technologies. A Tool for the Analytical Dance Eye«, 1999
»Improvisation Technologies – The Lectures«, 2023