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Wim Vandekeybus & Ultima Vez

Wim Vandekeybus: The P.T. Anderson of Dance?  They both like frogs...


by Lyndsey Winship

February 8, 2004 -- Sadler's Wells/London


In Blush, choreographer and director Wim Vandekeybus brings together an international company of ten fearless performers who dance as if gravity, stamina, physical limitations, pain and dignity are of no concern. He creates for them thrilling bursts of movement centred on precarious power struggles: jostling and dueling at a frenetic pace, launching themselves wildly into the air and chasing their insatiable desires.

Live music from David Eugene Edwards and his band cranks up the intensity, creating a heady, heavy backdrop for the action on stage. Most impressive is Vandekeybus' amalgamation of film and dance. It's something many choreographers attempt, few successfully, and it works this time because the dancers and the screen literally interact. The screen is made of strips, reflecting a watery image, which the dancers dive through with a dramatic splash. We then see them encased in the rippling blue on the other side, like ethereal mermaids or drowning Ophelias. It might sound gimmicky, but it works.

There are plenty more striking images. A huge pendulum lamp descends into the centre of the stage and swings in slow circles, illuminating each character one by one. It's a cinematic device, like editing between parallel scenes and disparate characters stranded in their own peculiar circumstances Paul Thomas Anderson's film Magnolia comes to mind.

In Blush's exploration of all things to do with love, there are no hearts and flowers. It's the darker, less palatable side of this four-letter word that demands all the attention. Vandekeybus shows up the animalism of his assembled specimens, reduced to bodily functions, moving with raw, rabid energy and stalking their prey. But Peter Verhelst's texts, whispered, shrieked, and declaimed by the performers, salvage some sobriety and seek to spin out the complexities of the human soul.

So far, so ambitious, but Blush's agenda to shock starts to get tiresome after two hours a frog in a blender, a revving chainsaw, a plentitude of naked flesh, endless shouting, sex, and violation. The company is playing at full volume from the off so after a while there's nowhere left to go. Subtlety doesn't really come into their vocabulary and in the end, perhaps surprisingly, this forceful theatrical onslaught doesn't actually leave much of a mark.

Edited by jenai

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