Friday, March 29, 2013

What the Body Does Not Remember

Photo: Danny Willems
Ultima Vez performed a revival of Wim Vandekeybus' What the Body Does Not Remember (1989) at Pace's Schimmel Center last weekend, roughly a quarter century after it was first seen in NY at the Kitchen. It's of an era when presenters in the city were bringing many stateside-unseen European companies specializing in movement theater, evoking kinetic daring and passion.

  • Two men lie on the stripe-lit stage and flip like pancakes on a hot griddle, seemingly controlled by a woman striking a desk
  • Chalk tablets and short pillars become islands on which the dancers must stay, so they use them like skis or stepping stones, and play a high flying game of catch with them
  • Women are frisked aggressively and repeatedly in a way that blurs the line between assault and vehemence. Upsetting after a while, no doubt intentionally.
  • During rapid stage crossing, humorous pickpocket-style snatchings of towels wrapped around the body or head
  • A man posing on a chair is mirrored by another dancer; he's later joined by others to create family portrait-style tableaux that gain in complexity
  • A dancer jumps up, threatening to land on another lying down, but his/her feet split to straddle the body    
Photo: Danny Willems
There's a wild abandon to much of the movement—violent stamping of Doc Martens, sprints around the stage, body surfing, the flinging of the chalk blocks which sometimes shatter on impact. Garments are shed and replaced continuously. The dancers move from scene to scene with great energy and commitment, but without a narrative through-line, it feels somewhat exhausting by the end, rather than energizing. 

It's difficult to view a production comprising many scenes of varying tasks or movement themes without thinking of Pina Bausch. And some of the movement evokes fellow Belgian Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker. Vandekeybus performed with Jan Fabre, whose work shares some DNA with these dance-theater artists, but whose work is infrequently performed here. Prometheus, Fabre's last work in the metro area (at Montclair's Peak Performances in 2011), felt convincingly apocalyptic. Vandekeybus, who has been working in film in recent years, balances the kamikaze approach of his dancers with a light touch, other than the disturbing "frisk" section. And all credit to the company, and to rehearsal director Eduardo Torroja, for its precision and boldness, and to Francis Gahide for the dramatic lighting design. Thierry de May and Peter Vermeersch wrote the music. 

Let's hope this was not literally the last time here for Ultima Vez.

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