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Ultima Vez: What the Body Does Not Remember. Photo Tom Willems

Ultima Vez: What the Body Does Not Remember. Photo Tom Willems

The Ultima in physical theatre

LONDON: Wim Vandekeybus and Ultima Vez make a welcome return to London with What the Body Does Not Remember. Written an astounding 28 years ago it marks the first foray into dance for Vandekeybus and demonstrates his extraordinary ability to shape space using elements of movement, light and space.  The initial shockwaves generated by flying and falling bodies has subsided somewhat in the intervening years but the piece still manages to stay cutting edge.

For more photos, see Swedish version

The performances at Sadler’s Wells were boosted by the presence of the Ictus Ensemble playing the original score by Thierry De Mey and Peter Vermeersch. More than just musicians, they were part of the physical theatre and raised the energy level by several decibels.

Vandekeybus doesn’t separate dance from life but then this is not life as we know it. Rather it is life on the edge, exploding with energy as extreme action sparks reaction, an immediate response to danger that keeps the adrenalin pumping. Strangely, the work is not overtly aggressive as heart-stopping near-collisions celebrates skill and agility rather than domination.

The opening scene featuring two women dancers and one musician sets a level of intensity that seldom slackens. The blasts of sound rip through the air and the dancers recoil, writhe and thrash in a primal display of movement. Later when three women undergo airport-style body searches, the mood is a lot darker. They occasional hit back but are more often compliant to the male touch allowing the men full control.

The nine dancers are tremendous, living one hundred per cent in the moment yet revealing glimpses of their humanity in an environment of urban grunge. It’s a monochrome world where a wardrobe of bright towels are used to comic effect. Likewise the surreal moments as dancers assume unlikely positions on a chair. The contrasts are extreme: in the midst of the anarchic battles with flying bricks a dancer builds a little tower and balances on top with determined concentration.

It is a long uninterrupted work of 90 minutes that could be slightly trimmed without losing impact but well deserving of its iconic place in dance history. For an encore, three of the musicians performed De Mey’s Musique de Tables. It was as visually entertaining as it was aurally inventive as hands flip-flopped and swiped in unison bringing the evening to an upbeat close.

Maggie Foyer
24 February 2015

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