One musician sat at a table, scratching, swiping, flicking and banging rhythms into the hollow wood. Paralleled on stage, a male dancer belonging to his right hand and a female dancer belonging to his left. They are manipulated by these sounds with only the minutest of delays, illustrating the amount of time taken for the vibrations of the table to meet the Sadler’s Wells stage floor. The dancers lay obediently, rolling, planking, dropping and thrusting into a lateral freeze as if each vibration controlled their movement. This action/reaction game is repeated just enough for the audience to begin matching sound to movement, it becomes an enjoyable anticipation and a satisfying atheistic when your split second guesses are played back to you. Certainly a catalyst for a piece full of confrontations demonstrated with incredible physicality accompanied by a charismatic score.
Choreographer and film maker Wim Vandekeybus successfully revives his physical theatre piece ‘What The Body Does Not Remember’, once challenging audiences of the 80’s now enticing audiences of today. The dance content is subtle but powerful due to a seamless amalgamation of pedestrian and technical movement. The episodes play on themes of attraction and repulsion exposing the thin line between the two. Resembling the childhood hot lava game, two dancers balance cautiously on chalk blocks, engrossed in their own tasks, they remain for the most part unaffected by the whirlwind of chaos slowly unravelling around them. Circular pathways heighten the energy of the piece as they begin to run, an element of risk immerses the dancers. A female trio, peruse each other swinging on and off their jackets whilst throwing and catching chalk blocks. A male trio create a similar impressive display in the form of a relay race, timed to perfection, they seamlessly pass around the chalk block, hand to hand, keeping great distance between them only not for a second. Things turn dangerous as dancers begin to disseminate the blocks. A scene of suicidal block throwing unfold as dancers mercilessly throw the chalk blocks above their heads to be snatched to safety at the last moment.
Evidence of the previous scene are wiped away by a variety of colourful bath towels. Like items on a conveyor belt, dancers continually cross on a diagonal pathway, as if coming out the shower, towels are wrapped around the hair, body and hung on arms. Uncaringly they begin to take the towels from each other which then overlaps into a more ruthless theft of jackets. Hanging on rails at either side of the stage, costume change is intentionally visible to the audience, emphasising the dance idea of pedestrianism. An unexpected flash of nudity receives a collective exclamation from the audience. This episode emphasises the callous behaviour that people can withhold.
Snatching of possessions leads into the possessiveness of each other. Male dancers scale the women’s bodies as they stand affirmatively in a wide stance, gradually leading them astray to be caressed before snapping back, only permitting the men’s contact to go so far. At this point the relationship between music and movement changes, no longer does it seem the dancers are reacting to the music but rather, through the mesh screen, the musicians are responding to what unfolds in front of them. There is a deep, clustered rumble for the scaling of the bodies with a gradual crescendo matching an increase of intensity, with two sharp hits on the snare to replicate the self-resetting of the female dancers stature. The intervals between these qualities varying each time, leaving you unsettled and bringing about most strongly the idea of attraction and repulsion.
Small moments of humour are perfectly dotted around the piece never once disrupting from the sustaining tension, however, the longest form of light relief is found in a mirroring/ family portrait scene. A woman settles herself on a chair and maintains a parallel stacked position, although completely still, her open chest and face suggests that she sits with purpose. A man enters the stage with a chair, inquisitively staring at her before positioning himself downstage mirroring her position laying down on his side with his chair tucked underneath him. She remains purposeful, fixing herself into different positions, making it evident that she is posing, nonetheless, throughout this she is oblivious of her imitator who waits eagerly, analysing and assessing ways to replicate what he’s seeing onto his plane. The other dancers accumulatively filter onto the stage to join the woman, they bring with them character and meaning. Clustered closely around the chair, shoulder to shoulder, arms around each other and a few knelt beside the woman’s knee with ever so slightly characterised faces revealing imagery of a family portrait. The changes of position now increasing in succession, the theme of fear becomes apparent. It appears that space is tight and like a game of musical chairs no one wants to be left out, resorting in people being carried and sat on.
As the dancers and musicians filter in for the curtain call you can’t help but feel a little dissatisfied with only 80 minutes of entertainment, your mind is still active and ready to retain more exciting scenes of engagement and struggle. However, what appears to be the set up for the post-show talk is in fact for an astounding musical finale. Three musicians sat center stage, a table each, begin to relay the sounds of the first episode in complete synchronisation, you can almost still imagine the dancers’ responses (and truthfully still wait for an encore entrance). A swift flick of a page reveals they are reading from a score, bounding excitement within of what is about to come and not left disappointed the musicians begin to branch off onto separate rhythms creating a beautiful polyrhythmic score, sounds appear to bounce off, echo and complement each other, they dip in and out off unison before breaking off into even more complex rhythms with more challenging hand movements and changes away from the traditional 4/4 timing. A treat for the ears, after your eyes have been glistening and heart pounding proving Vandekeybus knows how to create a multisensory, interdisciplinary show that your body is sure to remember.
Ultima Vez, (2015). What the Body Does Not Remember. [online] Available at: http://www.ultimavez.com/en/productions/what-body-does-not-remember [Accessed 15 Feb.]
Blackpoolgrand.co.uk, (2015). Review: Ultima Vez – What the Body Does Not Remember « Grand Theatre Blackpool Blog. [online] Available at: https://www.blackpoolgrand.co.uk/blog/review-ultima-vez-what-the-body-does-not-remember/ [Accessed 28 Feb. 2015].
Mackrell, J. (2015). Ultima Vez – What the Body Does Not Remember review – bruisingly powerful. [online] the Guardian. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/stage/2015/feb/11/ultima-vez-what-the-body-does-not-remember-sadlers-wells-review [Accessed 28 Feb. 2015].