Fierce, visceral and relevant. If I had to describe this Ultima Vez revival in three words those would be my chosen ones, which is quite an achievement for a work which debuted 28 years ago. It is difficult to believe that this piece was made in 1987, before I was even born. The gripping choreography, the experimental and physical way of working with bodies must have been ground-breaking, as I still find it utterly compelling today.
Wim Vandekeybus is the ultimate movement experimenter, and to think that this piece was his first work – well it’s understandable why he’s had such a long and impressive career. Each scene slowly builds into a perfectly timed crescendo, with dancers hurling bricks, throwing themselves into one another and writhing around on the floor. Every action involves a huge risk, and every dancer executes each movement with a powerful intention. The intention in their bodies is real – it is not performed deliberately as part of their act, in fact none of What the BodyDoes Not Remember feels like a dance performance created to please the audience. The dancers’ intention is real, as if they don’t move exactly when they need to or exactly as rehearsed, they are likely to get hurt.
Aside from the dramatic and thrilling aspects of the performance, it is equally as enjoyable to notice the more stripped back side of Vandekeybus’ choreography. Subtle humour is included in most sections, and best of all the set didn’t include wings. Dancers strolled off stage, casually undressed and collected props at each side of the stage which are usually hidden from view – further establishing bodies purely as vehicles for movement, and breaking down the barriers of performance.
There are two duet sections which stand out for me – the first is primal, animalistic, aggressive and provocative. The final scene includes a number of duets with one dancer on the floor and one in a standing position, the standing body manipulating and intimidating the body on the floor in what seems like a million different ways. Bodies stomp and jump ferociously around their prey, as the audience is transfixed by every intense movement.
Personally I really enjoyed watching the female dancers in this piece. They are just as strong as the males, performing all the same movements, risking just as much and executing just as much power and control. Strong and fierce, I believed they could do anything on that stage.
For me, I’m not sure anyone has really pushed the boundaries of dance and physical theatre like Wim Vandekeybus. His first piece, nearly three decades on, holds more standing and is more impressive than anything I have seen recently. That includes Jasmin Vardimon’s Park, which I watched at The Lowry the week before. As much as I enjoyed it – I love her political and social messages which are entwined with powerful yet intricate choreography - overall the work seemed to lack coherency and structure, the meaning and intention getting lost in parts. With Ultima Vez each scene or section has a clear ending and a new beginning, and you are so captivated by what the bodies on stage are doing that it doesn’t really matter why. But of course, delve deeper, and you will always find a satisfying interpretation.
The revival of What the Body Does Not Remember is currently touring the UK – catch it while you can.