Ultima Vez: What the Body Does Not Remember at Sadler’s Wells
Wim Vandekeybus and his dance company, Ultima Vez, amazed audiences with What the Body Does Not Remember when it debuted in 1987. Now revived with new dancers and musicians, the show is as original and impressive as it was then.
The performance opens with a man seated behind a small table, creating sound by applying his bare hands to the wooden surface. The result is amplified to remarkable effect. Two dancers before him react to the jolting beats as if they were puppets, synchronised in their movements but remaining isolated from each other. It has the arresting air of breakdance.
Vandekeybus has described the work as “energetic. Some people call it violence…I don’t call it violence”. Movements are threatening and confrontational: dancers attempt to stamp aggressively on others, with their victims dragging and propelling themselves away from the danger. Male dancers run their hands over the bodies of their female partners in a manner simultaneously welcome and unwelcome, and the women are fiercely reactive. Vandekeybus says he wanted to create something new that shares the themes of the tango: attraction and repulsion.
It’s a perilous performance: heavy breeze-blocks are tossed high into the air, with subjects being pulled to safety at the final moment. It is the contemporary punk of dance; Iggy Pop is a fan of the show. There are also moments of humour and gentleness: tiny feathers are suspended in the air only by the breath of their human owners. The physicality of the performance is primary, it does not have a narrative in the traditional sense – Vandekeybus describes it as “a piece without text”.
The challenging score was written for the performance by composers Thierry de Mey and Peter Vermeersch, and is expertly performed by contemporary ensemble Ictus. After what appears to be the final applause, three members of the ensemble step forward to give the audience a final gift. The musicians return to the sound of bare skin against wood in a dance sequence performed only by their hands. It is a shining close to a sparkling performance, where the music is as exhilarating as the dance.
Ultima Vez: What the Body Does Not Remember was a one-off event at Sadler’s Wells, for further information about future events visit here.