Review: Ultima Vez – What the Body Does Not Remember
Performance reviewed: 10 February
It’s fair to say that 28 years ago, the debut production by Wim Vandekeybus and his company Ultima Vez changed the face of European dance theatre. In a landscape dominated by neoclassical lines set to contemporary classical scores, Ultima Vez quite literally crashed onto the scene with a vocabulary built on combat rolls, whole-body assaults on the floor and some pretty dangerous-looking brick hurling. That the work still looks fresh and modern is testimony to how truly groundbreaking it was in 1987.
The opening section of the piece (sometimes excerpted as “Hands”) still thrills with its intensely rhythmic interplay between a lone percussionist at the back of the stage playing an amplified table-top, and the two floorbound dancers answering each musical phrase in movement. There’s almost something of a South Asian classical structure to this sequence – rhythms pounded out on a table (rather than a tabla) and repeated in percussive body movement – but with a hyper-physical twist that finds the dancers flipping upside down and landing in the plank position in ever-quicker, ever more impossible unison.
Critics dubbed the style “Eurocrash” (although the name has been fondly adopted since by fans) and it’s probably the second section that finds Vandekeybus’s choreography at its most aggressive. Dancers circle the stage with wild (but perfectly-timed) sprints and leaps, and lob plaster blocks across the stage with apparent disregard for the safety of their colleagues. The eye is repeatedly drawn across the stage by arcs of flying plaster, then surprised by action erupting on the other side of the stage. It’s a carefully-controlled form of anarchy, born of clever stucture and split-second timing with the constant danger of descending into chaos.
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