Sasha Waltz & Guests, Körper, at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: March 8th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Sasha Waltz & Guests, Körper, at Sadler’s Wells

Sasha Waltz & Guests, Körper, Sadler’s Wells, March 1


A scene from Körper (photo: Bernd Uhlig)

Körper’s genes are good; it has worn well since it was created 18 years ago as part of Sasha Waltz & Guests’ trilogy about the human body, as strong visually as it is coherent conceptually and theatrically. It has no problem with its heart, nor with its lungs — despite evidence of quite heavy smoking — running for 75 minutes without a pause and never faltering. It looks at itself clinically, without vanity; it is clothed and unclothed, its flesh grabbed, pulled and stretched mercilessly, its structure deconstructed and reconstructed, its limbs labeled and mislabeled, measured, annotated and illustrated, its liquids drained, its organs identified, priced for transplant and its natural conception questioned.

Körper merges a ludic treatment of anatomy and ethics with an architectural plan and elevation (by Thomas Schenk, Heike Schuppelius and Waltz) that places the subject on a site of epic proportions enhanced by Hans Peter Kuhn’s contoured soundscape and by Valentin Gallé and Martin Hauk’s lighting. The strength of the performance within this environment belies the frailty of the bodily processes under scrutiny.

Reminiscent of the asymmetrical angles and planes of architect Daniel Liebeskind’s buildings, the stage set complements the intricate architecture of the body both as a concept and as the instrument of Waltz’s choreography: the physical body defines the space in which it moves as proximity and distance, as rhythm and pace of experience, and as the contours of sensory perception. Körper is in fact a subtle reflection on embodiment as a measure of being, as Clémentine Deluy’s enigmatic solo suggests with her long braided hair stretched on two poles that are rooted to her waist and extend the perimeters of her body’s boundaries. It is a moving physical image that in its duality of substance and non-substantiality establishes the incalculable measure of the body and the multidimentional architecture of Waltz’s work.

Throughout Körper Waltz punctuates the choreography with references to the visual and mythical history of the body. Behind a vertical vitrine, bare-skinned performers climb over and under each other as if the eighteenth-century wax anatomical models of Clemente Susini or Ercole Lelli had come alive and pressed their flesh against the glass or a molten version of Rodin’s Gates of Hell with Adam and Eve reaching for each other at its apex. There are centaur-like figures of a naked female torso astride a man’s legs; Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man traced on blackboards by each of four women, as well as Eadweard Muybridge’s photographic studies of motion. Waltz merges these images within contemporary scenarios of bodily obsession and paranoia, commodification and treatment, peeling back the layers of corporeality by appropriating the tropes of anatomical and medical illustrations. As we see in Clyde Emmanuel Archer’s articulated, collapsing solo that dispassionately depicts traumatic paralysis, Waltz also questions what it means to be a body in exceptional circumstances.

A recurring motif is a spoken text describing an everyday bodily narrative (Luc Dunberry waking up, or Claudia de Serpa Soares’ menstrual pain, for example) in which the language of body parts does not correspond to their gestural illustration. The inconsistency between text and gesture suggests the disparity in the ways different cultures refer to the body, and underlines the articulation of self-identity and feeling. It also points to the approximation through which we know and talk about the body, the conundrum of being a body whilst making it at the same time a discursive object.

Körper wraps this intellectual questioning and passionate concern for the body in a sense of theatre that lives and breathes with its choreographer and director; Waltz, who appeared on the stage to receive the applause with her dancers, is clearly still at the helm of the company she founded with Jochen Sandig in 1993. Many of her dancers have remained with her almost since the beginning, growing into her way of moving as much as her way of thinking. It was the same with Pina Bausch’s company when she was alive, an expression of what Walter Benjamin described in terms of visual art as the ‘aura’ of an original. Unlike a painting, however, which has had the direct and unmitigated hand of the artist on the canvas, the guiding hand of the choreographer detaches from his or her work once it is no longer there. Since their deaths, the works created by Balanchine, Ashton, MacMillan, Cunningham, Graham and Bausch, for example, contain only a certificate of origin, not a live seal of approval. It is clear in Körper that this auric energy is in full flow, and it is a privilege to see it in action.