Magazine article The Spectator

Dance: What the Body Does Not Remember

Magazine article The Spectator

Dance: What the Body Does Not Remember

Article excerpt

What the Body Does Not Remember

Touring, until 20 March

Flamenco Festival

Sadler's Wells, until 1 March


Peacock Theatre, until 28 February then touring until 11 April

Funny how things turn upside-down with time. A work of contemporary dance that made an iconoclastic splash decades ago is revived today, exactly as it was, as if it were a museum piece. Yet more long-standing dance traditions -- such as flamenco and circus -- are constantly being remodelled.

The contemporary work is that legendary 1987 invention of Eurocrash by the Belgian dance-inventor Wim Vandekeybus, What the Body Does Not Remember . The icons it trashed included rules about the place of grace in dancing, even the place of knowledge -- Vandekeybus was a photographer and experimental theatre performer when he made this, his first dance piece, never bettered. Those icons have had boots in their faces for a generation since, so does this piece stand up? Not just as a piece of history but as something fresh and alive? Oh, yes.

In 1987 it was the roughness and violence that struck me, bricks being heaved around the stage, stomping sequences as bodies twitched to get out of the way of big boots, and the air of uneasy sexual friction between men and women. Now I noticed more the tight, witty ensemble and satisfying musicality. Vandekeybus's observations of physical rhythm, the timing of reflex and human reactions, and the exploitation of how much more rule-breaking you can get away with if you structure and shape your rebellion -- these are rules of good dance, and it is invigorating to see them prioritised so brightly.

In tough street clothes and Doc Martens (practically ubiquitous in Euro-dance ever since), the five men and four women erupt with a speed and attack that would be dangerous if it weren't precisely gauged. They spring at each other, grope, slap and flinch, duck and dive. There is also a wonderfully funny sequence in which the dancers filch towels off each other in a kind of pickpocket relay, which makes up for the bit that has dated, the rather contrived walking on bricks which invested the piece's reputation with supposed political messages. I think Pina Bausch always did that better.

I'm not sure even Bausch ever had more creatively energising musical collaborators, though. ICTUS, the contemporary ensemble of Thierry De Mey and Peter Vermeersch, provides the terrific musical motor for Vandekeybus's choreographic train. It's a visual draw in itself on split levels, with Francis Gahide's dazzle-in-the-dark lighting gleaming off old-fangled brass, piano and clarinets, all used in new-fangled ways. …

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