Review: Vegetal; Theatre de la Ville, Paris

It was a short career, but a glorious one: Jean-Michel Basquiat made sure of that.

There is no direct English translation that I can think of for Vegetal, the title of this collaboration between the British artist Andy Goldsworthy and the Ballet Atlantique's resident choreographer Regine Chopinot (already famous in France for her previous work with Jean Paul Gaultier). When they first began working together, Goldsworthy soon found that he had to ask Chopinot to stop using the literal English translation in their discussions: for him, the word "vegetable" carried almost the opposite connotations to what seemed intended in French.

Perhaps the best translation would be Dylan Thomas's "The force that through the green fuse drives the flower" - or Andrew Marvell's use of the word in its old sense in "To His Coy Mistress":

My vegetable love should grow

Vaster than empires and more


In the 17th century, "vegetable" meant "growing", "endlessly changing", "self-renewing", "fecund". Vegetal is all of that. In the beautiful book / programme which Goldsworthy has designed to accompany the piece, the five parts of the dance are entitled simply "Earth", "Seed", "Root", "Branch" and "Leaf".

As the show opens, the stage is covered in fine red earth. The 13 dancers wear blue boiler-suits, soon stained red by much contact with the earth. Goldsworthy says: "I have worked with red earth in many places. It flows around the earth as a vein. It is red because of its iron content, which is why our blood is also red. The red in our blood is related to breath, to respiration, which is what we share with plants. In 1994, I made dust- throws in California. I called these works Breath of Earth. They had a quality of breath on a cold day, and California is a place where you can feel the earth breathing - often violently."

One way of describing this extraordinary dance might be simply to use the word "work". Talking before the show, Goldsworthy spoke of how comfortable he had felt all along with dance as a natural extension of his work in sculpture (he is elegantly and perhaps ironically described by the French as a "plasticien"). Dancers and sculptors both spar with gravity. Goldsworthy remarked that he had often thought how like dance any piece of work is - building a dry-stone wall, constructing one of his famous cairns, or flinging sticks into the air. Every piece of work has its own rhythms, its energy rising and falling like sap. Hammering, sawing, bricklaying, digging, the dance of the robots that make cars on production lines, even the deft dancing of our fingers as we do up our shoelaces. We have only to think of the origins of the blues to remember that work, rhythm, song and dance are one.

The sculpture of Andy Goldsworthy, deliberately ephemeral by nature, has always been essentially dramatic. Just looking at his megalithic spires of balanced pebbles, fragile columns of poised energy, makes you think of tightrope walkers or dancers. These are not "ever-fixed marks" but subject to the ebb and flow of tides, to gravity. They exert the same magnetic attraction as maypoles or henges, so strongly suggestive that, in their wild surroundings, it is not difficult to imagine invisible dryads dancing around them, or dwelling inside them.

So Vegetal, like the rest of Goldsworthy's work, is strongly centred. As it opens in primeval gloom, three dancers are centred around a circle of stones; two hours later, when it ends, 12 dancers are contained in a necklace of woven withies, built branch by branch before us on stage, while the 13th, Chopinot herself, circles them in a dance so slow that her movement is as undetectable as that of the hands on Big Ben, or the sun's arc across the sky.

Watching the dancers at work carrying countless branches on to the stage, building a kind of wooden lobster-pot, then transmuting it into a rippling series of widening circles, had the same fascination as watching ants carrying eggs about, or Salgado's miners swarming up ladders in their open-cast mine.

I would always have described Goldsworthy's work as dramatic - from the fragility of the most delicate chestnut leaf-box to the grandeur of the ice-sculptures at the North Pole - but here, in Vegetal, that drama is made manifest. We see the work being made and unmade, rising and falling, before our eyes - and, by actually witnessing the work, we too take part in it. Instead of seeing a fait accompli, we experience a process.

Goldsworthy says: "My work is a way of releasing an energy that is there. Regine releases movement. Appearing as if an external force is making the movement - somehow over-riding the mind of the dancer, it takes control. That is, for me, the essence of movement."

As with Theatre de Complicite, whom in some ways this gifted and lyrical company resemble, the experience is at once satisfying and unnerving. Unnerved some of the audience clearly were, to the point of standing up and saying so. But far more were on the edge of their seats from pure joy as, in the most sophisticated city in the world, a modern Rite of Spring unfolded on a stage covered in red earth and strewn with leaves.


The author is a founder director of Common Ground

Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey


Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower