Dance: Stuck in a pointless groove
Monday 31 May 1999
QUEEN ELIZABETH HALL
WIM VANDEKEYBUS and his Flemish group Ultima Vez's work looks as though they created it on their Saturdays off in some garage, improvising with string, torches, or anything else to hand. This either has a homespun charm or brazen artlessness, depending on your point of view, and mine leans towards the second. And where normally I would thrill to the sight of 10 young men displaying their muscularity, here it became a chore, all sexiness banished in a relentless and crude pursuit of human truth.
Male behaviour is one theme of In Spite of Wishing and Wanting, which boasts commissioned music by the rock star David Byrne. Nowhere will you find such lengthy bouts of shouting, rushing about and twitching, but then once in a groove the Vandekeybus needle has difficulty moving on. I found embarrassingly fanciful the analogy of men with chafing horses. Nor could I see why a bearded fellow should have hysterics in the nude, why a pillow should explode, or why an extra man should sit on stage throughout.
Like many of his generation, Vandkeybus is influenced by Pina Bausch's collaborative methods and mixture of media. But Bausch has originality, humour and, above all, a humanity that allows you to understand her performers. It is hard to engage with Vandkeybus's parade of ciphers and grotesques, or to be gripped by their terminally uninteresting multilingual monologues. The dance is raw, more about velocity than shape, but the simple energy of bodies charging through the air or pitching down in crashing rolls, comes as a relief.
Vandkeybus also projects a narrative film he has made with the intention (I think) of communicating the piece's other intended theme: that desire disappears when it is satisfied. A weird salesman travels about a fantastical city selling sighs, screams and words to equally weird and desirous customers. I would have asked for a blanket of silence, to throw over the performance.
On the other hand, Vandkeybus has a loyal British following who obviously find some catharsis in the pieces he has already brought. And Flanders rates him highly enough to name his company one of its cultural ambassadors.
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