Wim Vandekeybus: The moving beauty of still images

For Blush, the choreographer Wim Vandekeybus and his troupe merge dance with the magic of cinema
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The Independent Culture

The Belgian choreographer Wim Vandekeybus has used film throughout his career: "I studied film more than choreography, 16 years ago." His new production Blush, which tours Britain until 21 February, aims to bring filmed image and live action much closer together.

When he started to use film in works for his dance company, Ultima Vez, "they were short films, self-contained, with their own story. This time, the screen is elastic." The dancers dive from the stage, reappearing on screen in sequences filmed at Bruges dolphinarium. "There were dolphins. We were timing it, when they should dive, when they would appear on screen. The dancers swim on to the screen, swim out again."

Other scenes move from screen to live action. "The opening scene is black-and-white, it's on tissue. And it gets absorbed into the screen, becoming colour, becoming alive." The black-and-white image is a link to another film, the Charles Laughton movie Night of the Hunter. Vandekeybus explains: "A production like this is very complex; it grows gradually. It's not a clear reference." But he wanted to suggest the film's sense of isolation and intensity.

The music for Blush is by the rock singer-songwriter David Eugene Edwards, of the Denver band 16 Horsepower, who will sing live at performances in London, Glasgow and Truro. (Other Ultima Vez works have been made with David Byrne and Marc Ribot.) Edwards had never worked for dance before - which was one reason Vandekeybus chose him. "For Blush I wanted a voice. David has this emotional touch, this obsession. He's a troubadour almost, singing stories."

The music was worked out alongside the dancing, with a lot of overlap. Even so, Blush wasn't always choreographed to the music that now accompanies it. Vandekeybus listened to Edwards's music, but didn't fit his steps to it. Sometimes he choreographed to one song, then decided that the words of another suited the action better. Existing songs were reworked and extended for dance performance. "But there's a point where you have to say, 'Stop!'We have the material, we must time it, fit it all together.' "

Blush is about love, "about a relationship, but the ugly and the beautiful sides of it". Its other reference is to the Orpheus myth, the lover going to the Underworld to rescue his beloved Eurydice.

Vandekeybus has been working on a feature film with themes from Ovid's Metamorphoses. "I like to read stories, then put them aside - not to use the story directly, but to use things that come from it." He also thought about the transformations of the Metamorphoses. "As soon as people get into those extreme emotional states, they transform, they change. I think it happens a lot in our daily life."

The Orpheus myth "is a love story with this paradisaical quality. Something that dis- appears." The disappearance won't necessarily consist in Eurydice's death. "One of the dancers breaks a glass and says, 'I will never wake up, I will never marry, I will never...' She is the lost one. And one of the other dancers says, 'Maybe the whole show is about trust as much as love.' "

'Blush' tours 27 Jan - 21 Feb (www.blushtour.co.uk)