Wim Vandekeybus’ What the Body Does Not Remember

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Last week we went to Wim Vandekeybus’ What the Body Does Not Remember. First created in 1987, Sadler’s Wells was able to get a new short stretch of this performance, which looks at the body under intense strain.

It’s been 28 years since its creation, a time when the the financial markets had just been deregulated, the Big Bang happening in 1986. The image of these newly liberated city traders working avariciously is something has left an indelible mark on our collective memories. This behaviour – of working in in union but for oneself – is both a social phenomenon that occurs today and lies at the heart of What the Body Does Not Remember.

The dancers move in a way that conveys a sense of morally ambivalent toward one another – they exist symbiotically but it feels as though they would happily overthrow one another if only they could. In one dance, persistent stealing of each other’s clothes is simultaneously both a ‘swap’ and clearly opportunistic theft. It is also carried out seamlessly, beautifully and comically!

The suggestion of symbiosis also evokes a number of other precedents: Godfrey Reggio’s long shots of commuters in Koyanaskatsi; or the lonely but adjacent characters in an Edward Hopper painting.

To take the Hopper reference further, there’s also an interesting feeling created by the constant flow of performers moving on and off stage. Far from being frustrating, the stream of dancers intensifies the performance leading one to believe that the ‘action’ continues off-stage and that the stage itself is a viewfinder of the best and most intense action.

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