A cloud-coloured bush with scrawny human legs for its base; a transparent plastic sheet curved into a cone so that it fractures and multiplies the naked figure within; a faceless human porcupine with umbrella-spoke quills quivering from head to torso; tops and skirts that resemble rivulets of wet ink on paper when sweat plasters them to the skin. These costumes by groundbreaking Dutch couturière Iris van Herpen for Sasha Waltz’s Kreatur are not only gorgeous and arresting, they also bristle with implications for dance, which is bent on redrawing the body’s boundaries even more than fashion.
But Waltz — a major player in German modern dance whose creative jurisdiction now extends to co-directing the Berlin State Ballet — has other ideas. Indeed, she offers up dozens. They rarely add up. Vague socio-political motifs to do with leaders and followers, men and women, fear and necessity, instinct and will propel Kreatur (“Creature”) on its meandering course.
Once the dancers have slithered out of their scratchy cloud carapaces, they wander about in nothing but skin-toned briefs jerking and shuddering as if their limbs had a primitive mind of their own. Because the movement is forgettable, the Soundwalk Collective’s industrial noise enervating, and Kreatur’s pace desultory, we are left to scrutinise the exposed anatomies and grow mean — about the thickness of one person’s ankles, the sickly paleness of another’s skin, and so stupidly on.
Having laid its individuals open to inspection, Kreatur moves on to the group. Clothed in van Herpen’s alluvial outfits, the 14 performers clump together to shake their limbs in protest. They tromp, shake and freeze again and again. In the 90-minute work’s best bit, the captivating magenta-haired Peggy Grelat-Dupont scrambles up a staircase to a narrow platform, with the rest of the herd scampering after her until everyone is crammed precariously on the 12ft-high ledge, grabbing on to one another and quaking. For once the situation is recognisable and evocative enough to stand alone and speak for itself. It is funny and poignant — who hasn’t clawed their way past the other lemmings only to arrive at the brink of disaster?
A famous German precedent exists for loosely assembled dance theatre: Pina Bausch in the second half of her career, when she developed a high-art variety of mordant sketch comedy. In Kreatur’s final stretch, Waltz invokes Bausch by taking up one of the latter’s favourite topics — the war between the sexes. For Waltz’s own riff on passive-aggressive, mildly sadomasochistic romance (minus her elder’s veiled anti-feminism), she ends up achieving Bausch’s brilliant economy of means.
But by then, it is too late.
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