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A creative force in European contemporary dance and physical theatre, Wim Vandekeybus celebrates 20 years of invention in his new show Spiegel, seen for the first time in Britain at Sadler’s Wells on Friday night. Vandekeybus came to prominence dancing as one of the two naked kings in Jan Fabre’s 1985 The Power of Theatrical Madness, and subsequently founded his own company, Ultima Vez, in Madrid the following year. Exploring the darker side of the human psyche in similar fashion to his near contemporary, DV8’s Lloyd Newson, Vandekeybus’s dances combine startling and often extreme imagery with highly physical and dangerous looking movement that is almost as exhausting for the audience to watch as it is for the dancers to perform.
Spiegel incorporates a selection of dances from previous Ultima Vez shows, almost in a “greatest hits” format, and although the production feels all of a piece, it shows us that Vandekeybus’s consistently bleak, raw and brutal vision of the world has hardly changed with time. This is a world with very little humour or tenderness. The excellent cast of nine dancers roll on the floor, jump with psychotic intent into the air or into each other’s arms, hang upside down from a suspended chair, throw bricks at each other with abandon and support each other at acute angles to the floor with all the tensions of straining tectonic plates. They look disturbed and indifferent to each other, and with this stressed vocabulary Vandekeybus suggests a society at breaking point. The physical prowess of the performers is exciting, but frightening to watch. While witnessing the dancing, your stomach churns as it would at a particularly disturbing and gruesome slasher film.
As Spiegel nears its conclusion, moving towards ever darker and more macabre imagery, the dancers hang their bodies above the stage on suspended hooks like meat in a butcher’s shop. They mime the carving up of each other’s flesh, and then strip naked in front of a livid red backdrop. Although I was utterly admiring of the dedication of the dancers, this unsettling and sometimes seemingly misogynistic vision of humanity was often hard to watch.
Tel +44 (0)870 737 7737. Tours the UK until March 17.