Revisiting What the Body Does Not Remember
By Natalie Mann
On March 15 and 16 th, , twenty-five years after Belgian choreographer Wim Vandekeybus’s original dance production of What the Body Does Not Remember, Ultima Vez pounded the stage of UCLA’s Royce Hall. The reaction of the audience may not be the same, and the word shocking may no longer describe Ultima Vez’s performance in the context of contemporary modern dance, but, the piece remains explosive, profound and daring. The physical vigor, tireless energy and agility of the dancers powered from the gut conjures images of John Cage and Merce Cunningham infused with STOMP. This is not your mama’s Martha Graham, where the strength of the body is disguised by grace. The cast of What the Body Does Not Remember assaults the audience with dynamic sprints and reverberating high jumps reserved for athletes – defying the obedience of classically trained dancers who are usually told to land soft.
Theatricality and emotion are central to Vandekeybus’s work. For the original performance, Theirry De Mey and Peter Vermeersch composed music during rehearsals. Thus, the dancers, not musical score, set the tone for the piece. Raw human experiences emerge as choreographed cyclical patterns, while music accompanies this primal repetition. The performance contains no definitive meaning. However, the piece begs the viewer to assign meaning to everyday acts such as walking, sitting, changing clothes or posing for photographs. Is the hidden message about society, capitalism or love? There is no answer to this question. Through the dancer’s movements, the audience recalls those moments of intensity that prelude significant events. Those are the moments that slip, as the main event dominates memory.
If the purpose of the piece is to summon the audience’s repressed recollections, then it is important for the dancers to be pushed toward their edge. Trusting the dancers to make mistakes, Vandekeybus provides his cast with props, such as chalk blocks that dancers throw to one another. One dancer misses. His block breaks in half. He picks up a fractured piece, and continues as if nothing happened. For a dancer to make a “mistake” on stage is to exemplify humanity.
In one of the most provocative pieces, three women stand with their arms out and legs apart while their partners control their actions. The variations of performance between the three women evoke images concerning arrest, rape, sadomasochism and metaphors for attraction.
Because the performance’s program did not contain information that included dancers’ biographies or titles for each piece, the ninety-minute performance worked as an abstract composition. Although engaging on artistic and philosophical levels, there were times in which the repeated, frenetic movements felt overwhelming and the humorous breaks far between. At one point, it felt like the piece needed to end, and it did. This is the signification of good art. It moves and rattles the viewer. Then, backs off when it has done its job.
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What the Body Does Not Remember
Performed by the dancers of Ultima Vez: Ricardo Ambrozio, Damien Chapelle, Tanja Marín Friðjónsdóttir, Zebastián Méndez Marín, Aymara Parola, Maria Kolegova, Livia Balazova, Eddie Oroyan, Pavel Masek
Performed on March 15 and 16, 2013
Presented by CAP (Center for the Art of Performance) at UCLA
340 Royce Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90095