Mon, Nov 07, 2005 - Page 16 News List

Starting all over again

The dance troupe Ultima Vez explores the emptiness left behind after violent death

By Diane Baker  /  STAFF REPORTER

The troupe tackles the ties that bind in an isolated community.

PHOTO COURTESY OF ULTIMA VEZN

The trouble with Ultima Vez's performances is that as hard as you might try, your eyes can't keep track of everything that is happening on the stage and in the film segments at the same time.

So you get caught up in the film and then realize you've forgotten to check out what the dancers have been doing, or vice versa. Judging by the photos in the program book, there were scenes in the film that I missed as well.

And scenes are what you think of when you think of Ultima Vez's director/choreographer/filmmaker Wim Vandekeybus' work. He creates images that linger in your mind for weeks or months afterward.

Towards the end of Puur, Vandekeybus' latest work, which was performed over the weekend at the National Theater, there is a section when 12 of the 13 performers pair off, with four women and two of the men climbing up onto the shoulders of six men. Those on top slowly straighten themselves out as those underneath slowly lower themselves down on all fours and then flatten out on the stage. The process is later repeated, only in reverse.

It's hard to single out or praise a duet or an ensemble segment when the movement and energy flows so seamlessly from one person to the next as the dancers wrap their arms, legs or bodies around one another. And does running count as dancing?

There are several running scenes in Puur. First one dancer circles the stage, then another, then another. At one point, running in groups of two and three, the dancers spin for a few steps with their arms outstretched before picking up the pace again, looking as graceful as a flock of birds dipping their wings to shift direction.

But most of the time the choreography in Puur revolves around the dancers attacking one another -- either in pairs or in a group frenzy -- slapping, kicking, pulling, twisting and mauling at one another's bodies or their own until just one person is left standing. And then the company gets up and does it all over again.

There was, as usual with Vandekeybus' work, a lot of dialogue as well. Most of the text was in English, but there was Russian and Spanish as well, while a Chinese translation of the text was projected onto the background scrim. A great deal of the dialogue revolved around attacks on one character or another, often in quite crude language.

Attacking was the central motif of Puur, since it was based on the Biblical story of the killing of the innocents. It is set in a community that has walled itself off from the outside world. That isolation was represented by a wall or a thicket of long poles that formed a half-moon around the back of the stage.

Puur begins with 10 of the 13 dancers on stage, all garbed in white. For the bulk of the two-hour performance the company remained on the stage, moving into the thicket of poles for a brief rest or to change their costumes before rejoining the action.

Since the set never varied, the lighting and the score were even more important than usual and both were excellent.

"The general thing is the instinct of survival," Vandekeybus said in an interview with the Taipei Times last Thursday.

"Dying is an instinct in the body, just like getting born. All these heavy things lead to a show that is really beautiful, very poetic."

Yesterday afternoon it appeared that the audience in the theater certainly agreed with him.

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