Created in 2000, Körper is a remarkable piece that still after nearly 20 years never stops to amaze and inspire. Be prepared to see a lot of skin as the performance draws attention to the human body in its entirety and uniqueness (Körper means bodies), dealing with a topic that is so important now more than ever.
The bodies of 13 dancers are distorted and manipulated in unnatural and unusual ways with the result of a re-imagined physicality. Sasha Waltz started from the observation of everyday routine to then create a series of living tableaux, investigating themes of mortality, physical appearance, reproduction, and bioethics.
A tall black wall in the centre of the stage serves as setting for fantastic illusions and whimsical tricks – hands and arms pop out from its holes, even a leg, anticipating the oddity of some vignettes. The scene, designed by Thomas Schenk, Heike Schuppelius and Sasha Waltz, is monumental and will only change towards the end, when the wall collapses to become an oblique platform for dancers to walk on.
Audience’s perception is often deceived as tricky sequences of images unfold. Dancers in underwear slowly appear on a glass compartment set on the wall, climbing in all directions, clumping on each other, and giving the idea of floating vertically as there was no gravity. Another transition sees a man and a woman being lifted and dragged all over, grabbed only by the skin. It hurts just looking at it!
In other scenes, dance is left aside to pave the way for spoken words. At turn, Sigal, Claudia, Luc and Grayson, tell their story, listing body parts and messing up with their anatomy, so the nipples become the eyes, the back side becomes front side, and so on.
Körper deals also with the theme of bioethics and the issues raised by scientific progress. Organs like lungs, kidneys, heart, are drawn on each other’s bodies and offered for a high price. The physicality is altered again when two figures advance from the back – there’s something wrong with them, the front upper body is connected to someone else’s back legs. The way they sway forward is a bit weird and not without obstacles, but visually striking beyond any doubt.
There is a lot of nudity, obviously, even though skin is not the only body part taken into consideration – height is measured, hair is counted, and liquid is poured out, literally, as litres and litres of water are expelled from the bodies.
When the wall tumbles down, it turns into a sort of massive wedge, and performers arrange in lines, or in semi-circles, lean against each other or just pile one on top of the other. In assuming different forms, they just stretch the body to the limit and open up to different possibilities.
Music, by Hans Peter Kuhn, is reduced to a minimalistic score of unrecognisable sounds like broken crockery or crumbling stones, and silent moments. A feature that, combined with the slowness of some scenes, can sometimes turn the whole thing into a tedious experience. But what emerges at the end of Körper is a bold, very unusual and strongly performed celebration of the body.
Reviewed at Sadler’s Wells on 1 March