Review: Sasha Waltz & Guests - Continu - Sadler's Wells

Performance: 28 - 30 September 2012
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Monday 1 October 2012

Sasha Waltz & Guests 'Continu'

Reviewed: 28 September

There is much to admire in the majestic symphonic sweep of Sasha Waltz’s ever-evolving Continu – the title implies art that will continue to develop – not least in the expansive scale of the undertaking: one hundred minutes of plotless dance theatre composed across several movements. I can’t say that the whole vista was consistently memorable and I found that the first part lost a momentum of ideas in its final third but this was artistic excellence in which the whole was significantly greater than the sum of its parts.

There are two tributaries of Waltz’s work that have led into Continu: the one being her Dialogues with architecture, a series of installation works made within iconic buildings (invariably museums or galleries) at that pivotal moment between the completion of the envelope and its use (invariably being populated by exhibits); and the other being a general retrospective of key elements in her work over the past decade. The Dialogues series has run since the late 1990s but Continu builds upon two projects that existed only once in 2009 (a March dedication to inaugurate David Chipperfield’s Neues Museum in Waltz’s adopted home of Berlin and another following in November for Zaha Hadid’s new museum for contemporary art – the MAXXI, in Rome).

The first part comprises three distinct movements, an opening “sonata” to the powerful thunderous composition of Iannis Xenakis, played live onstage by Robyn Schulkowsky harrying and beating a whole orchestra of drums with her percussive cacophony contrasting with the sexy, fluid, uniform movement of a group of seven women in long, yet tantalisingly revealing, dresses. Nudity played a regular part in her earlier catalogue of works and although her dancers here remain clothed throughout a latent eroticism is ever-present. In this opening sequence, the women’s hands seemed regularly to pluck at their chests, as if pulling out their hearts and offering them up to some higher power. Later, another dancer appeared to routinely unzip some unseen force from the confinement of her body.

The central section fills the stage with an organic wave of bodies, hemmed into a black panelled box, opened only at the “fourth wall”. It seemed as if we were peering into a giant plaything, a special liquid motion executive toy that sits on the table of the Gods! The ensemble of 23 extraordinary dancers – an international troupe from all over the world, although containing not a single native German (nor, for that matter, a Brit) – flowed across the box, up into the corners, pushing dancers up and out as if Zeus and Athena were playfully rocking the table to shake their favourites from the pack. Occasionally, as if to please their mythological masters, dancers broke away from the group into solos and creating one particularly powerful duet. All of this took place against three coruscating pieces by the avant garde French composer Edgard Varèse, culminating in an “execution” scene where one performer shouts the sound of a gunshot over and over again until all but one of a long line of his colleagues has crumpled to the floor. But the survivor is untouchable and the “bangs” carry on until he walks away and the interval has arrived.

The second part is as different from the first as the architecture of Chipperfield is from Hadid. One by one, five nearly nude men (they wear only flesh coloured pants) dissect the space with a lyrical, poetic movement, creating harmonious shapes to reflect the calming influence of Mozart’s Oboe Quartet. Eventually they are joined again by the ensemble, dancers folding away to escape surreptitiously behind the two side walls with the most emphatic image being the horizontal walking on the three walls by dancers propped up on the shoulders of their colleagues. These may be works inspired by great architecture but it is the potential for creating organic structure and form out of human bodies that remains at the heart of Waltz’s choreography.

The work ends with a powerful image of architectural deconstruction as a dancer pulls up the floor (painted with abstract lines and splodges like a giant Victor Pasmore print) and pulls it over him upside down until the dropped front end spills out into the front row of the audience.

There was much interval chatter about Sasha Waltz being the new Pina Bausch, which – of course – is nonsense: the only things Waltz has in common with Bausch are her nationality and gender. Her choreography appears to me to have been steadily carving a massive niche of its own and Continu is a magnificent substantiation of this choreographer’s skill at making bodies articulate the most ancient language of movement innovatively and on a scale as grand as the buildings that these works were conceived and born within.

Graham Watts writes for many publications including DanceTabs and Dancing Times. He is Chair of the Critics’ Circle Dance Section.

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