Current Issue #488

OzAsia Review:


Belgian choreographer Damien Jalet and Japanese sculptor Kohei Nawa’s collaborative work Vessel is an abstract piece of contemporary dance that reframes the human body as a kind of living sculpture.

Vessel starts in darkness. A high sustained note begins. Gradually light reveals a stage covered with water, a large crater-like structure centre-stage and three small self-contained groups of entwined bodies, one onstage left, two stage right.  Slowly another body emerges feet-first from the group on the left – a creature is born, it stands, but we do no see its head because it is thrown too far back.

The groups’ complex tangle of limbs slowly resolves into the dancers’ bodies, their only costumes skin-coloured briefs, so they appear nude. Their heads are bent down, their arms bent from the elbow, often crossed at the wrist, so we do not see their faces. They become genderless, anonymous figures, without identity. They form small groups, tangling, writhing – trios, duos and also solos. The movement is often taut, even restrained.  But they hold position, allowing the water to settle and reflect the statuesque forms they achieve.

Vessel is not without humour. For one sequence the headless dancers line up, bobbing up and down to some brightly cheerful music – a friend remarked they looked like a chorus of frogs.  It was certainly a welcome moment of difference and gave the appreciative audience an opportunity for laughter. 

The hiding of the dancers’ heads means that, willy-nilly, the audience more than usually concentrates on their bodies, reinforcing the impact of the sculptural aspects of the choreography and allowing us to study the relationships of the dancers to one another. The lighting of Yukiko Yoshimoto aids this, especially by its use of spotlights.

Towards the end, a dancer, whose body defines him as a man, mounts the crater and advances to stand in a pool of claylike material (which was devised by Nawa) and places a lump of the material on his neck.  It gradually melts and trickles down his back. He turns to the audience, his arms crossed, but is standing erect and for the first time we see a dancer’s face. The light gradually fades to black. There is a moment of silence before the audience begins to applaud. At curtain-call we discover that four of the cast of seven are women.

This is an abstract work, capable of many interpretations or none at all. One can just enjoy the evolving patterns of movement and the fluency of the dancers.

Vessel was performed at the Dunstan Playhouse on Saturday 26 October

Alan Brissenden

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