Sadler’s Wells, London
April 16, 2019
The faceless and headless choreography of Damien Jalet is surreal. In Vessel, an eerie and otherworldly introduction begins with the dancers entangled in ways that are somewhat difficult to comprehend. The shapes that are created consist of one, two and even more dancers conjoined together. There is a sinister appearance to the figures who emerge from a dark stage flooded with water. Kohei Nawa’s intriguing set resembles a small island and makes a very suitable home for its inhabitants. It feels much like entering some sort of lair or another realm entirely.
Jalet explores myths, religion and rituals from a variety of cultures, and this comes across in the formations and imagery that he creates. With the concealed identities of the dancers, there is a distinct peculiarity and non-humanness to the work.
The movement is slow and meditative. When the dancers are joined together, different images are created. A variety of detail is revealed from hands, ligaments and bodies, the latter eventually separating. It becomes increasingly difficult to pin-point what exactly is what and is almost as if the imagery itself has come to life with a new a mind of its own.
There are moments when the pace picks up with the dancers moving quickly and intensely. Yet the same intrigue holds. Throughout, there is a strong relationship with the music by Marihiko Hara and Ryuichi Sakamoto; a beautiful addition. It’s comic at times too, as when the dancers stand in a line with their heads tucked underneath their arms and move simultaneously hypnotically and humorously.
All the time, Nawa’s sculptured, striking set sits centre-stage. It bears similar mysteries to the ethereal figures that surround it and is equally challenging to make sense of. Seeing the dancers perform on it, but also sink in it makes you wonder how it was made.
The peculiar and ambiguous mannerisms of the dancers is a consistent theme. One dancer is lead down, rippling across the flooded stage towards the audience; the face is covered, and the ribcage ripples in an unnatural but seamless way. Another is stands, head tilted back, body splayed in a non-human stance.
The physicality of the performers is very impressive. To remain apparently headless for so long is demanding and challenging. It’s also discomforting to watch and contemplate, especially when a pose is maintained for a long time.
The performers’ absent human identities leads one to speculate whether they will eventually reveal their faces. The question does, of course, get answered as, in a slow but intriguing build-up to the show’s final moments, one dancer shifts away from the previous, headless pose.
Damien Jalet and Kohei Nawa’s Vessel is a very different kind of watch that leave imprints of its details and imagery in the mind for a long time. It’s certainly mysterious in all sorts of ways.