Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
March 2, 2019
Having seen several of Brussels-based Wim Vandekeybus’ previous works, I was anticipating a visceral, body-slam of choreography that had both psychological depth and visual impact. Mockumentary of a Contemporary Saviour, however, is more akin to a play than a dance piece, and is dialogue heavy, stilted, and completely baffling.
Four men and three women are trapped together in a futuristic limbo. A huge circular structure hovers ominously above them, lights flicker harshly, and the space buzzes and hums with the sound of machinery. They seem to be in thrall to a mythical child whose croaky, disembodied voice is occasionally heard from above. The child’s mother, played by Anabel Lopez, is one of the trapped, and she shudders, writhes and scratches at herself when he speaks. Yun Liu is a woman destined to die over and over again, killed with ultra-violent computer-game style moves by Flavio D’Andrea, who sobs guiltily each time he slays her, only to repeat the killing in ever more inventive ways.
A pot-bellied man in an orange boiler suit falls from the sky, and the prisoners crowd around him. When he wakes and explains he is a psychologist all pretend to exit in disgust. It is difficult to know whether this was meant to be funny, as there are so many odd and misfiring moments in the piece. Passages of dialogue ponder on the existence of God, and the nature of life and death, but beneath these lofty themes, the characters lack any depth, and do not relate to each other convincingly. The psychologist at one point suggests that they needed to ‘create a family’, so they pantomime a chaotic domestic scene, with tiny Yun Liu cast as a child who rebels and starts flipping the finger at everyone.
Several scenes transition awkwardly into movement. The cast shudder and stomp to an earthy drum beat, but then flip back to bizarre dialogue and crass jokes, which makes for a frustrating and uneven experience. A promising section comes towards the end of the piece (which clocks in at almost two hours) when Flavio D’Andrea and Yun Liu are cast as lovers. The ensemble hold her aloft and fly her towards him, providing a brief glimpse of artful, physical beauty.
Finally, the messianic child expires, and the characters seemed to find liberation. They address the audience, telling us that now we were the chosen ones. “You’ve come to the right place,” they whisper. On this occasion, I wasn’t so sure that I had.