Körper: Sasha Waltz at the Royal Swedish Ballet

Royal Opera House, Stockholm
February 19, 2016
Maggie Foyer

Johannes Öhman has scored something of a coup in persuading Sasha Waltz & Guests to stage Körper (Bodies) at the Royal Swedish Ballet. It is the first in her trilogy of works that investigate the physical and metaphysical aspects of our corporeality and was the one that inaugurated her new company. The dancer’s body is a subject for endless speculation and Waltz in this fragmented series of vignettes searches through the infinite meanings.

The work also links with the historical and temporal space of Berlin where it premiered in 2000. Created initially for the new Jewish Museum, the severity of the set design dominates and gives to the bodies, mostly clothed minimally and in flesh tones, an increased vulnerability despite their carved musculature. The sound score, at times rising to oppressive levels, adds to this dichotomy of fragility and power.

A heavily barred window-like space creates a medieval aspect within the minimal modernity and defines the opening scene as the dancers clothed in heavy black robes dance fiercely: arms and legs flay the air and bodies leap and fall. Then slowly, almost imperceptibly the bodies, now undressed, begin to populate the barred square; a sea of bodies writhing in the confined space something between heaven and hell, disturbing and exciting, soporific but equally magical.

KörperPhoto Carl Thorborg
Photo Carl Thorborg

The visuals excite throughout as the set is used in many innovative ways: bodies decorate the surface, the climb and fall using the height, the length and all spaces. The text, spoken directly to the audience, is often hard hitting relating to the body as a commodity in the selling of organs or rating prices of plastic surgery.

The fluidity of the body in movement and also in substance is realised as water drips through a body creating puddles on the stage. A startling vision comes as arms wrap around Clyde Archer’s body the hands clutching white plates that clatter as they circle and open out. There were also good performances from Jérôme Marchant and Anthony Lomuljo but the dancers from the Royal Swedish Ballet dancers seemed to be in the minority in the cast of thirteen. The company has proved themselves in both contemporary and classical works and it was a disappointment that they were not allowed to take up the challenges of this piece at the premiere.