Bodies, Körper: Sasha Waltz & Guests

Sadler’s Wells, London
March 1, 2018

Charlotte Kasner

Bodies. The dancers’ stock in trade. Examined wittily and stylishly by Sasha Waltz in Körper not only for how they function but how they are perceived.

Bodies are presented nearly naked for most of the evening. We are invited to consider the body’s ‘worth’. How much for a liver, liposuction, a patch of skin? The body as fuelled by drugs (smoking on stage is now more shocking than nudity!) The body eliminating (not really, just lots of water), which two men in suits mop up while a doorbell rings insistently in the background, never to be answered. When they step onto the cut out, it becomes a lift, the section closed off but in a bizarre parody of parallax, they appear to be ascending to another floor. The body as a structure (some very clever work using crockery).

But mostly, it is bodies moving; sinuously in a way that is easy to take for granted but which is technically impressive. Dancers come into conflict, bodies slapping against each other as they roll and bounce on and off each. The old ‘two-bodies-as-one’ trick appears in an outlandish game of consequences with limbs, head and torso all pointing in impossible directions.

Sasha Waltz's KörperPhoto Bernd Uhlig
Sasha Waltz’s Körper
Photo Bernd Uhlig

The stage is as bare as the dancers, stripped right back. A large black wedge sits off centre into which a section has been cut a few feet above stage level and that can be lit and closed off.

One dancer tells about their morning routine – cigarettes, coffee and a shower (the polite, edited version). The lit section becomes a steamy shower cabinet in a bid to see how many people can fit in, like a Guinness Book of Records attempt. Bodies are anchored by barely visible struts, like a pin ball machine with them substituting for balls. They make delicate curves around each other like an Escher tessellation, then just as mysteriously, slide off in all directions.

When dancers talk about their body, they gesture to the wrong bit: an anus is indicated as a mouth, a hand the crook of an elbow, the breasts ears. We believe them. Körper become corpus, the ensemble moving as one, shuffling in flat footed bourrées, knees to bums, boobs to backs like an un-conga-ing conga line or Starlight Express without the skates.

When the set falls, a whoosh of air breaks over the front stalls like a dusty wave. Some people gasp and flinch. It quickly provides something new to explore, to climb and snake around.

The soundtrack could come from a BBC sound effects record: light industrial. A mish mash of mechanical clangs, hums, whirrs and mysterious drips. When it is loud, it is very, very loud and when it is not, it is creepy. It is heavy in the bass so does not assault the ears but it did make the entire row of seats vibrate, the audience now engaging with the sounds and smells as well as the visual impact. The smoke really does get in the eyes and irritates the throat, though.

Körper is perhaps about 10 minutes too long, most of which is down to a false ending. The set falls, the dancers exit, the wind on the soundtrack whistles, the lights dim…. and then they go on for no fathomable reason. Someone comes on with long poles attached to his head which he manipulates with his arms and we hear another monologue. Nothing is added. It was a minor irritation in an otherwise fascinating evening.