Vessel – Damien Jalet and Kohei Nawa

1st – 4th March 2018 at the Heath Ledger Centre

★★★★★

The doors close and the theatre is plunged into darkness. Below on stage the light begins to come up, just enough to illuminate a misty white ephemeral structure in the centre. Its base reflects in the mirror surface of the flooded stage. Spread round it are three amorphous shapes, the dancers, their bodies knotted together like lumps of clay. 

As the musical score builds, the shapes begin to writhe and shift in the shallow water. Droplets catch the light and contrast with the darkly striving creatures. Gradually the dancers pull themselves apart into individual beings. The movement is primeval, a struggle to become. The structure in the middle echoes a womb.

The music itself is organic; it throbs and rumbles, pulsing with power. It is so intense that it resonates through the auditorium and everyone in it.  Through the course of the piece, it morphs, along with the dancers and the set, to deliver mesmerising visual and acoustic experiences.

The lighting, designed by Yukiko Yoshimoto, is used to alter the apparent nature of the structure at the centre of the stage. In the opening movement, it looks insubstantial, like cloud or cotton wool. Later on, it becomes a rocky outpouring of lava. Its final iteration is a bubbling sinkhole, white slime sucking a single dancer inexorably down into its depths. This ‘vessel’ is both focus and platform.

The dancers too mutate, ascending from primordial ooze into being. They weave themselves into complex sculptural things. With the head and face almost always hidden, they become unrecognizable as human or gendered; though the play of light and shadow on muscle and limb suggests possibilities.

The work is a collaboration between Belgian choreographer Damien Jalet and Japanese Sculptor Kohei Nawa. Jalet is a Belgian choreographer known for his use of dance in concert with other artistic media. Nawa’s, interests lie in using his art to explore contemporary spirituality through digital media.

Jalet’s choreography requires immense strength and flexibility from his performers.  It also requires intimacy and trust as the performers use their almost naked bodies intertwined to create the sculptural quality of the work.

This piece is extraordinary, absolutely compelling.

If you require a clear narrative, this is not for you. There is no clear story, no traditional dialogue. It navigates grand themes, the cycle of life, both human and planetary, but not in a conventional way. The synthesis between installation, movement and sound creates a uniquely breathtaking experience, something that I ‘felt’ profoundly. The music invaded my body and my eyes were riveted on the performance. For me it suggested ideas of creation, sexuality, birth and death. If you are looking to experience a sensory masterpiece, go. Go with an open and receptive mind and let the performers fill it for you with raw power and beauty. It is incomparable, something that will remain with me for a long time.

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