Choreographer: Damien Jalet
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
Choreographer Damien Jalet’s collaboration with Japanese sculptor Kohei Nawa begins so darkly you might wish that you’d brought along your night vision goggles. But out of this darkness come images alien and otherworldly that both frustrate and delight, and although there are seven dancers on stage it is impossible, in the gloom, to see where one body starts and where another ends.
Jalet first became interested in working with Nawa when he saw the latter’s art installation in a gallery. Nawa’s sculpture, made of a material that is neither solid nor liquid, fascinated Jalet so much that he bombarded the artist with emails suggesting they team up for a dance project. Jalet’s perseverance paid off and Vessel is their first show, with two more planned in the future.
The polyurethane foam that Nawa uses in his work becomes solid when it is manipulated but when it is left to rest it turns into liquid. An island of this foam, located in an ocean of shallow water, forms the centrepiece of Vessel. In the initial shadows what appear to be giant cephalopods, or space ships perhaps, inch closer to this sculpture, but before they reach its shores cargo is released and what were once thought to be single objects are revealed to be constructed from multiple bodies.
Even when Yukiko Yoshimoto’s lighting design becomes a little brighter it is still difficult to separate the bodies intertwined on stage, and anyway as the dancers are always hiding their heads, the bodies here are all thoraxes and limbs. At times becoming fantastical animals like the many-armed Ganesh or forming repulsive body parts like noses or penises the seven dancers form a single organism that seems to have been born in the primordial soup at the stage’s centre. However, Jalet has suggested that these figures have woken up in the underworld and found that their bodies are incomplete, but the show is so abstracted that many interpretations are possible.
With a sound design by Ryuichi Sakamoto and Marihiko Hara that is more atmospheric than tuneful, Vessel is certainly foreboding, but in places it’s also a little boring. That the dancers are highly skilled is undeniable but overall this does seem to be an art installation more suited to a gallery. Coming across this in the Tate Modern’s Tanks or in the Barbican’s Curve might offer a more visceral experience than the one provided here at Sadler’s Wells.
Runs until 17 April 2019 | Image: Contributed