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Steve Sucato
Performance Reviews
Byham Theater
United States
Pittsburgh, PA

Ultima Vez's Spiegel Reflects on 20-years of Instinctive Movement

by Steve Sucato
April 19, 2008
Byham Theater
101 6th Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
(412) 456-1350
If you have ever at the last moment dodged being hit by a flying object, you have a sense of what Belgian choreographer, film artist, and director Wim Vandekeybus' early dance works have been about. Drawing on six of those works from the first 20-years of his contemporary dance company Ultima Vez's 30-year history, Vandekeybus created the 2006 retrospective Spiegel (Mirror).

Performed by the 9-member Ultima Vez at Pittsburgh's Byham Theater, the 90-minute work was part "Judson Theater" in its approach to pedestrian movement, part 1980's La La La Human Steps in its lightning speed and physical movement language, plus a great deal of Vandekeybus' own movement language he and his company developed involving how the body instinctively moves and reacts.

From the outset Spiegel revealed itself as a physically punishing work for its dancers. The opening scene filled the theater with the sounds of heavy stomping as a group of dancers appeared to deliberately try to crush the heads of fellow dancers lying on the stage floor. Those on the floor rolled to one side avoiding being crushed. The perfectly timed onslaught of aggression and survival instincts was stimulating, and like the rest of the work's unorthodox "dance" choreography, displayed beauty in brutality.

Set to an eclectic industrial score with music by Talking Heads' frontman David Byrne, Thierry De Mey and others, Spiegel flowed from one from one athletically minded scene to another. The dancers wrestled with each other, threw bricks across the stage and hung upside down seated in a suspended chair.

Looking more like a collection of experimental movement exercises, the bulk of what would be considered by many as dancing, came in the form of several same gender movement sections. In the women's section a handful of the troupe's female dancers were carried one by one onto the stage curled around the waist of a male dancer who dropped them to the floor like sacks. From there, the dancers costumed in short dresses and dance sneakers and dancing to a cello score, threw themselves into the air in turning leaps that ended with them flopping to the ground with a thud. The continuous parade of these dancers breathy rises and falls had its own sensuality amidst the grueling choreography.

In the men's section, a half dozen dancers donned sport coats and engaged in playful and competitive tussling and chasing of each other around the stage. The performers slipped in and out their jackets in close-quartered partnering that was clever and gymnastic.

Spiegel's last half-hour moved from a baser movement style to one more theatrical. Following a short film projected on a back stage curtain to look like three of the company's male dancers stripping off their clothes, washing and then putting their clothes back on again, the company returned to the stage dressed in formalwear.

Grouped at the front of the stage, the dancers stared out into the audience with looks of disdain. They then paired off into couples embracing their partner in a sexually charged slow dance.

The program concluded with a powerful section in which the dancers hung themselves from large hooks looking like specimens in a meat locker. Dropping from their hooks, the dancers as a group repeated over and over a movement phrase in unison in which they unfolded from a hunched over and contracted stance into a fully open one.

A unique work unto itself Spiegel, and the works of Vandekeybus' it was based on have few imitators. Much of the choreography for the program looked as if it could have been created within the last few months let alone 2 decades or more ago. Ultima Vez's daredevil dancers performed it with courage and abandon garnering themselves and the production a standing ovation.
Ultima Vez in Spiegel

Ultima Vez in Spiegel

Photo © & courtesy of Jean-Pierre Stoop

Ultima Vez in Spiegel

Ultima Vez in Spiegel

Photo © & courtesy of Jean-Pierre Stoop

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