by Dalton Alexander
April 14, 2017. Brussels.
Wim Vandekeybus and Ultima Vez, an internationally renowned dance theater company, premiered their newest work, Mockumentary of a Contemporary Saviour, at KVS Bol in Brussels on April 14, 2017. While the company’s repertoire has most recently exhibited an extreme physicality as seen in Vandekeybus’s most recent work, Speak Low if you Speak Love, Mockumentary presents a text-heavy narrative where ritualistic movement and full choreographed sections are woven in – sometimes seamlessly, and other times awkwardly.
Mockumentary deals with death, love, limbo, sex, and ritual – often calling on the audience to question their own purpose within the work as well as the world. It continually questions the idea of God, taking the viewer on a journey of revelations. We as the audience are given multiple views on the community of seven very different performers as they create and inhabit the fusion of apocalyptic sci-fi images with that of traditional ritualistic circles.
It is clear that Vandekeybus acknowledges and even emphasizes thorough embodiment of each character – allowing the majority of the seven performers to enter the space with movement first before a heavily scripted scene. They carry a sense of ‘this is what we do’ throughout the piece – creating an atmosphere where most of what the performers do is believable. Unfortunately, some characters were more imposed on the performers than their expertise allowed – most notably, Jason Quarles, an angry guilt-ridden chosen one who often overcompensated his one-track emotion with a graveled yell. The art of subtlety is necessary in this case. Luckily, Daniel Copeland was able to embody a more complex character, not only providing superficial comic relief but also diving in deeper into the nuances of emotions and how society views them today.
For those who know Ultima Vez well, you can find joy in certain quips presented by Saïd Gharbi regarding his never-explicit “condition.” Vandekeybus and the cast do a fantastic job of not hiding but also not emphasizing certain characteristics. They allow each performer to be spotlighted, showing us what makes them different without forcing it on the audience – except for that of Quarles. Perhaps, though, this was the point? To overdramatize one’s character to juxtapose the more subtle actions of the others.
A few notable points that deserve praise are first, the background movement within each scene where one actor’s movement causes a shift in the entire cast, thus allowing us to see their community and to amplify the importance of what is happening; and second, the sudden drop-out of different “sessions” where the performers remember their humanness and recognize that the world they had just dove into was simply role-play. These drop-outs provide a major relief for the audience and allow us to connect back to the performers as human beings.
The word mockumentary means to me that one would be mocking the documentation of real life. While certain moments within this work can be quite sarcastic and even sadistic, I never had the sense that Vandekeybus was ever mocking in a ha-ha manner. There is, however, a strong reflection on whom and how we worship in today’s society. Who is our contemporary saviour? Is it our mother? Is it love? Is it anyone except for our own selves? How do we escape the turmoil that we may be feeling due to globalization and the rise of the far-right? To whom do we turn? And for what?
Mockumentary of a Contemporary Saviour is on at KVS Bol in Brussels until the 22nd of April and will continue its tour in Belgium and abroad.
All photos by © Danny Willems