Sasha Waltz is a German choreographer and I am quite new to her work but oh! oh! I like it. The piece I’m going to write about today is entitled Körper (meaning ‘bodies’) and it is a huge production with a sexy, expensive architectural set, a large cast, a tight and intelligent concept with original and rich movement. It is beautiful. Yoh, but those Germans know how to make high quality, high production choreographic performances that retain a poignant sense of artistic integrity. Oh yes. They do. (Also they’ve got that enviable pedigree heritage of Wigman and Holm and Bausch to name a few.)
Körper was made in 2000 and is part of the “three piece choreographic cycle about humans and their bodies”. (From Waltz’s website). The other two pieces that complete the work are S (2000) and noBody (2002). All of these works are entirely worth writing about, but that thought is somewhat daunting and I am going to focus on Körper for now. There is so much depth and nuance to this work and it is an hour long, so I am just going to mention a few parts that stand out and also talk a bit about the nudity in the piece (in order to be legit and stay with my self-assigned theme.)
What I like about this piece is that there is something else going on under the surface but at the same time Waltz seems to reiterate that all we have to show for these subtle subterranean dynamics is (in fact) just our surface. There are (sometimes painful-looking) moments of play throughout the pice. Water is made to look as though it is being squeezed out of humans in moments of dark humour. Internal organs are put on display with some marker and paint (reminding me of one of my all time favourite works by Jérôme Bel – Jérôme Bel), curious centaur-like creatures, made from two clever bodies, are awkward and ethereal and you want more of them the second you see them. Plates are stacked like spines, broken and put back together. Bodies are introduced, measured and verbally rearranged in many different manners. Hair becomes a musical instrument and skin gets bullied and stretched and yanked around in the most alarming manner. And these seemingly disconnected scenes make you think constantly about the body in a new way. The corporeal manages to be engaging, almost fun, in a strangely cerebral way. Again I say – It’s beautiful.
Because there is so much going on, so many images and thoughts and movements and relations, constantly being introduced, one almost forgets the partly or wholly naked bodies. Nudity is not the focus. Bodies are. (Unless of course one is a hormonal sex-crazed virgin adolescent in which case the partly or wholly naked bodies and the presence of boobies in this piece would be the only thing one would notice). But mostly, Waltz manages to get you to look past the nakedness and directly at the body in all its weirdness and horror and fascinating appeal and confusion and its simple ability to function (and not function). In fact, right now, after just watching the piece for the second time I wonder if there is ‘enough’ nudity to be in this little series of mine. And then immediately I respond to that silly thought with promptly coming to the end of this post.
I should add that my only real gripe with this work would be one that I have with most ‘first-world’, ‘avante-garde’ contemporary dance (inverted commas present to save myself from the onslaughts of inaccurate but often helpful labels and generalizations). And that is the overwhelming presence of perfectly white and beautiful bodies. I ask myself the question, are only rich white Europeans allowed to appear classy and artistic when naked on stage? Do naked black African bodies only occur in a publicly appropriate way when they are performing in a tourist show for foreigners out to get their dose of African tribal heritage? Also the Small-Breasted Woman that seems rampant in European dance companies – what’s with that? Are women with big breasts allowed to dance in the nude? Or is that aesthetic reserved for only inoffensive small-busted female bodies? Of course, I understand most professional dancers generally have to have really fit and able bodies. I suppose my complaint is that choreographically, there is certainly a lot more room for bodies that are less acceptable, socially appropriate and perfectly sculpted. Odd bodies can make for seriously beautiful and interesting choreographic work.
But it’s a wonderful work of art. And here you can watch it the whole piece: