‘ THEATRE LIST
talents to hit Britain this decade. An expert equestrian who opted out of psychology studies and into performing. Vandekeybus is as persuasive and unpretentious as his work. ‘I treat movement and space very basically,‘ he says. ‘There is this history ofdance-theatre that you have behind you but which is not yours. My goal is to empty the table. to start with nothing and out of this to come to another thing.‘
This ‘other thing’ is based on controlled high risk. give-and-take trust, the refinement ofskills that have virtually nothing to do with conventional notions ofdance technique . and sheer blazing energy. ‘I‘m more interested in the extremity and intensity ofthe moment than the significance of the piece.‘ Vandekeybus sums up: ‘I didn‘t concern myself too much that it has to be beautiful.‘
The beauty of What The Body stems from its quick-on-the-draw directness. Vandekeybus and nine fellow actor-dancers perform it with a frank and furious commitment, rather like children playing games on some dangerous playground. Their task is to transfer intact to the stage at each performance all the muscular yet fluid qualities they‘ve developed during extensive rehearsals. They run, leap, roll, hopscotch or stomp their way through the piece, sometimes missing each other by inches. They use heavy blocks first as stepping stones and then as missiles. They stride in rapid diagonals, nicking each other‘s clothing with the casual facility of master thieves. Often bordering on the violent. their encounters are most dramatically personalised in a combative section called ‘Frisking‘. Layers of complicity and rebellion litter the stage as women physically agree with, spurn or retaliate against the men who paw them. It‘s a rich struggle that. according to Vandekeybus, has less to do with sexual politics than with how these particular bodies are made.
The total effect is dynamite. Fuelled by the percolating music of Thierry De Mey and Peter
Vermeersch, Vandekeybus and company have clearly devised a powerful kinetic language. Interestingly, they ‘speak‘ it with a decidedly ambiguous accent (and not just because the ensemble includes performers from Spain, Italy and Norway as well as
Belgium has given us wafﬂes and chocolate. new beat and Hercule Poirot. But this small, divided country‘s freshest export is 25 year-old Wim Vandekeybus, the son of a Flemish veterinary surgeon who is steadily taking the dance-theatre world both sides of the Atlantic by storm. He has only two productions under his belt: What The Body Does Not Remember, a piece that receives its UK premiere at Glasgow’s New Athenaeum Theatre. 30—31 March. and The Messengers OfBad News, on in London in May. Both are galvanising demonstrations of one ofthe strongest. most searching
‘I like things that are simple. but also like they are hidden.‘ Vandekeybus says. Asked ifhis work tells stories. he admits: ‘Yes. but I will never explain to you what my story is. Or. I refuse to give one explanation. For me. it is more important to eliminate than to accumulate and show all our ideas. or all the things we know and all the truth we can tell. Some people don‘t agree with what we tell. Ifyou find it a lie. it‘s okay. For us. the work comes out of a dissatisfaction. ‘No. no. it‘s not good. We have seen it already. We look further. We go deeper.‘ Until we have only this thing that is missing in many things.
‘We can imitate any dance thing.‘ he continues. ‘I can take classical dancers or theatrical structures I have seen. so I know they work. But in fact with What The Body I just did what I wanted to see myself. And there was a kind of hunger and people just took it. like a little shot of something or a kick which makes you doubt about other things. Really. it‘s work we could play in Africa. People 65 or 75 have liked it. or children. or my mother. But they all see it different. And now it‘sjust ﬂoating. hanging in the air. Maybe in three years. yeah. it‘s gone. Because I think things are old very quickly; they‘re time-limited. But now it‘s an alternative.‘
Ofcourse. Vandekeybus hasn‘t sprung full-blown from a creative vacuum. He is part of Belgium‘s experimental dance-theatre movement that includes Anna Teresa De Keersmaaker and Jan Fabre, in whose epic The Power of Theatrical Madness he appeared. But he denies that there is a common thread between their work. ‘Each of us has to fight for our own ways. to create our own possibilities. You
must make your own river to put the water in. I will say I am happy to work in any country. and to be Flemish. But not to stay here. Flemish people adapt very quickly to other things. Belgium is so small you have to.‘
Refreshingly, he doesn‘t profess to
SPEECHLESS l asilent IIamlet fortwo hands. Rae see no reason why mime shouldn‘t take on the likes of Shakespeare. ‘Mime can do an amazing amount. I‘m tired of bcingtold what it can‘t do and I‘d like to stress its strengths and versatility. Mime is a truly popular art and one ofthe few which demands quite a lot ofits audience. It‘s a bit like radio. except in reverse -- so much of what is involved is carried in your audience‘s imagination.‘ (Simon
‘After 12 years training as a ballet dancer. I realised that I was never goingto be Margot Fontcyn. sol thought “I‘ll do mime".‘ Nearly 20 years after that disarmingly simple decision. Nola Rae is perhaps one ofthe true veterans ofthe art in Britain and has taken her unique blend ofclowning. dance and puppetry to over 5(lcountries worldwide.
After hanging up her ballet shoes. Rae jumped straight into the deep end and spent six months training with Marcel Marceau. the doyen of classical. white-face mime. Though she still does sketches in the Marceau vein. herown style is much freer. drawing on traditions of music hall. buffoonery l and circus. ‘I decided early on that I didn‘twant to be a mini-Marceau by copying him — which is a mistake a lot ofhis students make. For one thing I‘m a dancer and another is that I‘m Australian which meansl have a very different sense of humour!‘
Speaking of mime‘s new-found popularity. exemplified by the success of groups like Theatre de Complicite. she sees British mime as experiencing a great metamorphosis: ‘When I started the ultimate was to work on just a bare stage using only your body. Now if the physical. visual impact of a show is more important than speech. then it‘s mime.‘
Though still largely silent (‘but I don‘t mind singing‘). Rae‘s current show (which appears at the Traverse‘s mini- festival of mime and visual theatre) is very much part ofthis kind ofchange. In her unique mixture of styles and skills. she plays all the parts in a seriesof twisted tales exploring both the light and dark sides of the world ofthe fairies. Amongst others. the stories feature a spoilt prince whose toys take revenge on him. a debutante fairy and a sausage but the centre piece is a version ofA Midsummer Night‘s Dream— ‘only the interesting bits‘— in which the feuding fairies are cast as puppet salad vegetables.
Having already tackled
Bottom of the Garden. Traverse. Edinburgh. 4—8 Apr. See Listings.
HALLMARK 0F SUCCESS?
One of the bugbcars of being the son ofa famous father must be being phoned up by inquisitive journalists. But whether Edward Hall follows his dad in his approach to theatre or not. he certainly has a similar attitude when it comes to dealing with press. Sir Peter (until recently National Theatre supremo) has never fought shy of the Fourth Estate — a master ofthe pragmatic and ﬂamboyant press conference — and his son fields questions on his theatrical forebears with similarly jocular. tactical charm: ‘You can say I‘m copying ifyou like. (‘ome and see the production and decide whether I am.‘
In fact he started by sidestepping theatre somewhat. studying at Leeds University. rather than going to drama school. But he got drawn into acting. from acting into directing. and last year started up a small theatre company together with Richard Morrison (who also has a famous father in the shape of Peter Morrison).
The Lucky Porcupine Company tour to (ilasgow this month with Hall‘s production of Who '5 Afraid of Virginia Woolf- chosen partly for the practical reason of its small casting requirements. and partly because of I Iall‘s increasing love for modern American drama. ‘l‘ve just started really discovering Tennessee Williams.‘ he says. ‘What‘s so good about them is the steamy } emotions — they‘re so rich. They seem steeped in '
have all the answers. frequently punctuating his conversation with the tell-tale phrase ‘I don‘t know.‘ He says his major intention ‘is to continue working and not to stop and say. ‘How wonderful — now treat me good because I did this.‘
tradition in many ways. and draw the audience into the characters because they seem so normal. Then there‘s this ; bubblingundercurrcnt
i which is incredibly strong.‘
He feels that ifa director trusts the playwright and the text. and plays it as straight as it is written. this forceful subtext will speak for itself. lie is not one for trying to reach it by complex stylisation. ‘Virginia Woolf is very intense — but Edward Albee gives you so much and is so specific in how he moves you through the play. that if you really mine the text. and trust it. you get a tremendous amount from it. So my instinct with it is togo straight down the line and go for what Albee has written.‘
“is production will thus be period and straightforward in many ways — not. as he points out. like that at Birmingham Rep. where a non-naturalistic production is doing everything with lighting— and this insistence on the text is. currently. oneof his guiding principles-‘l‘m a purist. I really believe that you can't bastardise what a writer‘s written.‘
In the future Ilall hopes to direct both new writing and Shakespeare. Whether or not he will turn back to acting. like his sister. is hard to say— for the moment he seems happy in the directorial role: ‘I find incredible energy from it. I‘mdoing what I enjoy and I‘m as happy as hell.‘ (SI I)
Who '5‘ Afraid 0 Virginia Him/f, ('ruu'fllrd Theatre. Glasgow. 5 “8 A pr. See Listings.
THEATRE THIS ISSUE
SGOW 20 URGH 21 T FES 23
DF FES 24 DANCE 25
Next Issue: . Peter Brooke ' on Carmen
20 The List 24 March—6 April 1989