Wim's Dance Challenge
RAW, physical, passionate, savage, uncompromising - any one of these powerful
adjectives could be used to describe the dance of Wim Vandekeybus.
It's 20 years ago that the Belgian-born choreographer left his home country and headed for the Spanish city of Madrid to found his own company, Ultima Vez.
Now, to mark the passage of those two decades comes Spiegel, a celebration of Wim's work, forming a remarkable on-stage journey from the late 20th century into the 21st.
So intense is the physicality of the piece - at times it places demands on the company that would test the endurance of a circus acrobat - that both dancers and audience are surely left drained and exhilarated by the experience.
Undoubtedly an exciting and even brutal piece of dance theatre, for the company it must surely seem like every night is a battle to be won afresh as their bodies hurl around the stage and are then hauled into the space above.
Eduardo Torroja certainly knows how intense that experience can be for he has been working with Ultima Vez since its foundation in 1986, initially as a dancer and more recently as a teacher.
German Jauregui has been with the company since 1998 and gives a breathtaking performance in Spiegel, combining the company's trademark ruggedness of movement with a marvellous sense of individuality.
For anybody who has never seen Ultima Vez before, Spiegel might come as something of a shock to the senses but that's fine by German.
'It is not so important how you see things', he says. 'We are human people and we need to put names to things, to recognise them, put them in a box and know what we are seeing or what this experience is.'
But, he adds, this need to understand and find an instant meaning, is not something that would have occurred in the distant past, when dance responded much more to the senses and the emotions, be it a dance of celebration, triumph or death.
'It is quite simply this - we are using our bodies as an instrument and that's all you need to see to understand or analyse our work.'
If the dancers themselves do not seek a direct meaning in the work, that's because, as Eduardo explains: 'Wim doesn't like to give them information easily.'
'Sometimes we might have an inspiration for part of the piece but it is only an inspiration for us to create the movement, it is not for the dancers.'
In that way, he adds, the piece remains constantly challenging and always developing.
'You go to see a performance on a different day and it can be completely different!'
'A lot of choreographers start from a story, from a legend or whatever and then they build the piece from that but for Wim it is different and he will use the little elements that together create something.'
That‚s not to say that there isn't a theme running through his work - there is definitely something of a sense of a journey through time in Spiegel, for instance.
'It think each creation is another universe', German suggests. 'Sometimes Wim is very conscious of the story and sometimes not but always the movement is our continuity, it isn't an empty form. It is about feelings, it is about emotions.'
One thing that is certain is the high level of expectation Wim puts upon all his dancers as they enter a world of intense physicality.
'There is a risk and when you play with the risk there is danger,' German agrees. 'But I think that's a very important part of the work. The risk is always there and in Spiegel it is very clear.'
'When you want to create something, if you don't take risks you will never achieve anything because the only way to create and to keep going is to take risks. What I like about this work is that the risk is always there.'
'Physically, it is very demanding but we know what we need to do to keep ourselves in shape for the performance.'
What they also need, Eduardo adds, is the trust the entire company have in their choreographer and director and each other.
'The trust has to be there', he insists. 'When we do auditions we check how generous the dancers are, how much they give to the other people on stage.'
'Wim is asking for that trust and there are no divas in Ultima Vez.'
'Some people would find this company too demanding. Dancers are just normal people. There are dancers who will give everything and there are some who give nothing and don't want trouble - they are not for Ultima Vez.'
'It is hard work', German says of Spiegel, and there will be the inevitable injuries that all dancers face during a run.
'You have injuries and you are tired but still you want to go on', he says.
That, says Eduardo, is because Wim works not in a spirit of conflict but co-operation.
'It is an artistic choice and that is very important to us,' he says. 'We are all involved together.'
That collaborative process, German concludes, is what keeps the company moving forward and makes every day such an enjoyable challenge.
'Sometimes we don't know where a piece is going but then we discover things,' he laughs. 'Many times we find ourselves lost and try to say we don‚t know what this is - but then we get there.'
John Highfield October 2006
Extract from Spiegel