Sasha Waltz’s fascination with the body might not come as a surprise. Per definition, a choreographer is bound to be interested in either the body or motion. Peculiar to Kreatur, premiered last June, is that Waltz presents the body as anatomical fragments or details, a body without a head that thus comes to stand for anybody and anything that is alive. A come back after a long break from creations solely for dance – in the past ten years Waltz made a name for herself with large-scale opera projects – this highly anticipated work is a step into a new direction in the company’s jubilee year.

In pitch-dark, white fluffy shadows slowly enter the stage. Directed by an external force the dancers, in nude briefs, are encased in cocoons of metallic wire. There is something oddly reassuring and tender in their clumsy aimless hasting about emerging and entering in and out of these wiry clouds, their feet in the foreground most of the time. From this archaic microbial soup of phagocytic amoebas, humans are born, naked on stage. In the next scene, they are covered, or rather un-concealed, by black crop tops and skirts or shorts. The garments become see-through as the wavy, 3D printed and laser-cut, strips move with each of the bodies changing lines. They are depicted in their most instinctual state, with shakes and tremors, the potential fluidity of the movement sequences dissected in quick jerky, trusting fragments. The images evoked are of dominance and power with the dancers alternating between perpetrator and victim. The bodies are further fragmented by the changing images offered by pliable sheets of reflective plastic. In the next sequence, a human-sized black porcupine terrorizes the dancers. The isolation of the animal is reflected in the pain inflicted by its stings to the dancers in line. Once one has bravely won its confidence with a waltz, the collective uncovers a tamed woman under the heavy costume. Next, a woman describes in French her empty body as filled only with love and incites the group to fight for freedom. The dancers then dangerously squeeze on top of a white platform on the right-hand side of the stage before a blackout. The attention is brought back to the skin as the dancers – inexperienced children or sadistic lovers – in nude laser-cut outfits, slap body parts together. The dance ends on a fragmented body encased in a reflective tube.

Kreatur is highly crafted, with every detail thought through, starting from the fourteen dancers, five men and nine women, with different body types – tall and short, skinny and fuller – and shades – extremely pale or milk chocolate tones. All are unique in their own ways; some have traces on their skin – tattoos and piercings – others have striking magenta hair – and the many solos punctuating the dance highlight this. They also function perfectly as one cohesive group. Central to the work are the astonishing costumes by the Dutch couturière Iris van Herpen, known for working at the very limits of couture while crafting the impossible, mostly natural elements such as water as in her Crystallisation collection with the water dress. Extremely effective and wonderfully minimal is Urs Schönebaum’s lighting design, able to overthrow a contained and secure atmosphere to a hostile one simply by raising a line of light higher in the background. Also contributing to the swift changes and, despite its beauty, a bit lost without programme notes, is the soundscape created by the Soundwalk collective collating sounds recorded in industrial structures, such as the Berghain, Berlin cult underground club, or a former detention structure of the Stasi. In a sense, Kreatur is a continuation of the Körper inquiry line but also cuts away from Waltz’s previous aesthetic. The body, still the focus, is not the body in society as in Bausch, to which Waltz is often compared to, but the body as a living, breathing unit, vulnerable and tender. There are some long lasting images, like that of the translucent sheet fragmenting the bodies and a woman climbing infinite stairs, but they are more abstract than in her other works. It reminds me of Wayne McGregor’s sleek and minimal staging and lighting design and distorted, instinctive bodies.

From microbes to Berghain’s love encounters – two male dancers kiss passionately – the evolutionary step from microcells gazing to a voyeuristic anatomy display is short. There is no fil rouge to hang on to in order to exit this labyrinth of strong body images and make sense of it. The armour protecting the skin has fallen, the physicality of the body been established by the slapping but no direction is given as to what to look at under the glass of the microscope we are offered. Still, the work is an interesting step in a new direction that is possibly not fully taken yet.