Lately, one has the impression that not a day goes by without a new apocalypse being foreseen. Animals are disappearing and nature is rebelling – signs that we are slowly altering the balance of “our vessel in the universe”. It is unclear how long Mother earth will be able to adapt to our selfish needs before eventually giving up. Nanine Linning’s newest work, Zero, questions just that. Would the apocalypse end everything or be a new beginning? Nominated for DER FAUST award for 2013, Zero impresses with the costumes (Iris van Herpen), entrancing video sequences (Roger Muskee) and evocative lighting design (Loes Schakenbos).

Nanine Linning's <i>Zero</i> © Philipp Zinniker
Nanine Linning's Zero
© Philipp Zinniker

Linning’s Zero starts as H. R. Giger’s Alien meets the harness acrobatics of Mission Impossible, and Spiderman's inversion of gravity. Futuristic and animal-like sequences create complex tableaux of striking, oppressing beauty on eight musical pieces by Arvo Pärt, Philip Glass, Julia Wolfe, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Alva Noto and Ryuichi Sakamoto. The dark ornamentation of the first part is counterbalanced by a last section of nude simplicity.

The piece opens on a beautiful and extremely promising image: a deep fog covers the stage. From the clouds several human figures are seen frozen, mid-air, in their fall; in the background a tribal group moves slowly, crab-like, towards the audience. Their animal sliding, paired with sinuous torsos, elongates them unnaturally, whereas the tribe seem to be performing unfamiliar rituals. Suddenly, two dancers come forward, wearing black leotards, and perform a mix of street and hip-hop robotic gestures at an impressive speed, whilst emitting sibilant sounds. The fluttering of their arms is disrupted by the group chasing them. Two other couples in leotards appear on stage, to dance highly interesting duets, while two women defy gravity, wearing invisible harnesses and looking like spiders with innumerable arms and legs moving in unusual directions. Then the stage is transformed, with blinds, into an enormous cage, onto which a short video sequence is projected – a group of frightened birds on a leash. The quick, sharp movements give way to images of frogs and monkeys, and, to conclude the sequence, two of the dancers walk on the back wall.

The piece ends with a beautiful sequence. In nude costumes, the dancers move as one, first creating sequences as in Muybridge’s study of human movement – the dancers perform the same steps at a fractional distance apart, giving the impression of one shared body – then rearrange themselves to create lines and sculptural compositions. They then melt into one another with a fluid partnering, in which the female dancers seem to lose contact with gravity: they are constantly turned upside-down so that we also lose orientation. The piece ends on two dancers slowly walking backwards, almost crying for love.

Nanine Linning's <i>Zero</i> © Philipp Zinniker
Nanine Linning's Zero
© Philipp Zinniker

Without doubt, most impressive in Zero are the costumes of the first two tableaux, the video sequences and the movement material of the last part. The costumes by the world-renowned Dutch designer Van Herpen have an uncanny Giger-like quality. Van Herpen, who worked for Alexander McQueen before founding her own label, has her own dark tendency that can be compared to designs from Alien. The first sequence features skirts of layered black rubber, that made the dancers look like giant beetles, complete with an elongated black mask under which no eyes can be seen, only a smooth black surface. These are impressive but one wonders if they were comfortable for the dancers. The costume for the second sequence is a vest of spiky plastic feathers in baby blue, that vibrate slightly with each movement, highlighting the motion. Muskee’s projections, mainly in black and white, capture natural phenomena in close-up, using the costumes to trigger the audience's understanding of what is shown on film. The last section of choreography was the one that better showed the great skills of the dancers and possibly suited them best.

On the whole, the piece goes to great lengths to explore exciting images and tricks, inverting gravity to impress the audience, and, if it were not for the last section, we would be left in a Giger-esque post-apocalyptic world. The costumes and projected film play a major role, but one can also argue that they make the whole production a little too rich, besides hindering the dancers’ movements. Zero is a very well-crafted work, it is enjoyable and undoubtedly memorable.