The first of Continu’s three distinct sections is a focused, musical study to Iannis Xenakis’ Rebonds B, a solo percussion piece performed live by Robyn Schulkowsky. Sasha Waltz animates the rhythms and patterns of the music, layering the individual movements of a group of dancers in irregular formations to build the complexity of the score. The dancers’ movements are angsty and staccato, occasionally receding into dervish-like whirls and punctuated by kathak-esque stamps. Bernd Skodzig’s black dresses billow as they turn and shimmer and shake, giving a softer edge to the hard movement. This offering is pithy and engaging.

Sasha Waltz & Guests: Continu in Radialsystem V, Berlin
Sasha Waltz & Guests: Continu in Radialsystem V, Berlin

The second section is almost entirely different. It is relatively operatic in its scale, intensity and length, featuring a large cast of 23 dancers. Set to Edgard Varèse’s more evocative Arcana, its movement is often excessively expressive and mimetic. Its strangely unwarranted emotional content is often unbelievable and repelling given its more abstract leanings. The spatial composition and choreographic patterns feel more familiar too than the preceding section, with heavy usage of unison and canon across diagonals, straight lines and regular formations. The mass orchestration of the dancers seems to smother a lot of the more successful elements of the piece; fleetingly beautiful performances are hard to pick out against the mass of staid, gestural unison.

Waltz shifts focus to the set, three imposing black walls that evoke a genuine claustrophobia. She tests the boundaries and restrictions imposed on the dancers by polarising the space, sweeping masses from corner to corner who push at the walls and each other. The dancers also express an emotional reaction to their setting with symbolic gestures that often become over-dramatic and feel unauthentic.

This half of the show is bleak and pessimistic. Maybe excessively so. A combination of elements – Varese’s grandiose musical bombardment, Waltz’s expressive choreography, the austere costume, and the epic atmosphere – is distancing, never allowing the piece close enough to truly affect. The sheer numbers and striking visuals should be more powerful than they are.

The minutely lifted tone of the second half with its brighter design and lighter music is welcome. The choreography is spacious enough to allow viewing of all the more successful elements including a solo early on with fresher movement propositions and a complex duet toward the end that deals intricately with grasps. Each are given the space to develop. This half forgets the dysfunctional and violent society of the previous act and deals more with the individual, where Continu’s strengths are most apparent.

This piece is based on earlier site-specific projects at the Neues Museum in Berlin and the MAXXI in Rome. This is apparent in the way bodies and choreography are designed, dancers and movements being used as building blocks in an overall vision for the space.

Continu is stripped back and focused. On the pure movement end of Sasha Waltz’s spectrum, it omits a lot of the visual imagery, cheek and unusual juxtapositions that have made some of her earlier work stand out; it looks closely, without all the multimedia, at the relationship of the individual to the group. Unfortunately in losing many of these elements it loses something of the innovation that makes Waltz remarkable and has rightly earned her her celebrated status in European dance.

***11