With van Dijk | Eyal, the Staatsballett presents the second programme of its newly acquired contemporary repertory. The evening is only partly a novelty: Distant Matter by Anouk Van Dijk is a world première, Half Life by Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar having already been presented earlier this season. I have really enjoyed watching it again as it brought me to reflect on the type of bodies presented in many contemporary works: these morphing bodies, more or less subtly distorted, allow us to peek inside exposing the soft, tender parts that characterise us.

Staatsballet Berlin in Eyal's <i>Half Life</i> © Jubal Battisti
Staatsballet Berlin in Eyal's Half Life
© Jubal Battisti

Known for her counter technique, Dutch choreographer van Dijk has us think about perspective through means of a distorted catwalk in Distant Matter. Physics teaches us that observing a phenomenon will influence it; we are biased observers constantly editing our reality. The work starts on an empty stage where an enormous roll of (what seems to be) paper hangs at the back, leaving a white trail unfolding in the front. A lady wearing a black body, black over-the-knee socks and a black mirror helmet enters with a catwalk gait. Face-less and with a distorted silhouette, she looks alien. Six other dancers follow all dressed rigorously in black and in varying degrees of avant-garde attire: a woman with a cap, a man with shorts and gloves, another with an asymmetrical floor length dress. On music by Jethro Woodward, they line up at the back and move towards the front of the stage following a pattern of horizontal and vertical lines. The precision of these lines quickly becomes fluid as they start running and end up chasing one another. The models morph into nervous ants tip taping on a white surface. Another tableau follows in which one or two dancers becomes the focus and the rest, still on stage, potters about. While performing liquid waves alternated with jumps with jolted downward landings and acrobatics (the signature move being a rotating jump with bent legs at the back), the dancers drop layers of clothes, ending up in black underwear and socks. The alien lady even loses her helmet revealing long brown hair. The relation between these heterogeneous not-for-real qualities puzzles me. They leave no significant trace behind and the end is rushed, with the alien lady shortly interacting with the background, now a floating cloud that appears to hug her. The new geometry thus created is refreshing but (also) left floating void of meaning.

Staatsballett Berlin in van Dijk's <i>Distant Matter</i> © Jubal Battisti
Staatsballett Berlin in van Dijk's Distant Matter
© Jubal Battisti
Premiered last September, Eyal’s and Behar’s Half Life is still hypnotically impressive and this second time around, I could appreciate its simple yet effective construction. Cohesive and concise, the dancers’ bodies are restricted in their movement vocabulary (mostly upper body proxemic movements), their silhouette slightly distorted by their stance in a way that reminds me of the lines created by Alexander McQueen. With oval faces, extremely long necks with dropping shoulders and long legs, the dancers seem to be walking on McQueen’s armadillo heels, their knees slightly bent, a little unsure of their stride. All of their bodies are alike – there is almost a comparison between the female and the male body at the beginning, but it dissolves into one unique flesh at the end – and the work proposes a unique and sensitive embodiment. The heart pounding rhythm (Ori Lichtik) is still trance inducing and we still suffer with the dancers in their movement marathon: from the seamless changes in height at which the dancers perform a series of upper body movements dissolving into more balletic moves (extended limbs, straighter torsos and pointed feet) to the series of endless beats (at least 32 but rather more entrechats quatre) by Daniel Norgreen-Jensen or the group’s jumps on straight legs towards the end, I find myself sweating with them imagining very sore legs. The typical move – the slow Sunday jogger that barely shuffles from its place – is just faking ease. And the semi-darkness of the piece sharpens our eyes and draws us closer in order to catch all the details of this living kaleidoscope. The work is now inhabited by the dancers: still very grounded, some of the movements seem less internally driven than months ago. Some urgency has gone, and transformed into form, but the dancers are now breathing, if not sweating, in perfect sync.

These different ways of perceiving bodies as hectic vibrating ants under the ramp light or fluid beings in semi-darkness seem to be pointing to an anxiety towards embodiment. The bodies proposed in this programme are dystopic, disturbing and distorted, constantly morphing, moved by a nervous internal energy. They're still fluid crossing the floor, both animal and insect at the same time. With one we have a bird's view on their patterns, with the other we are transported inside the visceral body. These works are an invitation to look at these restrictions or murky spaces inside our bodies in order to explore their significance.

****1