IMPRESSIONS: Sasha Waltz & Guests’ “Kreatur” at BAM as part of the Next Wave Festival
BAM Howard Gilman Opera House
November 3, 2018
Direction and Choreography: Sasha Waltz
Performance and Choreography: Liza Alpízar Aguilar, Jirí Bartovanec, Davide Camplani, Clémentine Deluy, Claudia de Serpa Soares, Peggy Grelat-Dupont, Hwanhee Hwang, Annapaola Leso, Nicola Mascia, Thusnelda Mercy, Virgis Puodzunas, Zaratiana Randrianantenaina, Corey Scott-Gilbert, Yael Schnell
Costume Design: Iris van Herpen
Sound Design: Soundwalk Collective
Lighting Design: Urs Schönebaum
The titular creature isn’t just metaphorical. It’s real, arriving two-thirds of the way through Sasha Waltz & Guests’ 90-minute piece. Clad in a black body stocking, it radiates spikes from the waist up, like a half-shorn sea urchin. This creature pads around the stage, frightening and seducing, as performers gawk, dart away, and approach curiously. To be a creature is to live in the liminal space between freak and human, setting everyone else on pins and needles.
Making its US premiere as part of BAM’s Next Wave Festival, Kreatur investigates humanity’s fraught relationship to power, order, and ultimately each other. Less choreographer and more of a mad scientist, Waltz casts the stage as a microscope slide where fourteen dancers evolve through stages that could be dubbed chrysalis, colony, creature, and community. The transformations are individual and societal, minor changes aggregating into major ones.
In sepulchral lighting, the company glides on stage. Airy aluminum cocoons hang over them, making them look a little like dust bunnies. They explore their bodies by pointing the arches, but not the toes, of their feet. As their confidence surges, everyone sheds the cocoons to engage in languorous weight sharing and bearing.
The activity — though not the tempo — escalates in tandem with Soundwalk Collective’s score of clangs and rumbles from factories and a former Stasi prison. The dancers flail, pulse, writhe, and thrash with jutting elbows and swiveling hips. They coalesce into a big clump and then splinter into tiny clusters of more rave-inspired movement. So much is happening that it’s hard to know what should be happening.
This episodic flurry resolves into a confused narrative as the colony finds itself in peril from an invisible force. They gather on the platform of a white staircase, some falling off, others clambering to safety. Later, sadists exploit fear and humiliation to create an illusion of order. A martinet orders a quivering woman to “Stop crying!” and then “Stop breathing” — an impossible command, but one the victim attempts.
As with all societies that surrender to authoritarianism, the colony consumes itself. Yet they leave behind hope in the form of a woman in a white architectural skirt and top (the costumes are by tech-fan fashion designer Iris van Herpen). Through a solo of spurting, rabid gestures, this mythical virgin predicts a new era, which is exactly what transpires.
The creature enters, the community regroups, and dystopia is eradicated through a common enemy. They celebrate with a free-for-all of free love. As the cheesy “Je T’aime” (by ‘60s sweethearts Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin) warbles, the dancers get it on. The creature, now revealed to be a woman, masturbates lustily alongside another performer. Two men kiss, and another grabs a woman’s breasts for a looong time. Apparently, love is all you need.
The last searing image hearkens to a motif from the beginning. One dancer wraps a woman in a sheath of shiny, silvery plastic. Her form becomes distorted as if she’s been captured in a water-filled test tube. And so it ends, with the specimens being rebottled and shelved until they’re released again.
Waltz is bleak in her critique of humans, who are horny, prone to fascism, and violent except when kindness serves their self-interest. Unfortunately, this is neither a new thought nor even an interesting one. It’s nothing we don’t already know, seeing as we’re living it now. No amount of je t’aime will change that.
Even bleaker is the barrage of avant-garde clichés: bare breasts, apocalyptic imagery, a creaky soundtrack, and unintelligible screaming. Celebrating her 25th anniversary as a choreographer and recently appointed as co-artistic director of Staatsballett Berlin, Waltz should be above such hackneyed tools.
This leaves the tantalizing option that Kreatur may not be about the banality of evil at all. Perhaps, it’s about the banality of 21st-century art and its inability to rise to the demands of our time. Is there nothing new or compelling to say or do because humans have proven themselves incapable of being anything other than . . . creatures?
Now that’s a bleak thought — and an interesting one.