After years of binge watching YouTube and Vimeo clips of Win Vandekeybus’ work, in November 2013 I was finally lucky enough to bag tickets to the Queen Elizabeth Hall performance of Booty Looting. Over the years have found myself fascinated with the choreographic rigour and pace of Vandekeybus’ work and the sheer physical strength, extensive abilities of the human body and the plethora of multi-media explorations he used to offset and embellish his real-time movement choices.

Booty Looting was no different.  

Indeed the work did celebrate the high level virtuosity of the performers however, I do feel this was a different kind of work for Vandekeybus in many ways. There were some snapshots of earlier work, where the choreographer shamelessly ‘steals’ or references past histories and recreates them within an arena of contemporary performance. His fascination with choreography and the frame of the composition for me was one of the major drivers of the piece.

After seeing many artists try and tackle the Greek myth of Medea, I found the precarious balance between humour and torment something that held me on the edge of my seat throughout the piece. The company portrayed an off the cuff narration coupled with a naive childlike desire for attention, within several changing frames on stage. The stage itself was rather stark yet enticing. With numerous props, screens and an informal, fluid audience/performer relationship.  This relationship was explored further when the photographer (an active member of the performance) included the audience in his live feed of projected snapshots. Not only did this expand the audience interaction however we were transported to the inside of the piece, further establishing that the piece was about taking something, and reframing it else where, whilst not experiencing the lens as an intrusive presence. 

Photography is something that Vandekeybus uses as a tool to alter perception of things and perhaps intervene established memories and the use of photography in this piece particularly created a dual existence and an interesting juxtaposition to the live performance. This was distorted by the use of a photocopying machine and framing the analogue image alongside the projected digital snapshot. We see what happened within the frame, outside the frame and the reconfiguration of the frame which establishes this genre of performance as something which questions and toys with the transience of live dance, theatre and film. 

The musical accompaniment throughout the piece was poetic and perfectly timed. The fact that we could see the musician working on stage was vital, to me, in restoring the liveness of the piece. The presence of the musician was also very real and unlike the chaotic mystery of the characters occupying the stage. This, alongside the honest execution of spoken work and raw emotion, encapsulated a tale of tormented confession and twisted betrayal. 

The stage throughout remained like an ever changing art studio, where the dance was a catalyst of ideas and perhaps not the ‘main event.’ This clever balance is mirrored in a lot of Vandekeybus’ work, that allowed the viewer to skim and pick at the elaborate compositional concepts, while still being wowed by the dynamic choreography and calculated chaos of the stage.

Overall I was rather mesmerised by the piece. Seeing a familiar story being dissected and retold through complex physicality on a constantly shifting canvas, was both refreshing and tasteful. A complex merging of image, voice and dance that left me feeling energised and wonderstruck.

My first live Vandekeybus did not disappoint.

 Photograph sourced:

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