Originally formed from site-specific pieces made for the opening of David Chipperfield’s Neues Museum in Berlin and Zaha Hadid’s MAXXI museum in Rome, Sasha Waltz’s Continu has since been adapted for the smaller surroundings of your average-sized theatre stage. It’s apt really as there’s a constant sense of trying to break out permeating the work.
The incredibly precise ensemble work of the first half, with more than a whiff of Pina Bausch’s claustrophobic Rite of Spring about it, was interspersed with some wonderful imagery. Mostly danced in tight huddles, soloists broke free from time to time for a few moments of self-expression only to be swallowed apathetically back into the crowd. Vast groups crammed themselves into the corners of the black box staging and scrabbled desperately to reach smaller groups fighting elsewhere. The moment where the mayhem of the whole company pegging it round the stage suddenly morphed into a perfect circle of spiralling couples was extraordinary. The half closed with the whole company lined up at the back of the stage while a man shot them dead one by one with his voice.
In truth, though memorable, the first half was overly long with a certain muddiness in direction. Centred around two pas de deux of stunning intensity and control, the second half was far more satisfying. The pair of duets focussed the emotional energy that had lain unresolved until that point and fully allowed the dancers to reveal their astonishing strength and grace. The lift where two men each balanced a reclining woman atop the soles of their feet was ridiculously beautiful to look at. This half finished in much more positive fashion when the canvas that had been painted by the dancers’ feet was lifted from the floor to form the backdrop to a touching duet. With a final flourish, the same canvas was whisked up into the air where it ballooned gently back down the floor. It nearly took out half the front row of the audience but it looked lovely nonetheless.
The music is a nowhere-near-as-bad-as-it-sounds mix of Xenakis, Varèse and Claude Vivier with a delicious snippet of Mozart thrown in at the end. The opening segment of Xenakis’ Rebonds ‘B’ is a terrific piece for percussion superbly performed by the legendary Robyn Schulkowsky with a physicality and enthusiasm that’s hard to resist. There also long periods where the body-slapping and exquisite huffing and puffing of the dancers are the only sounds to be heard. Once into its rhythm, the constant dislocation of sound helps cement the disjointed nature of the movement it’s provoked.
What Continu is trying to say isn’t really clear. It’s a tough, uncompromising piece that requires patience to watch but there are so many outstanding individual moments that it rewards the viewer in bucketloads by the end. Great stuff.
Continu runs until Sunday 28 September 2012. Tickets can be booked via the Sadler’s Wells website.