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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 6 JULY 2014 — On the contemporary dance scene for the best part of 30 years, the work of Flemish-born Wim Vandekeybus has consistently been marked by a brutal, restless, instinctive energy, and his latest piece shown at the Theatre de la Ville, premiered at the Biennial of Venice in 2012, is no exception. For as innovative and original as each of his pieces is claimed to be, any work of his I have seen has been horribly aggressive, the stage consistently resembling a battleground both during and at the end of each show. His staged angry fits get tiresome.
From his early studies of psychology and photography, Vandekeybus turned to dance at the age of 22, his first claims to fame being under the auspices of Jan Fabre, where he cavorted naked around the stage for two years as one of Fabre’s naked dancers in The Power of Theatrical Madness. Inspired by Fabre, Vandekeybus created his own troupe, Ultima Vez, in 1986 and became a frequent guest of the Theatre de la Ville soon after.

Danny Willems and  Ultima Vez in Booty Looting
Choreography: Wim Vandekeybus

There are many ways of describing Booty Looting, but it was obviously  not dance, but a theatrical show more suited to the Festival of Avignon "off", the off-beat shows which happen outside the official festival programme. Moreover, it should in truth be reviewed by a theatre critic or even a photographer, for the redeeming feature of this work  came from the excellent photos taken by an  itinerant photographer, Danny Willems, on stage throughout, who mingled and followed the performers, "stealing" their image with his invasive camera, stealing something which had already been stolen. His shots were then instantly projected onto a large screen at the back of the stage, which, at the beginning of the show, was a photographer’s studio.

Booty Looting, for six performers, a musician, and Willems, opened with the German actress, Birgit Walter screaming hysterically at the top of her lungs over the (presumably) dead bodies of her three sons, who, we later discover, she killed with the help of a Xerox machine. It continued with quotes from the French film-maker, Henri Clouzot, followed by an interminable sequence with the German artist, Joseph Beuys, with his famous lines, ‘I love America; America loves me’,  with references to his installation in a New York art gallery for three days in company with a coyote. Four "coyotes’ were thus present on stage in the guise of four performers, voracious, savage and violent, who proceed to eat the main character, the narrator Jerry Killick, who ended up running around the stage stark naked at the end of the piece. What this added to the show is anyone’s guess. Even Medea had a piece of the action.

Danny Willems and  Ultima Vez in Booty Looting
Choreography: Wim Vandekeybus

After escaping from the clutches of the coyotes, Killick’s role in the piece continued with a boring monologue in which he declared to the audience, "I don’t care if you’re listening or not; I’m just doing my bit and you can go if you want" (several spectators seated at the back of the theatre took him at his word and stealthily departed). As part of his script, it was extremely pretentious whereas if it was real, he felt people were no longer listening to him because he had little conviction in what he was saying knowing it was verbose and boring. Long monologues in "dance" can be very boring.

Danny Willems and  Ultima Vez in Booty Looting
Choreography: Wim Vandekeybus

This heavy handed piece with Vandekeybus producer rather than choreographer was trying too hard. But then, one either likes or dislikes his work. For spectators seated around me, it was definitely the latter.

Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe. She has contributed to The Guardian, The Observer and Dancing Times and was dance consultant to the BBC Omnibus documentary on Rudolf Nureyev. Based in Paris,  Patricia Boccadoro is the dance editor for Culturekiosque

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