‘Vessel’ is like nothing you’ve ever seen before

Vessel | State Theatre Centre | Until 4th March | ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ 

Vessel is an outstanding collaboration between Belgian dancer and choreographer Damien Jalet and Japanese sculptor and set designer Kohei Nawa.

At the beginning of the piece the theatre slowly falls into completely darkness, the curtain rises and an inordinate amount of time is given for your eyes to adjust to the darkness.

Gradually you begin to make out some shapes on stage, a large white structure that looks like a chunk of floating ice, and there are people, possibly people, on the stage, scrunched up and tightly bound. For a moment you question if they are actually people. Maybe they’re just objects, sculptures with body parts carved into them.

As the light brightens slightly you can confirm there are indeed performers on stage, you can see a foot, an arm, is that the side of a thigh? The body parts don’t seem to make sense, they’re not in the right places. Is it two people tightly embracing? Maybe it’s three people.

There’s a gentle ambient hum, the sound of water dripping, the image of the interwoven bodies reflects on the stage. Why is the stage so shiny it gives off a reflection? You realise the stage is covered in an inch of water.

The bodies start to move, ever so slowly, and so begins one of the oddest and most interesting pieces of movement based work. The dancers begin to separate, it’s like watching cells divide through a microscope. They create ripples in the water, and rougher movements send water splashing up into the air, and at one point across the first three rows of the audience.

They begin to grow, like time lapse footage of seeds sprouting, the evolve from rolling and squirming on the ground, the becoming upright, they twist and contort and squirm. We never see their faces, they never quite make it to human form.

The work is meditative, for the most part it moves slowly, endlessly unfurling, body parts are more like tentacles than arms and legs, they reach out, recoil and re-position over and over again. There are a few moments of humour to break the trance, but it’s a work that has space to let your mind wander and go on a journey of your own.

Vessel is a thought provoking work that combines the world of dance with sculpture, are choreographer just human sculptors? It’s not like anything we’ve seen before.

Vessel  is playing at the Heath Leger Theatre at the State Theatre Centre as part of the Perth Festival

Graeme Watson

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