Sasha Waltz and Guests: d’avant

image credit: Sebastian Bolesch. Performers: Luc Duberry, Damien Jalet, Juan Kruz Diaz de Garaio Esnaola, Sidi Larbi Cherkaouiimage credit: Sebastian Bolesch. Performers: Luc Duberry, Damien Jalet, Juan Kruz Diaz de Garaio Esnaola, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui

The Medieval period, or Middle Ages in European history is between the 5th and 15th Centuries according to the gospel of Wikipedia. And there were Early, High and Late periods too. That’s quite a long time. An expanse for fishing bits of text together, deciphering scratchings and locating polyphony. A lot of change then, a lot of progression in order to transcend Middleness to else-times-other. Less before, but still before.

This work is now 13 years old. The fluidity of motion is a continuous facet amongst the shifts of focus between solos, duos, trios and groups. I sometimes tune out of the frequent shaping around each other, all three-dimensionality and on-goingness. Maybe because the space is so big and so wide. Their voices are not small, but they are not the force of opera. The accumulation of the even flow generated through their knotted unknotting renders the accents more telling, though.

Before, ten years ago, I did a workshop with Damien Jalet, and it was nice to see him again, throwing himself around with a familiar power. He talked a lot about ‘the axe’ then, which I think he meant to mean the ‘axis’. But given that he moves sometimes as if there was an axe about to attack his head, maybe he really did mean a ceremonial object for wood cutting. The spine is sometimes pretty ceremonial here, then unceremoniously off-vertical, stumbled, contorted, moulded and left alone.

D’avant transcends epochs and does indeed create a mosaic of movement and song in the desire to bring them to the same level in theatrical discourse – so says my free-sheet. Yep, yep it does. It’s theatre in the fullest sense of the word. It’s rich in nuance, phrasing, accents, and very early on there are exquisite tiny chinks of sound from steps on the circle of bricks, reminding me of teeth and bones and porcelain politeness. The associations flow from all sorts of signifiers. A red velvet suit, emergency tape. Four men, four men moving and singing. Making images. Ripping them apart. Being cruel, being tender, making a mess, pissing about, playing football with Jalet’s head. Bullying little shits. Warning signs. Burying the dead. Traversing scaffolding. Throwing rubbish about. Kicking up dust. Jesus alluded to, deferred to, made into a cuckoo clock bell. In a knowingly camp interlude, there really is a boyband moment of Total Eclipse of the Heart in four-part harmony. This intersects medieval polyphonic and plainchant, acts of nonsense, poignancy, some political rhetoric through dressing up, flags and placards. It typifies early noughties hybrid poeticism, and it works.

And yet I leave not particularly transformed. I adore the meld of singing and moving. I adore that regardless of their initial specialisms, all four men engaged as fully in the training of movement and singing for the performing of them, and in a shared creative process. All of this I value highly, and I’m happy to witness such skillful work presented at the Southbank, with the boldness of the images and sensitive, joyous use of verticality through the scaffolding set. Yet dust thins towards me instead and something dissipates in the gulf between them and me. Maybe my heart cannot fathom alchemy, harmony, the unbalanced life, the futility of it all on the eve of a General Election that could bring change to a corrosive political landscape and the heart breaking nonsense of a before – torn, pissed upon and left to rot. Togetherness is hard, it leaves bricks needing to be kicked by others, heavy ropes to pull alone.


Direction Juan Kruz Díaz de Garaio Esnaola
Choreography Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui
Dance Luc Dunberry
Song Damien Jalet