Feet stomping on the stage floor, missing the heads of dancers who roll out of the way in the nick of time. Dancers hurling themselves at one another and colliding. The thud of bodies dropping to the floor like sacks of cement. These are just a few of the sights and sounds of Belgian choreographer Wim Vandekeybus' physically punishing Spiegel ("Mirror"). The 90-minute tour de force performed (without intermission) by Vandekeybus' troupe Ultima Vez bashes its way onto the Byham Theater stage on Sat., April 19.
Utilizing material from six works created by Vandekeybus during the company's first 15 years, Spiegel reflects on the mutual development of choreographer and company since its founding in 1986. The work also continues investigating the unique movement language Vandekeybus and his dancers invented -- movement that is animalistic, ritualistic, conflict-laden and brutally intense.
Spiegel is set to the music of five composers, from former Talking Head David Byrne to Pierre Mertens. But the work "is not a collage," says Vandekeybus by phone from Brussels. "It is a work unto itself that hangs together with links, hints and remixed choreography. It is constructed in courses like a dinner, and flows musically without any break."
A director, choreographer, actor and photographer, Vandekeybus connects to dance via a background in theater. A psychology major in college, he took a theater workshop that changed his life. Then he discovered dance, and a desire to mesh principles of mind and body. Vandekeybus says his approach to creating his earlier work came about less from a choreographer's perspective than from a theater director's. Each work was built by he and his dancers after he presented them with his avant-garde ideas on movement.
"You don't learn this in a dance school," says Vandekeybus. "A lot of the movement created came from the dancers' intuition about an idea."
Vandekeybus looks for unpredictability in an art form he feels is predictable in its desire to be beautiful.
"My works are screams against the boringness of life," says Vandekeybus. "Something like the pumping of our blood can drive movement-expression."
Surprisingly for such a physically demanding work, Ultima Vez (Spanish for "the last time") travels with only the nine dancers it needs to perform the multi-media Spiegel, and no understudies. A risky move, admits Vandekeybus -- but one that goes hand-in-hand with the work's risky choreography.
Based on a preview on video, Spiegel (which contains brief nudity) will challenge many people's ideas of what dance is. Its raw intensity and unorthodox beauty, however, have the power to make converts of many.
Ultima Vez presents Spiegel 8 p.m. Sat., April 19. Byham Theater, 101 Sixth St., Downtown. $19-40. 412-456-6666 or www.pgharts.org