any attempt will end in crushed bodies and shattered bones
The Belgian choreographer Jan Martens and Berlin Based Dance On Ensemble presented a livestream of his latest work any attempt will end in crushed bodies and shattered bones on 6 May, from the Concertgebouw in Bruges, as an avant premiere at Dance Munich 2021. The work has also been made into a film by award-winning film director Lukas Dhont, which was aired on Belgian national television. I spent two days diving into the two versions of the work.
For those who did not catch the film (which was aired only once), the livestream is a new opportunity. Aside from the names and ages of the dancers being written next to them at one point in the film, the overall experience of the film version and the livestream is pretty similar. A commendable achievement, as livestreams aren’t necessarily always filmed in such flattering quality. The two mediums successfully transmit an assertive commentary on our times rooted in a poetic atmosphere.
Both formats open with a wide-angle shot of a vast gray stage. Slowly, the image zooms towards the young dancer Wolf Overmeire moving with precision and grace. Henryk Górecki’s energetic musical composition invades the space like an avalanche. The dancer and the music seem to lead one another, and the merging of movement and sound makes it impossible to say which forms the impetus. The strong beginning sets the tone for what is to come. A symphony of bodies builds up throughout the piece: a series of duets, trios, and quartets succeed one another until the full orchestra of 17 performers is on stage. In the filmed version, the dancers’ names and ages pop up one by one next to them as they move.
The notable cast with some familiar faces and other very fresh ones makes for an atypical collective of bodies. Each dancer seems to represent an individual planet, with its own rules and movement language, yet, all are part of the same galaxy, forming a collective movement. Without physical contact, the performers interact with each other by dialoguing through movements. At other times, each mover seems to hold an independent narrative. Just like in the film, the live stream was shot from different angles which skillfully involves the viewers in this succession of appearing bodies.
The layered work is also composed of some strong political ingredients. In both versions, we can hear the narration of an excerpt from Spring, a book by Scottish author Ali Smith about a conflicted and divided Britain. And let’s not forget the poignant reference to President Xi’s 2019 statement: ‘Any attempt to split China, in any part of the country, will end in crushed bodies and shattered bones.’ Using elements such as marching, line formation, walking in perfect unison, Martens bridges physical form to political insurgency.
With the humility that characterizes Martens’ works, the two generous pieces are a beautiful ode to the dancers. Individuality is not only respected but also celebrated. The heterogeneous cast of dancers aging from 16 to 69 is a delicate reminder of the value of each and every one.
Jan Martens is one of the few artists currently operating within the dance sector to merge craft and political engagement with poise and intelligence. The choreographer hardly ever disappoints, not only in his artistic choices but also in his engagement with the professional field. With his non-profit organization GRIP, he is the motor of several much-needed initiatives, endorsing other artists and making a stance against abuse in the work field.
any attempt will end in crushed bodies and shattered bones will hopefully be premiered live with a live audience at the prestigious Festival d’Avignon in France this summer. I for one am keeping my fingers crossed.
Photos: Phile Deprez