The timid light of a fake morning reveals a white and mysterious monticule, rising from the shallow waters of a lake. Scattered around the stage three heaps of headless, breathing body-matter disturb the surface. A danced process of cellular meiosis (as opposed to mitosis, Google it!) gradually allows for seven separate entities to appear and introduces the name of the game.

For Vessel Damien Jalet seems to have found all the ways a head can be physically hidden on stage. Impeding us to make up their stories based on age or gender the dancer’s bodies become astonishing tools for image-making, and in their flawless execution of movement quality we see them become microscopic organisms, sci-fi animals, or unknown creatures of old.

As weirdly appealing to the eye as an open wound can be, Vessel confirms Jalet’s ability to hook the audience through feelings of unease. Suspiria (remake of the 70’s cult movie directed by Luca Guadagnino in 2018), Les Méduses (danced in the halls of the Louvre in 2013) or Backmarrow (co-created with Erna Omarsdottir for Chunky Moves in 2009) are, in a way, all examples of the same strategy: Jalet knows how to use movement – this so often presented as innocent and romantically touching art form – to appall, to terrify. Still, we keep watching.

Those willing to indulge in Vessel‘s fantasy and let go of the search for the dancer’s faces are in for a treat: to be sucked into the manga-like, ancestral environment designed by Japanese visual artist Kohei Nawa. The white centrepiece has a bubbly, starchy material in its core which is visible from the start and – when the bodies finally interact with it – this paste becomes liquid too, bringing Vessel‘s both visual and ritualistic dimensions to a whole other level.

If anything, I only missed the deep voice of sir David Attenborough to accompany us during the journey.

Jordi Ribot Thunnissen – Seen May 14th @ITA-Amsterdam