Confusing, Uncomfortable Work Attains Catharsis

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Elko Blijweert: booty Looting: Wim Wandekeybus’ Ultima Vez, Queen Elizabeth Hall (Southbank Centre), London, 13.11.2013 (JO’D)

Created with & performed by: Jerry Killick, Birgit Walter, Luke Jessop, Kip Johnson, ElenFokina, Moritz Ostrushnjak
Also performed by: Milan Herich, Hlín Hjalmarsdottir
Direction, choreography and scenography: Wim Vandekeybus
Also created with:Dymitry Szypura
Original music: Elko Blijweert
Live still-photography: Danny Willems
Artistic assistant and dramaturg: Greet Van Poeck
Lighting design: Davy Deschepper, Francis Gahide, Wim Vandekeybus
Sound design: Antoine Delagoutte
Styling: Isabelle Lhoas assisted by Frédérick Denis
Movement assistant: Máte Mészáros


Whatever else its theatrical aesthetics make the audience feel over almost two, interval-less hours  ­  uncomfortable, offended, confused, bored  ­  booty Looting ends with a sense of catharsis that owes its force to those very feelings, and to their duration. Among the wreckage of its partially destroyed set, two of the performers sit on the floor while a third prances naked in the semi-darkness around them. ‘It’s not a shirt,’ the story-teller of the piece (Jerry Killick), says in exasperation to the audience before he removes that article of clothing, ‘It’s costume.’ His nakedness can be seen as a final, liberating honesty, a peeling away of the artifice of representation.

One of the performers sitting on the floor at the end is the German actress, Birgit Walter, who appears ‘as herself’. The story-teller refers to her by name, and the piece would seem to narrate her life. At a moment early on, the actress herself says, ‘I’m dead,’ and falls to the floor. After that, we can only question everything we are shown. The four other performers are sometimes Birgit’s children, sometimes the adults she paid to act out the roles of the grown up children she would have had if her children had not died in infancy. It’s less confusing to concentrate on what people are saying, and how they are moving, than on who anyone is meant to be (or, rather, to represent) at any given moment. The younger performers move in an astonishing variety of ways: as coyotes to begin with (Luke Jessop has the hunched, loping motions of the shoulders exactly); as a synapse (transmitted first of all through the staccato jabbing of Elena Fokina’s forearms and hands); as the stumbling, groping infirm. Just as you have got used to them as one thing, they become something else. The stage is also difficult to look at, constantly divided as the attention is between focuses of action that occur simultaneously but which differ widely in dramatic content.

The piece itself questions what it shows through the device of a photographer, who moves about the stage throughout, apparently photographing the action and immediately reproducing images of it (enlarged and in black and white) on a screen. Photography is part of the plunder and theft that the title of the piece refers to. ‘No pictures,’ Birgit pleads, early on, to the photographer. The story-teller has to call him off, like a dog. The camera can also be used to threaten and to chastize. When, halfway through the performance, those members of the audience who want to are given the chance to leave, the price is to be photographed as they do so (and to have the image of it displayed). ‘It’s alright. It’s alright,’ the story-teller tells the trigger-happy photographer, calling him off again as he continues to point his camera around the lighted auditorium. ‘These people are staying.’

Though uncomfortable, confused, offended and bored myself at times, I’m glad I did stay: for Birgit Walter as Medea after she has slain her children, quoting Maria Callas in the Pasolini film (another piece of booty that is, consciously, looted), ‘Nothing is possible any more’; for Elena Fokina throwing tennis balls to damage the screen on which the photographed images have appeared; for the catharsis.

John O’Dwyer

Leave a Comment