Körper Pushes the Limits of Human Embodiment

19 years after its inception, Sasha Waltz’s performance still brings a novel perspective on the body

German choreographer Sasha Waltz visited the Newmark Theatre in downtown Portland to showcase her performance piece titled Körper (‘bodies’, in German) — an entirely fitting name for a show that wonderfully demonstrates the beautiful movements of the human body through an avant-garde and somewhat alarming performance. Körper strives to represent the natural movements of the human body by juxtaposing slow organic movements with abrupt and jerky ones. The dancers demonstrate their talent with incredible control over their body as they are thrown around, tossed about, piled up, and moved in every possible way that the human body can. Controlled movements are contrasted with chaotic ones as the performance switches frequently from disarray to order, restriction to liberation. 

At some moments in the show, the performers are confined within cages or behind glass. This seems to dehumanize them, bringing attention to their movements rather than their personality. The audience is disconnected from the mind and reconnected through the communication of the body. 

Other elements, such as dramatic lighting and use of ambient noises instead of music, contribute to the ominous tone of the piece. The show feels as if it takes place in a dystopian universe; the only thing connecting the audience to the performers being the blatant presentation of the human body. The dystopian feel is strengthened by an act that is repeated several times throughout the performance: a performer stands naked before the audience, and tells a story that involves their body parts. The performer, however, mislabels each body part, such as pointing to their elbow when they’re referring to their mouth. The act is obscure, but brings a humorous touch to the piece. Despite the ominous atmosphere of the performance, most movements and segments of the piece add obscurity and humor. 

Waltz created Körper in 2000 — at 19 years old, it still stands as a stunning tribute to the human body.

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