Part 3 – Physical Theatre entering mainstream

Welcome back to the Physical Theatre Series! In our last feature (part 2) we looked at the different elements of physical theatre and the characteristics that make a piece fall into this particular genre. This week we take it a step further and look at physical theatre as a whole in the ever growing world of dance.

WTB©DannyWillems-5829Photo Credit: Danny Willems – What The Body Does Not Remember’

A significant physical theatre performance that has made a pioneering mark on the dance scene is undoubtedly, ‘What The Body Does Not Remember’ by Ultima Vez. Described as ‘tough, brutal, playful, ironic and terrific’ by the New York Times, this adrenaline-fuelled physical performance is fast-approaching at The Lowry, and is one of many physical theatre performances featured this season. What makes this performance different however, is that it debuted 25 year ago and today, with a new cast it is once again on a remarkable world tour.

With the revival of ‘What The Body Does Not Remember’ it makes you wonder, where does physical theatre lie in the world of dance today? Has the audience for this particular genre evolved and grown over time? Is it perceived differently today? How mainstream is physical theatre exactly? This week, Emma Liu explores and unravels these questions.

WTB©DannyWillems-longerPhoto Credit: Danny Willems – ‘What The Body Does Not Remember’

When ‘What The Body Does Not Remember’ first took to the stage in 1987 it stunned the dance world. It wowed audiences so much that founder and director Wim Vandekeybus along with composers Thierry de Mey and Peter Vermeersch received the prestigious Bessie Award. Described in 1987 as an innovative and extraordinary piece of work it is undeniable that ‘What The Body Does Not Remember’ certainly pushed the boundaries and helped shape physical theatre in the dance world.

 Tough, brutal, playful, ironic and terrific. Adjectives seem unduly passive in describing What the Body Does Not Remember, an extraordinarily innovative dance piece.” The New York Times, November 22nd, 1987.

The advancement and growth of physical theatre is definitely owed to critically-acclaimed dance companies such as Ultima Vez and DV8 Physical Theatre. Companies such as these help put physical theatre in the spotlight as they continue to revive or create new compelling work were no topic is off limit. With this, it attracts ever growing audiences and expanding media attention that thrive off the challenging themes and complex issues explored in these contexts. These internationally recognised companies tour the UK, Europe, America and beyond bringing physical theatre to the doorsteps of thousands from around the world.


Photo Credit: Danny Willems – ‘What The Body Does Not Remember’

When it comes to artists and dancers of the future, you could look at the national curriculum and say it is helping create a new generation of performers influenced by physical theatre that has evolved over time and is still continuing to grow through young people studying GCSE, A-Level and BTEC dance – so who knows where physical theatre will lie in ten years to come? But what I do know is that today, physical theatre is more accessible than ever and is a key part of the national curriculum and this is making it more mainstream. Plus why shouldn’t it be a part of the curriculum? It has many advantages for instance, you can merge and integrate various performing arts styles together such as drama and dance as part of a physical theatre performance just like dance pioneer Rudolf Von Laban explored. Laban played a major role in making physical theatre mainstream by exploring the relationship between three different disciplines of the performing arts together through physical performance. Looking at dance, drama and music Laban made it accessible for artists from different backgrounds to engage with physical theatre ultimately making it more acceptable.

3Photo Credit: ‘Day Eight, Bourgeon’ Rudolf Laban with some of his students – Dance pioneer who made physical theatre more acceptable.

So the idea of physical theatre becoming mainstream is clear – it is one of the most physically expressive styles used today, its popularity is increasingly growing, it is becoming more and more accessible and there is certainly no sign of it stopping yet!

You can catch Ultima Vez’s ‘What The Body Does Not Remember’ (14+) at The Lowry on Friday 13th and Saturday 14th March. (Highly recommended for GCSE, A-Level & BTEC Dance students.)

Don’t forget to use the promocode YDA, to access your £5 tickets offer (limited to YDA’s ONLY and a max of 2 tickets per person) use the promotional code YDA and go to ‘What The Body Does Not Remember’. Alternatively book your tickets over the phone by contacting the box office 0843 208 6000.

Find out more about ‘What The Body Does Not Remember’


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