After a full year of ‘pandemic postponements’ and ‘covid cancellations’, Belgian choreographer Jan Martens finally raises the curtains on his new dance creation, any attempt will end in crushed bodies and shattered bones, a large-scale production featuring 17 performers aged 16 to 69. For this film adaptation of the piece, Martens teamed up with long-standing companion and Caméra d’Or laureate Lukas Dhont – and it is through his meticulous approach to documenting the dance, dissecting the order and anarchy within it, that we perceive the piece.
Like a bolt from the blue, performer Wolf Overmeire rouses the piece into motion. Repetitive music by Henryk Górecki charges the vacuous blue-grey space, making it rumble like a thundercloud. Completely surrounded by this monotonous haze, including costume in the same colour, Overmeire seems to conduct the music with his movements, rather than be conducted by it. With each alternation of the two musical themes, the work builds up gradually into a 17-headed hyperkinetic performance. Each dancer demonstrates the same wilfulness, empowerment, the desire to profile themselves in their own way. They don’t speak the same body language, yet as a collective they constitute a shattering scream.
There is a strong political component, though it is neither forced nor instantaneous. For the deeper meaning, you have to dig into the work’s textual aspects: a recitation of Ali Smith’s SPRING, the lyrics of Kae Tempest’s People’s Faces, but above all the title: ‘Anyone attempting to split China in any part of the country will end in crushed bodies and shattered bones,’ stated President Xi in 2019.
With his stripped version, Martens makes this quote a token for the violent language that governs vulnerable societies today. Towards the end of the piece, in the eye of the storm, the insistent repetition falls still in a bird’s-eye tableau: bodies scattered across the floor, some lying on top of each other almost romantically. But awkwardly folded limbs whisper chaos into this still life. It’s an image of both tenderness and brutality, the peace you have in being who you are and the battle you have fought to become that person.