Three women in jeans and t-shirts on a stage backed by crinkled plastic curtain. Two front women in deep, unbalanced back bends. The woman at the back is on the floor already.


LEE\VAKULYA: Burnt [the eternal long now]

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Burnt [the eternal long now] by LEE\VAKULYA. Photo © Terry Lin
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Dance work as material and metaphor for body labour and physical burnout

What does burning and being burnt mean inside of bodies? That’s the point of departure for choreographic duo Zoltán Vakulya and Chen-Wei Lee in Burnt [the eternal long now]. The question applies not only to the consumption of energy, the fuel that keeps us moving to a certain length, but also to the need for purpose and self-fulfilment as propellants to persevere, and the consequences when those are missing. A smart analogy of the nonsense inherent in both contemporary work ethics and contemporary dance, which often makes us wonder: what on earth are we doing? And what for?

The work follows a simple but effective dramaturgy: at a constantly increasing pace, a small society of dancers (Lee, Esse Vanderbruggen and Jessica Simet) drive each other, and therefore themselves, towards their downfall. At the start, they lie scattered on the stage, in identical white T-shirts and jeans. They rise slowly to the vibrations of a swelling techno beat, each reproducing their own long-stretched but decisive phrases. As the trio finds parallels between their individual movement patterns, they puzzle themselves together. The bodies become one engine, larger and more efficient. Movements of precise handicraft evolve into the sturdy jerking of heavy machinery.

Limbs chained around each other, hooked elbows securing connections, hips and torsos rotating on top of each other like cogwheels… One of them is rolled out on the floor by the other two, back and forth, like a big chunk of dough. And they take turns in dragging each other over the length of the stage, like a plough over a field. Each time the dragging becomes a bit more effortful, until they strand in complete exhaustion.

Motion blur photo of two dancers dragging a third one on her back at speed across a stage, with blurred lighting in the background
Burnt [the eternal long now] by LEE\VAKULYA. Photo © Terry Lin

Throughout all this we see unrecognisable, distorted abstractions of the performers and ourselves on a large, reflective backdrop. Its surface is deeply wrinkled, like a crashed car, with creases that can never be completely smoothed out again. But this broken mirror ultimately feels rather decorative, merely present, not going through the same development – or is it better to say decline – as the rest of the piece.

The bottom line: Three dancers test the limits of physical and mental fuels in an effort to keep surpassing themselves
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26 November 2022, National Theatre and Concert Hall, Taipei, Taiwan
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Choreo­graphy: LEE\VAKULYA
Direction: Zoltán Vakulya
Perfor­mers: Chen-Wei Lee, Esse Vander­bruggen, Jessica Simet
Music: Gryllus Abrís
Dramaturgy: Alice Van der Wielen-Honinckx
Light design: Xavi Moreno
Stage and costume design: LEE\VAKULYA
Coproduc­tion: kunsten­cen­trum nona, CCNR Lyon, STUK Leuven, NTCH Taipei, Tanzplatt­form Rhein Main
Residency partners: kunstencentrum nona, L’animal a L’esquena Celra, Staats­the­ater Darmstadt, Thor Brussels, VIERNULVIER Ghent, Taishin Culture and Art Foundation
Development support: Weiwuying National Kaohsiung Center for the Arts
Burnt [the eternal long now] is supported by National Culture and Arts Foundation (Taiwan), the Flemish Culture Ministry of Belgium, and Ms. Sunny Weng

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