On the ground, a robotic mannequin, head bowed sadly, joints twitching. Next to it is a pair of twisted legs, ankles flexing back and forth. You can get a surprising amount of pathos from fibreglass and microchips, it turns out. Elsewhere, two part-animal, part-machine people are attached to cables, screens on their backs like shells. Awkwardly twitching, they’re curious to connect and completely unable to. Meanwhile the pictures playing on their backs are of primal scenes, half-naked bodies jumping around in a field and whooping, forgotten images of life lived freely.
This is Creature, originally a gallery installation, now reimagined as a half-hour film, by German artist and choreographer Ben J Riepe. It’s made in collaboration with dancers from Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch (with whom Riepe performed early in his career), and it’s an unconventional mix of performance, rehearsal extracts and elliptical interviews with some of Wuppertal’s veteran dancers about the situation they’ve found themselves in this past year.
Riepe’s artistic obsession is the body, its place in culture, society, politics, art, time and space, and here there’s a strong theme of bodies connecting, whether a crescendo of heavy breathing in orgiastic ritual, or people walking through thick mist, unable to see each other, but then starting to sing; finding their harmonies as other senses heighten. The film is also about the abandoned building where it’s all taking place, the Schauspielhaus Wuppertal, a theatre that closed in 2013, left empty but now filled with bodies again, lurching and writhing around the courtyard. Appropriately at this time when theatres in the UK are finally reopening, it’s a paean to artists bringing back life where previously, as dancer Nayoung Kim tells us, there were only ghosts.
• Further streaming dates in August and September to be confirmed. See benjriepe.com or pina-bausch.de for details.