Hands in a hole in a wall grapple as the audience settle themselves. The great Berlin company Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz are throwing stuff at us even before the performance begins.

This company, which for the past 29 years has nurtured some of the great names of German dramatic theatre, has controversially had a change of identity. Last year Sasha Waltz became artistic director - she's young, female, and, what's more, a choreographer.

Supremely confident of this transformation, Waltz has chosen to make Körper (Bodies) the focus of her debut production with the company. As the lights dim, a group of dancers in dark suits begin a merciless slamming session. It makes you wince: those bones are making a lot of noise.

Meanwhile, stage left. A great black 10 metre-high monolith looming over the action suddenly reveals a saintly body flat-framed in a window of light. Another curls into view, and another, until 11 are oozing around together in this celestial elevator, white bodies stark against black. It's nude heaven featuring Lucian Freud's fleshy, soft-folded meat, Breugel's hellish medieval souls, the smooth marble piètas of the renaissance, the bodies of science - all rolling together in slow motion. A whole civilisation's worth of body beautiful crop ping up in one image. Only a wizard like Waltz could collect and dissect ideas with such skill, and only then with a company as individual and experienced as the one she has brought together.

For an hour and a half, the company whacks out an encyclopedic list of corporeal facts and fairy tales. The work flashes out myriad images of the body in art, in psychology, in medicine, in sport, in love, in society, in violence, in religion. At times there are bursts of pure, liquid dance, at others performers are grabbing handfuls of skin and carrying each other around. If you are ever lucky enough to see these Körper, you might want to pinch yourself at the end and check that you're still there.


Alice Bain

The GuardianTramp

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