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September 4, 2013 5:54 pm
For the anniversary year, a performance of famous choruses from Verdi and Wagner – could anything be less original? In C(h)oeurs, Belgian choreographer Alain Platel achieves the inconceivable, and makes it feel as if every note of these old favourites was brand new. At last, Wagner and Verdi sound utterly original.
C(h)oeurs, made last year at Madrid’s Teatro Real and playing at Brussels’ La Monnaie this week, brings 10 dancers and 70 singers together on an empty stage to present a discourse on democracy and revolution, on the individual and the group, on isolation and its opposite, on love and on war. During the Dies Irae from Verdi’s Requiem, a man stands cowed in a white dress, his back to the audience, every muscle tense. During the overture to Lohengrin , trembling dancers in dresses lurch across the stage, their underwear clenched between their teeth. The choir gathers at the back of the auditorium while the stage lights, lowered, blaze painfully at the audience, and the thunderous cry of “Heil, König Heinrich! Heil!” from Lohengrin is answered by the strained and fragile voice of a lone dancer on the stage – a total subversion of a totalitarian image.
As the evening progresses, dancers and choir mingle in a series of narratives that are both direct and eloquent. Two young boys join a riot with anarchic zeal; later, their limp bodies are passed from hand to hand above the choir’s heads, and a placard is held aloft: “Revolutions eat their children”. The singers raise red-painted palms towards the audience, the international symbol of opposition to the use of child soldiers.
C(h)oeurs – both “choirs” and “hearts” – is unpretentious and direct. Few directors today can match Platel’s inventive sincerity, the fluid physicality and honesty with which he can move both dancers and non-dancers around the stage.
The choir of the Teatro Real Madrid, the dancers of Les ballets C de la B, the orchestra of La Monnaie and conductor Marc Pollet all perform with intelligence and heart, and it is impossible to leave the performance unmoved.
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