Les Ballets C de la B, Joyce Theater, New York

If Brueghel and Bosch had met, they might have come up with Alain Platel’s Out of Context – for Pina, a panorama of movement ranging from the mechanistic to the deranged.

The stage is a hive of divergent activity. At any given moment – or the best moments, anyway – in this desultory two-hour show, one cluster of dancers may be progressing methodically from bone to bone and joint to joint in a cubism of motion; another group stand far upstage with their backs to us like stone goddesses, chests bare and orange blankets tied around their waists; and a man and woman play prehensile footsie. The intrigue in these semi-private dramas is the body’s imminent unravelling.

In the first New York appearance of Les Ballets C de la B since 1996, the nine highly individual dancers protrude their butts, hang their heads, loll their tongues, and let their ribcages slip and slop, their eyes grow askew, their feet smack the floor. They do this in unison – that paragon of order. The border between “movement disorder” and “dance” begins to warp.

Inspired by the motor disease chorea, Platel – a movement therapist before he was a choreographer – wants to discover the common ground between these extremes, dancing and disorder. From the evidence, I’d venture that it is extravagance. The difference is that virtuosic dancing pays for its excess with the body’s skilled economy. Disordered movement, on the other hand, is excessive through and through; it blurs periphery and core, the essential and the extraneous. A dance with a messy structure can give pleasure, as Platel’s does, but a body in disarray turns out to be agonising to behold, out of context or not.

So Out of Context – for Pina mixes intermittent agony with the pleasure. But it is never grandiose in the misery it causes. Rather, it is resistant to polemic, benign in its vision of human nature (despite the evident debt to grim dance-theatre doyenne Pina Bausch) and dilatory in its unfolding. Serious and playful, the dance is experimental without obsessing over its experiments; it is like a methodical postmodernist in the Trisha Brown vein who, midway through a “movement study”, hears a good song on the radio and drops everything to dance. () www.joyce.org

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