Hundreds of clothes dumped on to the stage; dancers half-buried underneath, a leg emerging here and there; in the background, a fly buzzing intently. Tauberbach, Alain Platel’s latest work for Les Ballets C de la B, takes the audience to a scrapyard for a strange, intense performance.
Platel founded the Ghent-based company 30 years ago, and its formula is post-Bausch Tanztheater, complete with the tics of the genre. The troupe is now a fluid collective of artists with a number of resident choreographers, but its approach remains the same, with fascinating yet occasionally self-indulgent results.
Platel himself took a break in the early noughties to learn sign language, and this experience may have led in part to this new work. Tauberbach can be translated as “Deaf Bach” and is also the title of recordings by Artur Zmijewski, who asked a choir of deaf or near-deaf people to sing Bach.
Platel cites another source of inspiration: Estamira, a 2004 documentary by Marcos Prado about a schizophrenic woman who works on a Brazilian landfill. In Tauberbach the “role” of Estamira is played by Dutch actress Elsie de Brauw. The mother hen of the motley community on stage, she is an imposing presence, her words echoed throughout by a voiceover from what might well be another voice in her head. “I do not agree with life,” she says. “I won’t change my being. I’m perfect, haven’t you noticed?”
Tauberbach takes similar pride in its idiosyncrasy, with mixed results. Its five dancers revel in the madness of their environment with brutal honesty, sprinting among the clothes or embracing awkwardly; the choreography, when there is any, is sinuous and raw, and engages with the Bach excerpts used throughout. The final scenes need an editor’s scissors, however, and the nudity is rather formulaic, with black paint flung at tied performers and their childlike fascination with each other’s underwear.
A former movement therapist, Platel is clearly fascinated with impairment both mental and physical, and Tauberbach ultimately rests on the vulnerability and individuality of its performers, their ability to bare it all and find beauty in disorder. Luckily, the dancers are nothing short of extraordinary. Lisi Estaras, who has become a prominent C de la B choreographer in recent years, returns here as a dancer; the contrast between her character, all compact energy and intuition, and the other woman in the cast – the long, darkly graceful Bérengère Bodin – works to Platel’s advantage.
The standout in Paris, however, was Romeu Runa, a Portuguese performer reminiscent of the Royal Ballet’s Edward Watson. The freakish expressiveness of his long, flexible limbs and his nervous intensity are astonishing. Dance power of the most glorious kind.