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les ballets c de la b

'Out of Context' - for Pina

by David Mead

June 17, 2010 -- Sadler's Wells Theatre, London

Alain Platel’s work usually includes detailed sets and classical music, so “Out of Context”, played out on a stripped back stage and without a classical note in sight, is just that. The “for Pina” addition to the title was added as recognition of her influence on his work. “Pina Bausch is the mother of all contemporary choreography”, says Platel, “Even those [who] oppose her, are influenced by her”. Like Bausch, Platel works from long periods of improvisation, asking the dancers questions, then using their answers as performance material.

The 90-minute work starts slowly. It takes a while to accept the apparent lack of: structure -- narrative, choreographic or textual; production polish; and the paucity of clues as to what it is all about -- there is no set. Yet it is a work that grabs you and loosens its grip rarely. Many of the London audience were on their feet at the end of the show. And the cast of nine were outstanding, both in the intensity of their performance and the quality of the movement. “Out of Context” does leave an indelible impression. There are some beautiful moments and some memorable images, but it also leaves many unanswered questions.

For large parts of the work Platel goes back to his past as an educator of children with special needs. Much of his inspiration came from the effects of chorea, a disorder in the nervous system resulting in hysteric and uncontrolled movements that blur the line between the conscious and the subconscious.

After the cast have emerged from the audience and stripped to their underwear, they stand statue-like swathed in identical orange blankets. It is a memorable image, but its meaning is left for the audience to decipher. It is impossible to escape the feeling that the blankets have some hidden meaning; a comforter perhaps, and a means of minimising feelings of isolation. As the dancers seek each other out and try to get to know each other, they nuzzle and sniff one another as animals might, all accompanied by recorded animal sounds that are almost primeval in nature. Yet it comes to nothing. Much of the movement is full of convulsions, spasms and apparently uncontrolled off-balance walking. It all looks improvised, although it is, in fact, very set.

The central part of the piece features much unison work by various small groups danced to a techno-beat. The dancers sing or speak snippets of well-known pop songs into microphones, but all the songs are different. Although they may be in close physical proximity, there is little acknowledgement of each other’s presence. They are doing the same dance but not dancing together. Occasionally there are moments of virtuosity as an individual shows off some personal skill - Kaori Ito, who was particularly arresting to watch throughout, showing off her extremely flexible contortionist-like body being one such highlight. But the sense of loneliness continues right to the end when one of the men asks the audience if anyone will dance with him (no-one actually does), as if everything that went before has been erased from memory.

Platel eventually takes us full circle and the cast return from whence they came, to the strains of Jimmy Scott’s cover version of Prince’s “Nothing compares to you”. A comment on individuality and being alone, or a nod to Pina? Probably both. Definitely moving.

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