Les Ballets C de la B – Nicht Schlafen “incredible emotional impact”

Les Ballets C de la B credit Chris Van der Burght

Belgian choreographer Alain Platel, with his recognised dance collective Les Ballets C de la B, presents an intriguing piece of incredible emotional impact.

Dealing with significant themes of uncertainty and suffering, Nicht Schlafen explores the role of the man in our society through a series of gestures that reflects that feeling of insecurity pervading the beginning of the 20th century and still present nowadays.

Challenged by Gerard Mortier’s suggestion of creating a work based on Gustav Mahler’s music, Platel creates a parallel between the era in which the Austrian composer lived and these days.

Mahler’s music expresses the sense of lost harmony and feelings of fear and frustration that prevailed in the early years of last century in Europe – a troubled period that preceded the First World War. Steven Prengels creates a special soundscape combining African chants and sounds of sleeping animals in contrast with Mahler’s symphonies.

The piece opens with the group of dancers sauntering around three dead horses placed on a wooden stand, contoured by a ripped curtain in the background. Visual artist Berlinde De Bruyckere designed this post-war, desolated scene a sinister, yet singular atmosphere that urges the dancers to start a brawl.

Eight men with only a woman among them, fight in small groups with intense brutality, slapping and punching each other, shouting and ripping up their clothes with such a feral behaviour.

Disorder alternates with moments of stillness and coordinated sublime dance. It is a distressing and powerful scene that conveys a sense of rough violence, but adorned with comical elements too. Wearing only what remained of their clothes the dancers convene together to perform a fascinating and dense piece, accompanied by Mahler’s poetic symphony.

Another transition, set on sounds of sleeping animals, sees dancers move freely on the stage while duets execute a sort of slow-motion fight, grabbing and melting in each other’s bodies with unnatural, contortionist-like lifts, building a good tension and a sense of placid force.

A ritual is evoked when the performers gather around the dead horses singing and dancing on the tune of African chants in a sort of mesmerising tribal party, accompanied by two exceptional musicians and singers – Boule Mpanya and Russell Tshiebua.

The show culminates in a collective piece where each dancer brings to the stage their personality in a mix of dance styles and movements characterised by astounding acting skills and conveying a general sense of joy and hope for the future.

We are expecting a story, but our hopes are successfully disenchanted by a string of emotions showcased with explosive passion. The traditional separation between man and woman is broken down by the presence of Bérengère Bodin, whose captivating personality gives a specific colour to a situation where men are trying to find their position in society, until the point where no difference is made any more between genders.

Platel demonstrates his ability in questioning the complex issues of our era through his signature dance vocabulary, made of contemporary style and theatrical gestures.

I love the fact that he draws inspiration from different people from various backgrounds, reflecting this variety of skills in his eclectic worksalways highlighting the importance of removing the barriers to express our deepest feelings.

Listen to Alain Platel talking about Les Ballets C de la B, the creative process and the inspiration behind Nicht Schlafen.