Nicht Schlafen is a creative wonder marvellously performed by les ballets C de la B. Being choreographed by the adventuring Belgian choreographer, Alain Patel, it’s not a conventional ballet of course but rather barefoot contemporary dance inspired by the deathly disruption of life in Europe due to war during the first part of the last century.
The set, by Berlinde De Bruyckere, consists of a sculpture of three life-size dead horses piled in a heap with a ripped curtain of a blanket as a backdrop, providing high drama before any dancing or music has begun.
The performance starts peacefully with the sound of cow bells but soon the nine dancers (only one of whom is a woman) are fighting, tearing each other’s clothes off to not much more than rags. It is in their revealed dancer’s bodies vulnerability is expressed. This is a theme superbly expressed in this work, performed by mostly men as it is, it is very affecting. Frequently too in this piece dancers arrange themselves in moving sculptural forms, shadowing the shapes of the magnificent dead animals centre stage, drawing that metaphor.
The dancers cross cultures. What is described through these differences, however, is the uniformity of suffering and joy. Relevant to the issues of today. Each of the dancers is identifiable as individuals in the Pina Bausch way, bringing specific characteristics. The section in which Boule Mpanya and Russell Tshiebua reference the music and rhythms of Africa with polyphonic chants is exciting as well as enormously skilful.
The music manipulated by composer Steven Prengels, mixes Mahler with other sounds including those of sleeping animals. There’s also a text by Nietzsche which he himself labelled a dance song and choral work too, also part of a cantata by Bach. The drama and poignancy of this music are harnessed to glorious effect.
The translation of the title of the work is Not Sleep. The only time the work sagged in the long piece, despite the significance of the particular section to meaning and narrative, was after about seventy minutes, as most of the dancers rest on stage as a small battle to a death ensues. Momentum restored to life sometime later the piece thrillingly and joyfully proceeds to break the fourth wall.
The performers of les ballets C de la B are fine dancers. Ido Batash’s leaps and spins are marvellous, David Le Borgne is enthralling and Romain Guion is agile and nimble. Samir M’Kirech is charming indeed.
At the end of this stunning show, all one hour and forty minutes of it (no interval) the dancers slipped out of their roles suddenly revealing by physical exhaustion the remarkable efforts that had been required of them. They looked out at us in the audience as if to ask, Did you like it? The answer was yes, very much. It was unforgettable.
Review by Marian Kennedy
Unclassifiable Alain Platel, the trailblazing founder and director of Belgian contemporary dance collective les ballets C de la B, returns to Sadler’s Wells for the London premiere of his new work, nicht schlafen on Friday 30 June & Saturday 1 July.
Motivated by the music of Gustav Mahler and the time the composer lived in, Platel draws parallels between the music and the troubled early years of the 20th century in Europe which ultimately led to the great crisis of the First World War. He uses cultural study Change and Culture in the West, 1900-1914 by the historian Philipp Blom as inspiration for nicht schlafen, featuring eight male and one female dancer.
Alain Platel – les ballets C de la B
Sadler’s Wells, EC1R 4TN
Friday 30 June & Saturday 1 July 2017
Performances at 7.30pm