"battle scenes alongside Mahler soundtrack"
by Jen Soame for remotegoat on 01/07/17

nicht schlafen is a culmination of great artistic talents. Belgian choreographer Alain Platel directs les ballets C de la B, Berlinde De Bruyckere provides the macabre set design and Steven Prengels interprets Gustav Mahler’s work into a new modern interpretation. This piece, running at an intense 1hour 40minutes with no interval, is not for the faint-hearted. It begins with the nine dancers, unsettlingly eight males and only one female, silently waiting around the twisted carcasses of three horses. It resembles a refugee camp, owing to the hole-ridden blankets strung around the stage, the mix of drab casual clothes and the ethnic diversity of the dancers. Following a mesmerising solo dance by one which weaves in and around the others with incredible flexibility and fluidity they all begin to battle. Clothes are ripped from limb indiscriminately. Once a dancer escapes one battle, they instantly step into another dancer’s realm and are set upon. It is chaotic and unnerving and energy never drops.

Following this, choreography becomes clearer and solos and duets spread across the stage. Mahler’s symphonies drive the rhythm of the dancing with bold, loud, expressive sections melting into softer, reflective tones. Prengles also incorporates the unique concept of rest and nature through sleeping animal sounds and rustling cowbells evoking a time and space outside of where we currently are. Indeed, Platel was inspired to use Mahler when he became captivated with the similarities of his motivations to compose within his tumultuous time in early 20th century Europe and the similar feelings of uncertainty in our current time. Two Congolese dancers, previously working with Platel on Coup Fatal, occasionally bring polyphonic chants and song to the stage and their own style of dancing that contrasts with the more traditional ballet moves of the rest of the company.

The quality of dancing is exceptional and the music is moving and unique. While Platel is known for organised chaos in his choreography, the direction of the whole piece feels misguided however and the second hour feels long, lost and completely lacking in purpose. Some scenes feel completely unchoreographed and as if they have been simply lifted from rehearsal workshops, and when there are moments of laughter from the audience in response to certain dances, it is unclear whether this was intended or not. As a warning to those unfamiliar with his work, Platel is unashamed to use nudity of which there is some startling evidence in nicht schlafen.

Despite a standing ovation from some audience members there was clearly a mixed reaction from the rest. This is an interesting piece for those that look for a challenge in their dance productions but will not impress everyone.

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