Monday, 4 May 2009

Dusty Bin, Les Ballets C de la B's Ashes, Brighton Corn Exchange 2nd Mary 09

Ghent-based dance collective, C de la B's new work Ashes, choreographed by Koen Augustijnen was billed as one of the opening highlights of Brighton's 09 festival (curated this year by sculptor Anish Kapoor). 

This was no highlight. A bunch survivors of some un-named catastrophe slowly moved from alienated separation to a kind of wave-like unity with a bit of trampolining on the side.  Surely this kind of dirge would be more suitable at the end of an arts festival? Perhaps one that had incurred some kind of disaster like the ferry connection to the continent being down. In which case we wouldn't have to see it at all. That would be a highlight.

Perversely, Augustijnen chose coluratura Handel arias to accompany his hokum post apocalypse choreography (sung by the singularly good counter tenor Steve Dugardin and soprano Irene Carpentie). Handel's ouevre for contemporary dance was ambushed by American Mark Morris thirty years ago, and anyone bold or foolish enough to make a move on this music will risk instant comparison with a master.

While Morris's moves are humane, witty and moving; Augustijnen's are lumpen, acrobatic and crude.  Noted the use of the roof-like trampoline in Ashes was a welcome distraction from the Bedlam below. Aside: why is repeatedly walking into immovable objects, usually walls, such a trope in so much contemporary dance? It's a cartoonish view of existential frustration. Pina Bausch can get away with this stuff, but then she had her dancers walk into walls in the 1970s. Les Ballets C de la B are still struggling to find the exit in 2009.

I assume Handel was chosen for the marked contrast between the soaring beauty of his baroque sonorites and the flailing movements of the alienated folk below - a point that's made in the first five minutes. It's a point that's made again and again for the next hour and a half. The real star of the show is a young timpanist who sashays between marimba and timpani (incuding gongs and bowed cymbals) with a grace facility patently lacking in the choreography below, which reminded me that the great Diamanda Galas was playing next door and we were stuck in here.

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