Les Ballets C. de la B.
Part of danciNG the world
Theatre Royal, Newcastle
It was a small audience at the Theatre Royal for vsprs, which is most unusual for contemporary dance usually attracts big crowds at the Newcastle venue. On the other hand, danciNG the world, which aims to celebrate the best in global and regional contemporary dance, organised by Dance City, is a month-long festival consisting of paid and free performances, workshops and other events, so perhaps the numbers were more to do with the amount of dance on offer in the city since 2nd May than any lack of interest in Les Ballets C. de la B.
If that's the case, they missed an extraordinary dance theatre experience.
There are two major influences behind the piece: Monterverdi's Vespro della Beata Vergine, usually known by the shorter title Monteverdi's Vespers, and short films made early last century by Arthur Van Gehuchten of psychiatric patients. A soprano (a beautiful performance by Cristina Zavalloni) and nine musicians play music created by Fabrizio Cassol (with the collaboration of Wim Becu and Tcah Limerber) and based around the Vespers, whilst eleven dancers recreate the psychiatric patients' movements, at first in isolation but gradually coming together with the music being not just an accompaniment but a factor in the growing unity. Although the musicians are mainly confined to a space stage left, the singer, whose gestures increasingly become part of the choreography, moves down amongst the dancers, encouraging the growing unity.
The set (by Peter de Blieck) is amazing. As the curtain rises, we are faced with a white expanse that reproduces the crags of two snow covered mountains but, at first sight, also manages to suggest an angel's wings. At some points the dancers vanish through the face of one of the crags, climb up the sheer face or move up the ridges, sometimes alone, sometimes in groups, sometimes carrying another dancer. Their athleticism and sheer fitness are, frankly, awe-inspiring, particularly in the view of the fact that the piece lasts for an hour and forty minutes without an interval.
It's not, it has to be said, for everyone - some people did leave in the first fifteen minutes - and it has a very European (in fact, Gallic) feel to it. I found it a little repetitive in places and there were moments when my attention did wander, but if - as it surely is - one of the aims of theatre is to make the audience think, then vsprs certainly succeeds.
Reviewer: Peter Lathan