The new work by the Belgian-born Alain Platel, vsprs, is inspired both by the devotional music of Claudio Monteverdi's Maria Vespers and film footage of mental patients in an asylum in 1904. It is full of choreographed hysteria and spasmodic movement.
Platel has reworked the Monteverdi piece, which he first heard as a 16-year-old in a church in Ghent, for his Les Ballets C de la B, with the Belgian saxophonist and composer Fabrizio Cassol. It will be performed live on stage by a 10-man ensemble of Baroque, Gypsy and jazz musicians, and a singer. They will soundtrack "a collective prayer" by his 10 dancers, Platel says; before a mountain "made of white underwear tied together, [the dancers] go through an experience, trying to reach a form of ecstasy". This is the first time Platel has begun the creative process using "concrete material", usually preferring his dancers to improvise freely from the off.
The film footage was made by the psychiatrist and neurologist Dr Arthur Van Gehuchten, who recorded his patients during intense moments of hysteria. "It is very physical," Platel says. "The way they look and behave is very strange." But he is "not trying to put psychiatric patients on stage. I see these extreme movements as a way of expressing very deep feelings and trying to cope with life. It's as if the dancers are leaving their bodies, fuelled by the intensity of the devotional music."
Platel founded Les Ballets C de la B in 1984 with some friends, performing to small audiences in his loft. He made the transition from being an orthopaedic therapist working with children to a choreographer of international standing with Bonjour Madame in 1993, and Lets op Bach in 1998.
Platel's most recent production at Sadler's Wells was Wolf, in 2004, which was set in an abandoned shopping-mall. The cast included three opera singers, two deaf performers, a contortionist, an aerialist and a pack of dogs.
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