Dance: It's Belgian, but is it ballet?

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Indy Lifestyle Online
All that most people knew of Ghent until recently was Robert Browning's poem about bringing good news from there to Aix. Now Alain Platel's gritty, unpredictable choreography has given another reason to be aware of this quiet Belgian town as the home of his company, Les Ballets C de la B.

The name of the group, characteristically enigmatic, is an abbreviation for Les Ballets Contemporains de la Belge. Contemporary, yes; Belgian, yes; but is this what you call ballet? Don't worry, it can be pretty gripping however you define it. His formula is to put an unlikely group of characters on stage and let them reveal themselves in weird, compulsive movement, music or whatever. This time, besides nine dancers and two children, he brings a baroque chamber orchestra, whom he has apparently persuaded to wear Bermuda shorts while sitting around on tacky plastic seats, to play diverse piece by Bach, joined by three singers including a choirboy. Hence the title, lets op Bach which in Flemish means "a little something set to Bach". So expect the music to be the starting point for the action and emotions - but emphatically do not expect these to be at all conventional or delicate.

Platel's people tend to start somewhat over the top and then go further. They are unhappy with society and given to expressing raw feelings in a violent way. What we have seen before of another Belgian choreographer, Michele Anne De Mey, is decidedly different (her last piece here was so warm and cuddly that the live sheep she had on stage did not look out of place). She is back in London this week.

No sheep this time. Instead, her Katamenia is described as an "emphatically female piece" (whatever that may mean). What's for sure is that it is set to Schubert's Death and the Maiden quartet plus wind and water sounds. De Mey's track record suggests that it should be worth seeing.

'Katamenia', The Place Theatre, Duke's Road, London WC1 (0171-387 0031) tonight, 8pm.

'lets op Bach', Queen Elizabeth Hall, South Bank, London SE1 (0171-960 4242) 12 + 13 June at 7.45pm