Les ballets C de la B is now in its 27th year and it’s a shame it has taken so long for it to make an appearance in Taipei. The company wowed the National Theater audience on Saturday; it’s too bad the theater’s programmers didn’t have enough confidence to schedule the troupe for more than just two performances.
Company founder Alain Platel’s background as a teacher of children with motor disabilities has long been evident in his works, though he eschews the title choreographer, insisting that it is the dancers who come up with the moves, while he is credited with “concept and direction.” Nevertheless, his productions usually focus on spasms, involuntary contortions and tics similar to the uncoordinated motions of people with spasticity or palsy.
Out of Context – for Pina begins with the dancers emerging from the audience onto a stage that is bare except for a pair of microphones on stands, a pair of speakers and a pile of folded orange blankets. The dancers strip down to their underwear before covering themselves with blankets.
The work slowly begins as one by one they flex a hand, a shoulder, a neck, a leg, and then approach each other, much as cats do, for a sniff around the head and neck.
At first the title, Out of Context – for Pina, doesn’t seem to have much to do with the meaning of the piece. “Out of context” was chosen because the work wasn’t created with a specific score or piece of music in mind. There really isn’t a score for large portions of the piece, except for the distorted mooing of a cow or muted murmurs, at least until the disco section, when each dancer takes a turn with a microphone to fracture a line from a popular hit — everything from Pump up the Jam to Beyonce’s Single Ladies.
Yet while watching the nine talented dancers twitching and contorting, I thought how appropriate the title was. Taking the involuntary gestures of palsy and having them performed by the lithe and physically primed takes them out of context and makes them presentable for an audience. Would hundreds of people be willing to sit so patiently in their seats if the performers had been people for whom such tics are not voluntary? And stripped down to briefs and bras, putting every flex and muscle contraction and release on display, the dancers made you realize just how awkward and spastic the popping, the bumping, the shimmying and shaking of those cool disco floor moves really are.
From discombobulated motions the dancers segue into a tightly executed, smoothly moving group piece that demonstrates just how good they can be before one by one they collapse face down on their blankets for a segment where they flex their fingers, shake their legs, and struggle to lift their shoulders and heads up off the floor like a collection of oversized babies.
Then one dancer stands and asks the audience to raise their right hands and everyone enthusiastically does. Then he asks for all those who want to come up and dance with him to keep their hands raised, and down they went. As he stood and swayed to Nothing Compares to You, it took two or three minutes before one brave woman made her way to the stage and was embraced for a slow dance. She broke the ice and eventually there were more volunteers than available partners. When the dance ended, the performers went to the back of the stage, put their clothes on and walked back into the audience.