In its twenty year history, Les Ballets C de la B has built a reputation for being both accessible and experimental. The two works performed at Tramway this month - VSPRS and Import/Export - demonstrated their broad range and expressiveness.
Both pieces explore marginalised experience. VSPRS examines the meeting between mental illness and religious ecstasy without patronising, while Import/Export speaks of immigration and alienation. If VSPRS is more visceral - dancers climb across the set, and emerge from the audience - Import/Export addresses more immediate concerns in an intimate and moving manner. Where VSPRS is an acrobatic and exhausting showcase, Import/Export is a chamber piece.
VSPRS is inspired by a psychedelic re-imagining of Monteverdi's baroque Marian Vespers and agitated movement copied from film of psychiatric patients. Rapidly creating a basic dance vocabulary of discomfort and twitch, the company simulates the approach of an overwhelming vision: equal parts holy and painful, it is a masterful exposition of dance's ability to transmit emotions that defy language or rationality. The music swaggers to a repetitious, swirling climax as the gypsy musicians wander the stage; the dancers are convulsed by sexual pulses, looking anxiously out at the audience, panting and groaning for release. It comes, followed by an awesome stillness and silence, leaving the audience to wonder how a theatrical performance can generate such a numinous presence. Even rapturous applause is dwarfed by the sense of awe.
Import/Export is a more conventional series of dances, fleshing out the lives of immigrants through violent ensembles and slapstick. Lazara Rosell Albear's performance is especially poignant, juxtaposing funky disco alongside conventional contemporary poses, as the victim of Koen Augustijen's racist lust: Juan Benitez provides a comic monologue to soften the harshness of the subtext of bullying and sexual assault that underlie the spectacular acrobatics. More contained than VSPRS, it transforms its provocative passion into subtle reflection.
Les Ballets C de la B are possibly the most exciting company working in Europe at this time: capable of breaking boundaries and using dance as a tool for the communication of complex ideas without disappearing into the abstract.