Tauberbach by Alain Platel / Munich Kammerspiele / les ballets C de la B
It's dark and something's buzzing. Stage lights go up, except they're literally 'down', a big bar of them rests on masses of old clothing; there's so much to choose from, but who needs any of it? Nice to play dress up... at least, the idea seems to have occurred to a small group of scavengers who wade through it all, selecting, donning and discarding, shifting it around, stripping down and diving into it...
The dance-theatre piece Tauberbach, a collaboration between the Dutch actress Elsie de Brauw, choreographer Alain Platel, Belgian dance troupe les ballets C de la B and Munich's Kammerspiele theatre, was performed for just three days as part of Barcelona’s Grec Festival, though it is currently touring Europe. It's worth mentioning anyway as the troupe ballets C de la B return relatively often to Barcelona and are worth looking out for. Tauberbach is based on the true story of Estamira, a Brazilian schizophrenic who lives on a Rio rubbish dump and of whom Marcos Prado made a documentary film in 2004.
It's not an easy piece to pin down, but there's a lot to recognise. There is a voice. A male computerised deep silly voice that represents that in Estamira's head. He 'loves her', although she's 'not worth it'. 'Princess,' it whispers creepily, 'baby doll'. Estamira responds into a microphone, one of four that hang over the stage ripe for collisions. "I was born like this, I was conceived like this, I will not change!" she shouts, as she's dragged back, disrobed and dumped in a wheelbarrow.
Meanwhile, that group of her companions / tormenters continue to cavort in the rubbish. They balance or swing on the stage lights, as they're winched way up high, chimp-like they dangle before dropping off into the softness beneath. One man whimpers, 'I don't want to be here,' but then watches as two others perform a graphic 'sex dance', all gaping mouths and tongues and pulling at underwear, visceral but fascinating like watching a pair of mating grasshoppers. 'Ok, I'll stay,' the doubter decides. Then everyone dances about again in weird ways, sometimes alone and sometimes together...
Strange ... and yet, the really nice thing about Alain Platel's creations is that they're not too strange to be believed, that is, there is none of that typical 'dystopian vision' stuff, where so much absurdity has ceased to subvert at all, and merely reinforces its own rules of 'rulelessness'. So, meaning in life is not evaded here: these 'lost and found' individuals interact with each other and with us, mischievously but sweetly, so there is always enough reason to want to leave this world, and to want to stay - two opposing sensations that struggle with each other throughout the piece.
'I'm happy!' announces one man, he who bears his bottom at any opportunity. A woman takes delight in making us wince by clicking her joints close to the microphone. Then the buzzing is back, and in a fabulous 15minute sketch another man delivers an auctioneers rant into a microphone, which is then replayed backwards and forwards, fast and slow, while is compelled to dance to it. Falling to the stage in slow motion, arms flailing, face contorting, he suddenly springs up and scampers across it, only to be bounced back again as if on thick, invisible elastic... The audience cheers at the end of his exhausting stint - for who hasn’t felt like that sometimes?
Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, theatre and dance in a way that human beings can understand. For more about Barcelona arts, check her blog: www.lookingfordrama.com