Long ago, 52-year-old Belgian choreographer Alain Platel was an orthopedic therapist. Then, in 1984, he founded his performing troupe called “Les Ballets C. de la B.” Now his company — whose strikingly original approach to contemporary dance positions it, along with the likes of German dance legend Pina Bausch’s company, in a category best termed “dance theater” — is undoubtedly right up there at the pinnacle of his art.
Their latest production, “pitie” (“pity”), which had its world premiere at the Ruhr Triennale in Germany in September and is now touring 41 cities in 12 countries, was a sellout during its eight-day stopover at the hugely prestigious Theatre de la Ville in Paris — with extra chairs even brought in.
This month, for what will be the company’s third visit to Tokyo, its cast, comprising both actors and dancers from a variety of countries, combine with artists from other fields, so they share the stage with three opera singers (from England, the U.S. and Congo), a Belgian avant-garde jazz group called Aka Moon and several other instrumentalists. As Platel’s approach tends to not show off his dancers’ physical technique, but to draw from them intense expression through movement that is often quite radical — and sometimes even grotesque — his productions are able to address audiences regardless of language.
Certainly, this work seems likely to strike plenty of chords in our troubled times with its original music by Belgian composer Fabrizio Cassol based on Johann Sebastian Bach’s 18th-century masterpiece, “St. Matthew Passion.” However, Platel is keen to highlight his work’s distinctions from Bach’s homage to the ultimate sacrifice — of the self for others — rather than similarities. Hence he points out that: “Unlike Bach, who idealizes suffering, in his music Fabrizio exposes the innermost part, the ‘guts.’
“Apart from whether it happened or not, and you either believe it or you don’t,” he explains, “the essence of the story of Christ is the same as you find in many stories. ‘Love thy neighbor.’ This is all that counts. It is so simple that it takes a whole lifetime to realize. Love others as you love yourself. This is more the essence of a morality than of a religion.”
“I hope the audience is affected in some way, and a sort of solidarity is initiated based on the realization that we are all equal; we are all going to die, and in that respect no one is better off than anyone else; and perhaps from this arises a certain compassion.”
“pitie” runs April 17, 18 and 19 at Orchard Hall, an 8-minute walk from JR Shibuya Station. For more details, call Nihon Bunka Zaidan (Nippon Cultural Center) at (03) 3580-0031