Despite their name, Les Ballets C de la B are not a traditional ballet company, instead the group mixes acrobatics, drama, physical theatre, contemporary dance and ballet, live music and singing, in a style completely unique to them. Choreographer Koen Augustijnen, (a self-taught dancer himself), has collected a multicultural assortment of dancers, each with a particular talent, as well as including four live musicians.
In Import/Export, from the very opening sequence, you are left feeling disorientated and off-balance, and it is the genius of this company that it can sustain this feeling for over an hour. The cleverly microphoned floor means that, before the lights are even up, you sense the dancers approach and can hear a weird rhythmic sound that reaches out of the darkness. From then on, every sense is assaulted. The piece combines Steve Dugardin’s beautiful singing and the Kirke String Quartet performance of Baroque works by Charpentier, Clerambault, Hahn and Lambert with electronic music especially created by Sam Serruys.
The dancers switch from expressing impotent rage, with hands clenched and jerky frustrated movement, to threatening and encircling and then isolating one member then another. There is a breathtaking sequence in which dancer Gael Santisteva twitches and flops around on the stage, seemingly twisted and broken. He is then dragged, flung, carried and stretched across the floor, often creating beautifully acrobatic shapes, but at the same time reminiscent of the images that came out of Abu Ghraib prison.
There are further moments of great humour in this piece, such as when Marie Bauer appears to have a laughing fit, flinging off her shoes in sheer joy; this is then inverted and subverted with moments of real tension. The sequence between Augustijnen and Lazara Rosell Albear, in which she strips down to reveal a simple dress made out of a scrap of fabric, is both disturbing and thought provoking.
The company have created a piece which makes you puzzle out the different ways in which we, as humans, feel powerlessness as a result of the political and economic situations around the world, powerlessness in the face of death. It is a deeply moving and often very funny piece, with the beautiful voice of Dugardin, at once complementing and at odds, with what is taking place on stage.
Import/Export is currently on tour and is well worth catching. It’s a bizarre and entertaining work that will make you laugh but is also is remarkably tense and weird in places as well. I guarantee you won’t have seen anything quite like this before.