Peeping Tom’s surreal hiking trip to 32, rue Vandenbranden

Some artists prefer radical changes and bold moves. Others keep refining a style that is unmistakably theirs. With the trilogy Le Jardin/Le Salon/Le Sous-Sol I honestly thought that Brussels’ duo Peeping Tom had exhausted their style. How wrong I was. 32 rue Vandenbranden, which premiered at KVS (Brussels) is a wonderful, well-balanced piece of work, once again combining dance, theatre and music. Poetic, cinematic and funny.

You get Bellini’s Casta diva and Pink Floyd’s Shine on you crazy diamond. There’s a contortionist and a classically trained singer. One of the dancers is Flemish, two others are Korean. They dance, act and sing. There’s some pantomime involved too. They make you laugh and then they try to make you cry. It’s a collage of scenes, but there’s a story too. Get my drift? Just call it a small miracle that 32 rue Vandenbranden turns out to be so well-balanced and beautifully paced.

But I guess I’m leapfrogging. So let’s go back to the beginning: a couple of containers, on top of a mountain. A gigantic backdrop with clouds and mountains. A snowy landscape. A happy,  young couple and a pregnant girl. And then two strangers arrive. A simple story develops. Apparently Imamura’s The ballad of Narayama was the point of departure for Peeping Tom’s Gabriella Carrizo and Franck Chartier. That movie tells the story of a village where everyone who reaches the age of 70 must go to a mountain top to die. Peeping Tom’s story is quite different, but nevertheless they also depict a small community with strange customs.

Is it because Carrizo and Chartier aren’t taking part in the performance, this time? And by doing so have a better view on things, from a distance? Is it because they got some advice from filmeditor Nico Leunen, who recently worked on films such as Altiplano and De helaasheid der dingen (The misfortunates)? I wasn’t really a fan of Peeping Tom’s universe; although I’m quite aware of all the awards they have won (best performance/dance in France – 2005, young director’s award in Salzburg – 2007). But this time around I was really charmed by their mixture of elements and their slow, cinematic (including a surround sound system) and restrained take on things. Allow me to add just one negative remark: the ending really let me down.

It’s easy to see that this performance is going to be a big hit on the festival circuit. Too bad Maria Otal won’t be around to witness that success. The 82-year-old actress, who was also in Le Sous Sol and was supposed to go on tour with 32 rue Vandenbranden, died unexpectedly on November 17th.



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