Alain Platel’s ‘Out of context’: about an ecstatic public and one frowning critic

Maybe it’s like languages: you like some of them more than you do others. When it comes to Alain Platel‘ s performances I’ve often had my doubts. Nevertheless, I was really eager to see Out of context, as the Belgian choreographer promised a performance on a smaller scale: no lavish decor and no special live score to dance to. The audience seemed quite ecstatic right after the world première at Brussels’ Kaaitheater. I left the theatre frowning; thinking all of this over.

Platel was supposed to do a large-scale production at the New York City Opera, with Belgian opera director Gerard Mortier. But that project was put on hold till 2012, as Mortier is going to Madrid instead of New York. Not wanting to abandon the dancers he had already brought together for that piece, Alain Platel swiftly decided to start working on something else. Something smaller, a choreography that could tour the world easily. Not a new vsprs (based on Monteverdi) or pitié! (based on Bach’s Matthäuspassion).

For Platel Out of context is about meeting people. About how one can still feel lonely in company. It’s about mating, trying to get to know each other like two sniffing dogs would do. And so, Out of context, especially in the beginning, has lots of ‘mating’ dancers and animal sounds coming from the speakers. At the very end one of the dancers is asking the audience for someone to come and dance with him, while Jimmy Scott is singing his cover of Prince’s Nothing compares to you. Nobody does.

At the beginning of Out of context Platel’s nine dancers walk on stage, coming from where the audience it sitting. They strip to their underwear and take a red blanket. There’s two microphones as well, making sounds as they hit the floor, or picking up noises. During one part of the performance, the dancers sing little snippets of songs in those mikes: Who let the dogs out, Pump up the jam, Do you really want to hurt me, or Amy Winehouse’s Rehab. By then the slow first part is over, and the dancers are dancing to a very sparse techno beat. Almost like a persiflage on that techno party-ritual. To be honest: it made me think a little bit too much of Jérôme Bel’s The show must go on to really like this, even though some of the choreography sure is nicely done.

Of course Platel is once again relying on those specific movements that he turned out to be so fond of in his last two productions: movements of the handicapped and the ecstatic. Lot’s of rather expressionistic facial expressions too. And dancers showing off their virtuosity. And that’s not always a good thing.

In the end I had the impression of looking at a choreographer still struggling with his material. To me it seemed as if all the elements in Out of context weren’t put in the right balance yet. Some of the parts really take too long. Nice ideas get stretched and the pace of this performance is often too slow. Too much is thrown in too: two ‘clowns’ from theatre company Ceremonia, Ave Maria, Bach, Khaled’s Aicha. The jokes (like Aicha and lots of those techno moves) are often too cheap. And the overdose of mimicry and imagery bothered me. Almost every scene carries a suggestion of a deeper, symbolic meaning. That’s tiring, in the end. And often it leaves you guessing what exactly Platel is hinting at. I couldn’t help wondering if that interesting looking vagueness isn’t just hiding a lack of really strong ideas.

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