Lost on the way to utopia: ‘Clear Tears/Troubled Waters’ by Thierry Smits and Cie Thor

'ClearTears/Troubled Waters' (Thierry Smits/Cie Thor; photo: Fabienne Louis)

Thierry Smits. He’s one of those people who remind us that we live in that weird, tiny country called Belgium. Just as Fabrice Murgia. A big name in the south that doesn’t ring a bell in the north. But that doesn’t mean the man (who was born in the northern part) has given up: just as he did with his previous ones, Smits will bring his new Cie Thor choreography Clear Tears/Troubled Waters to theatres in the Flemish part of the country too. Clear Tears/Troubled Waters, which premiered at Halles de Schaerbeek (Brussels), is a piece for 7 dancers and 3 musicians, featuring two members of eighties cult band Tuxedomoon.

A decor with elements that dancers have to try and avoid not to run into. Call me a bit strange, but I’ve never been a fan of it. No matter what a choreographer comes up with, his choreography will always look like: dancers avoiding to run into those things on stage. It’s what happens during the first part of Clear Tears/Troubled Waters, with several long, white tubes (lamps) hanging on stage. Think of it as some sort of postmodern, design like kind of forest. No matter how fast those dancers run, how swift they move: you’re looking at dancers trying to avoid those tubes.

'ClearTears/Troubled Waters' (Thierry Smits/Cie Thor; photo: Fabienne Louis)

As some of them lie or sit down on stage, they’re heavily panting. As if they’re having an asthma fit. It reminds you of the fact that Clear Tears/Troubled Waters is inspired by serious matters: the difficult times we’re living in. And so, you wonder, maybe that forest was a metaphor? Maybe it was on purpose that it made life difficult for those dancers? ‘I notice a feeling of nostalgia’, Smits says. ‘We’re losing things that seemed acquired and we lose faith in the future.’ Facing all of that, Smits wants to encourage us to opt for positivity, to welcome new forms of hope and solidarity. But he doesn’t want to guide or change us with his art. Smits just wants to present a performance that is in sync with the times we’re living in.

So: no messages, no pathos, no dramatisation. Just dance. And a choreography in three parts. For the second part all those by then oblique hanging tubes form a mikado-like construction (the dancers sometimes sit down and use them as telescopes) and for the third part they are in a horizontal position above the stage. First off the dancers are all in black, gradually more blue is introduced in their clothing.

'ClearTears/Troubled Waters' (Thierry Smits/Cie Thor; photo: Fabienne Louis)

No messages, just dance, but nevertheless an underlying, unifying theme. It sometimes leads to awkward moments. As if Smits is afraid that his choreography is not explanatory enough, the musicians throw in some words, in their otherwise mostly instrumental soundtrack. Iteration! A new world! Utopia! To me it felt rather clumsy.

As a whole Clear Tears/Troubled Waters failed to leave an impression on me. That was without any doubt partly due to the fact that I saw the premiere. Smits has assembled a new group of young dancers, and you feel that they have yet to become a real company: seven bodies moving as one. They aren’t feeling at ease yet in this new choreography.

'ClearTears/Troubled Waters' (Thierry Smits/Cie Thor; photo: Fabienne Louis)

If Clear Tears/Troubled Waters failed to impress me, it was also due to the fact that it is a rather fragmentary piece; a feeling enhanced by a rather fragmentary and uneven soundtrack. A mix of two worlds: of an older (Tuxedomoon members Blaine Reininger and Steven Brown) and a newer one (Maxime Bodson); of electronic sounds mixed with violin, clarinet and saxophone.

The best moments are the group scenes, in which Smits’ classic contemporary vocabulary is used to its best (the outside eye of ex Rosas and Bessie Award winning dancer Marta Coronado will certainly have helped too). As Clear Tears/Troubled Waters is performed more often it will certainly grow, but I fear that will not be enough to make this a really strong piece of work.

Tour schedule here.

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