T h o u g h t h i s b e m a d n e s s y e t t h e r e i s m e t h o d i n ' t .
(Hamlet, Act2, Scene 2)
by Hildegard De Vuyst, dramaturge
Director Alain Platel once received a CD on which was written in marker “Tauber Bach”. The CD's music was part of a video project by Arthur Zmijewski, a Polish artist who had asked a deaf choir in the Thomaskirche in Leipzig to sing Bach the way it sounded to people who cannot hear. The CD made a big impression on Platel, not in the least because it unites two big loves of his: Bach, by far his favourite composer (ref. Iets op Bach (1998) and Pitié! (2008) based on the Passion of St Matthew) and sign language. In Wolf (2003), he introduced two deaf actors and explored their relationship towards music. Platel tried to do something with Tauber Bach in the rehearsal process of previous work such as Out of Context – for Pina but he just did not find the context right for it.
If you are not aware that this music is sung by deaf people, you don't know what you're hearing.
Feelings of embarrassment, awkwardness, laughter queue up in your mind. But like no one else, Platel hears beauty in this cacophony, the same way he finds beauty in what is commonly perceived as ugly, deviant, discordant, in what is often seen as disease or syndrome: spasms, cramps, convulsions... the whole range of uncommon muscle tensions. Platel forces us to look differently, to listen differently.
He developed his particular way of looking and listening while he was studying remedial education, specializing in the treatment of people with a mental and/or physical disability. At that time he was most impressed with the views of Fernand Deligny. Deligny (1913-1996) was a French educationalist who got known for his radically different approach to the treatment of children with autism. No wonder that Platel took the whole cast of tauberbach to a centre for children suffering from a severe handicap. Deligny made a lifelong effort to allow the other to be different and to find sparkles of complicity in each encounter. Therefore he was not afraid to search the dark and mysterious sides of the encounter. His life was marked by an absolute faith in the other, by the belief that connection is possible, even when language fails. He advocated a collective humanity, regardless the nature of the individuals, all of us being subject to death and sex, feelings of loss and desire. Feel free to replace Deligny by Platel in this working process.
Iets op Bach was about the contrast between a heavenly Bach and us, humble earthly creatures. This tauberbach is different. Bach is no longer from heaven, he is not put above mankind but somewhere in between. Platel has always thought that it did Bach no justice when he was called a mathematic genius doing composition gymnastics. To him, Bach is about pure emotion. Bach is deeply human as he had more than his share of tragedy in life: he lost his parents at an early age, lost his first wife and 10 of his children. Nothing human was alien to him. This view of the carnal Bach is supported by major conductors such as Sir John Eliot Gardner who situates Bach amidst filth and death, child abuse and infant mortality, both epidemic in the 17th and 18th century. Archives and inspection reports reveal that Bach spent his school life in an atmosphere of harassment and violence, sadism and sodomy, not to mention the fact that he most often chose to stay away from school. That story is quite different from the one told by his admirers about the rigid, untouchable man, above every suspicion.
There is another important source of inspiration: the documentary film Estamira by Marcos Prado. It is a penetrating portrait of a Brazilian women who chooses to 'work' on a land fill. For twenty years, she survives on what she can find at Jardim Gramacho, a land fill near Rio de Janeiro. Life has not been kind to her, but despite or thanks to her mental illness she is a very charismatic personality with very interesting philosophical views. Underneath her delusions lie understandable traumas and a strong inner logic.
Estamira provided the basic idea for the set and the major part of the text. Actress Elsie de Brauw moulded her character mainly on this Estamira.
The dancers are her fellow residents in this apocalyptic setting. They created in a cruel environment living innocent creatures, something between amoebas, pets and children. This prehistoric world (as says dancer Romeu Runa), this archaic world (according to my fellow dramaturge Koen Tachelet), this preconscious world (as I call it myself) -though inspired on documentary elements- does not reflect reality in any way. Neither does it give an inside view of Estamira. We find ourselves in a completely different universe where spastic and jerking movements in unison are the sole vague reminders of long lost civilisation, where a Bach choral or a little piece of Mozart chanted together is all what is left of coherence. This is the pessimistic view on the performance. But one could see it as a promise for the future as well.
For ten years, from Bonjour Madame to Wolf, Platel was very involved in the representation of the diversified world around us, its so-called multiculturalism, and he chose a very diversified cast, both culturally and artistically, to picture this world. Since vsprs (2006), his work interiorized, got under the skin, the cast became virtuous, the performance more experience than representation. vsprs was built up as a 5 step ecstasy trip. Out of Context – for Pina was a trip down memory lane, a return ticket to the beginning of times. Gardenia was one long travesty. This tauberbach adds to the list as an initiation, an initiation rite, a baptism, an immersion and therefore also a possible healing.
It is the immersion of the word in Alain Platel's preconscious universe where it loses its classificatory supremacy. It is the initiation of actress Elsie de Brauw into the dancers' intuitive world that is built on long and daring improvisations, as for the dancers it is an initiation rite into the logos of speech and the totally different concentration that singing together requires. In short, it is a baptism, a step in the unknown for everyone involved in this project: Bartold Uyttersprot who creates an extra character on sound, reflecting a side of Elsie's character; Steven Prengels who teaches Estamira's prayer as if it were contemporary choir music; light designer Carlo Bourguignon who is confronted with blackouts, time leaps that Platel never took before.
And all that as a result of a simple question of two artists who admire each other: asked by Platel to de Brauw or by de Brauw to Platel – it does not matter: would you make a performance with me?