Tauberbach sees Les Ballets C del la B’s founder Alain Platel once again exploring the fringes of society. The production is inspired by a real person – a mentally ill woman named Estamira (played by Elsie de Brauw) who practically lives in a rubbish heap and starred in a 2004 documentary.
The cast move around a stage strewn with clothing, diving in and out the piles, hiding within them, dressing up in what they find. At the same time a deep voiceover tells us to stay in control, be clean, be clothed and be civilised. The contrast between what happens on stage and what is considered ‘normal’ social behaviour forms the core of Tauberbach.
Platel has created a style that is contorted and fidgety, full of twists and flexes. It’s reminiscent of Metamorphosis – the insect-like movements reflecting the characters’ position in the social pecking order. Romeu Runa is particularly compelling, his long limbs exaggerating the rawness of the choreography. These movements are constantly repeated, as if the dancers are trapped in a vicious circle, doomed to repeat their fate. But it is also a symbol of hope –continuous, unbreakable.
Tauberbach is filled with vignettes, the circular idea manifesting itself memorably in Ross McCormack’s soliloquy on mortality. Wearing khakis, he fashions guns and hand grenades in an invisible war, and finds himself dying again and again – slowly, quickly, in fast-forward, in rewind. It is both funny and sad.
Platel has a fine eye for these human stories. You’re hit by the humour, but the horror slowly dawns on you. There’s a moment in which the dancers chase around and make fun of de Brauw, all fancy dress and funny voices. Platel seems to be showing the silencing of those who are easy to mock and forget, and how easy we are distracted from it. Or there’s the haunting imagery of people hanging off chains, part-naked and splashed with ink, literally being marked out in a game of torture.
Tauberbach is also chaotic. And it doesn’t always work – the prolonged mock sex scene doesn’t particularly fit, and the tribal, animalistic sequence, though evoking mob culture, also doesn’t quite work. The score is a mishmash of soundscapes and Bach, from organ music to violin pieces to choral works. The information accompanying the show makes much of the Tauber Bach choir – a group of deaf children who sing Bach. It’s a curious and endearing experiment, but the idea isn’t explored in depth.
Underneath all the madness, there is a serious message about how society treats the marginalised. But Tauberbach, for me, has too much going on – all the nakedness (sad to see it remains the go-to tool for ‘edgy’ theatre) and daredevil jumps distract from – rather than add to – the overall message. It lacks the focus that might have made it truly affecting.