Babel 7.16 dance production. Music by Patrizia Bovi, Mahabub Khan, Sattar Khan, Gabriele Miracle, and Shogo Yoshii with music advisor Fahrettin Yarkin. Choreographed by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Damien Jalet. Performed 2016 at the Festival d'Avignon in a courtyard of the Papal Palace. Text from Lou Cope, Vilayanur Ramachandran, Nicole Krauss, and Karthika Naïr. Stars Aimilios Arapoglou, Magali Casters, Navala "Niku" Chaudhari, Sandra Delgadillo, Francis Ducharme, Jon Filip Fahlstrøm, Leif Federico Firnhaber, Darryl E. Woods, Damien Fournier, Benfury, Aliashka Hilsum, Ulrika Kinn Svensson, Kazutomi "Tsuki" Kozuki, Paea Leach, Princess Madoki, Christine Leboutte, Nemo Oeghoede, James O'Hara, Helder Seabra, Mohamed Toukabri, Majon van der Schot, and James Vu Anh Pham. Stage design by Antony Gormley; costumes by Alexandra Gilbert; lighting by Urs Schoenebaum and Adam Carrée; dramaturgy by Lou Cope. Directed for TV by Roberto Maria Grassi. Released 2018, disc has PCM stereo sound. Grade: B-
Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui began his career with the company called "les ballets C de la B." The "C" stands for "contemporary" and the name in French might translate as "Belgium Modern Ballet." les ballets C de la B was the dance group featured in the wildly popular HDVD C(H)ŒURS (Choirs/Hearts) performed and recorded in 2012 in Madrid. It seems C(H)ŒURS and Babel 7.16 are both examples of the current "Belgium modern" dance style. The hallmarks of Belgium modern are the use of a modest number of intrepid and equally ranked dancers who perform a series of skits or stunts in a stream-of-consciousness examination of current political and philosophical issues. This they do by exploiting all conceivable modes of expression that can be legally used in public. They try to team up with the best live music groups they can afford in the range of world music to classical. We suppose that if they couldn't pay musicians, they would provide their own beat by pounding away on found instruments. They seem to be the fine-arts analog to extreme sports stars ---- all born suffering from an indefatigable compulsion to perform.
A Belgium modern project has a theme. The theme of Babel 7.16 is the consideration of how all the people of the world can learn to get along despite the many languages and other factors that separate them. Although the dancers are all equal, the ones who seems to float up to stardom in this disc tend to have the best speaking voices or the most beautiful breasts. In the opening screenshot below, the Swedish dancer Ulrika Kinn Svensson is giving, in English, a long and impressively scientific explanation of how human beings enjoy even now deep and universal communication through various non-vocal means. The disk doesn't have English subtitles, so we show here the German text. Below Ulrika explains, "We still have the habit of using hand movements to better express what we are saying."
You'll note that all our screenshots are dark. This show was given outdoors in a small courtyard theater at the Papal Palace in Avignon. The venue was OK for the live spectators, but the darkness was a huge problem for videographer Robert Maria Grassi. It appears management did nothing to help Grassi. The low light detracts quite significantly from the quality of his video, but Grassi should be praised that the film turned out as well as it did. In the next shot below you see a "Tower of Babel" prop made from a number of independent boxes. This prop is taken apart and reused throughout the show to suggest various other structures:
Next below is a human pyramid build with all the dancers, who were picked in part for diversity of countries of origin and native tongues. At the center is the black American dancer Darryl E. Woods, a man of tremendous charisma who is blessed with a clear speaking voice. When he's too old to dance any more, Woods should try a second career as stand-up comic. Here Woods says, "English is the most widely spoken language in the world." Cherkaoui goes on to make a pretty good case that everybody in the world should just learn English and forget about all the other dialects. Where would you find a less receptive audience for this than in France?
An unrelated minor theme of the show is expressed by a dancer below asking, "What does the future hold for today's Belgium modern dance movement?"
Woods offers the Papal Palace for sale for 7.16 billion Euros. If nobody in Europe will buy it, he warns it might be sold and moved to Qatar. The number 7.16 is, of course, taken from the title of the show. The 7.16 doesn't refer to money. It's just a reference to the way that the modern use of arbitrary numbers in written materials for coding purposes hinders communications the same as the confusion of languages:
The oldest member of the cast wanders about throughout the show endlessly pursuing her career as cleaning lady. At one point the action falls apart and the cast is seen in a state of apparent confusion. In an exercise of self-mockery the cleaning lady says, "It's all my fault. I missed a beat and got out of rhythm:
After about 20 different skits, it's time for a sure-fire crowd pleaser in the form of the 4-minute Tract 21, called Navala's Solo, featuring the ohne oben Navala Chaudghari. Actually the better part of Tract 21 is the beginning with Navala in a blistering pas de deux with one of guys while she takes off her shirt. But the shot below was about all we could do with the low light and fast action:
We ran a Dance Work Worksheet on this. The average pace is way too fast at only 7.2 seconds per clip. But Grassi did manage to get the whole bodies of the dancers in 64% of his shots. This is respectable for this kind of show where the antics of many individuals dancers constantly pop up to attract brief attention. All the screenshots above are close-ups or part stage views. So in parting, next below is a full-stage shot of the dancers at the end of the show in a kind of orgiastic state celebrating, we surmise, a new-found unity of mankind. We should now comment on the remarkable job done in keeping all these dancers going by just 6 musicians: 2 drummers, two singers, one harpist, and one Middle-Eastern string virtuoso. This ensemble might remind one of flamenco musicians. But with big drums and amplification, the 6 were able to inspire a whole stage-full of 23 dancers appearing together:
Time to wrap up. C(H)ŒURS was a great success for Belgium modern dance. Because Babel 7.16 is similar to C(H)ŒURS, we decided to cover it on the website even though we normally exclude (1) titles with stereo sound only and (2) shows staged outdoors. Surround sound is pointless with recorded music, and we think the palace courtyard where this was done is small enough to be appropriate. Still, It turns out that Babel 7.16 is less impressive than C(H)ŒURS as it was made on a much smaller budget with a smaller troupe on stage and only modest musical support. The individual skits in Babel are also less original than in C(H)ŒURS. But the lighter weight of Babel also means that it is relatively easy to revive and improve as time goes by. And we were impressed with the great effort put forward by everybody in the show. So we would give Babel 7.16 a B+ on artistic content. But alas, we have to mark this grade down further for the darkness and too-fast pace of the video. But we wouldn't have the heart to drop a C on all this energy---we wind up with B-.