C(H)ŒURS Choirs/Hearts: A Contemporary Ballet


C(H)ŒURS ("Choirs/Hearts"), a contemporary ballet. Music by Verdi and Wagner; additional music by Steven Prengels; short spoken part with words of Desmond Tutu. Choreographed and directed 2012 by Alan Platel at the Teatro Real with dancers from Patel's dance company, les ballets C de la B: Bérengère Bodin, Daisy Ransom Phillips, Ido Batash, Juliana Neves, Lisi Estaras, Quan Bui Ngoc, Roman Guion, Rumeu Runa, Rosalba Torres Guerrero, and Serge Aimé Coulibaly. The other star of this show is the Chorus of the Teatro Real (and individual members thereof).  Consuelo Garres is a chorus member who sings solo. Two boys, Martin López Malgesini and Nicolás Del Real Sasaki, join the Chorus for special roles. Marc Piollet conducts the Orchestra and Chorus of Teatro Real (Madrid Symphony Orchestra and Chorus) with Choirmaster Andrés Máspero. Dramaturgy by Hildegard De Vuyst; musical dramaturgy by Jan Vandenhouwe; costume design by Dorine Demuynck; lighting design by Carlo Bourguignon; sound design by Bart Uyttersprot. TV Director was Andreas Morell; Sound Producers were Julian Schwenkner and Tobias Lehmann;  Blu-ray Producer was by Ángela Állvarez Rilla. Released 2012, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: B+

The world premiere of C(H)ŒURS (always spelled in caps) was on March 12, 2012. This show was recorded on March 16 and 17. The disc just came out, so this review is almost a current event story.  According to the press release, this is "a new musical drama set against the backdrop of contemporary economic crisis and national protests and the ensuing changes in society." H'm. I also read somewhere that les ballets C de la B (originally called "Les Ballets Contemporains de la Belgique") is a well-established, avant-garde, multi-discipline corps that does political and philosophical stuff.  (Is it possible for an arts organization to be both "well-established" and "avant-garde"?) It might be said that les ballets C de la B is a French analog to the German Tanztheater of Pina Bausch.

So anything by les ballets C de la B will be interesting if you can figure it out. To help you with this, Hildegard De Vuyst wrote 4 pages in the keepcase booklet explaining C(H)ŒURS. This might be the most elaborate exercise in fuzzy thinking I've ever forced myself to read several times. Executive briefing: the choreographer is unhappy about the way things are going. Well, that's all you really need to know if you find the dancing interesting.

Everything I wrote above was based on the keepcase and it's booklet plus a brief surf on the Internet. Then I watched the show cold. Quick report: This trenchant and absorbing work is the easily the most provocative and challenging dance title to be published so far in Blu-ray. I'm again grateful for the technology that makes this available---if I waited for something like this to be done live in Dallas, Texas, I would probably be 200 years old.

The videography comes from Andreas Morell, whom I have praised to the moon for his work in the Alonzo King LINES title and the gorgeous Caravaggio recording from Unter den Linden, Berlin. The PQ, SQ, and picture content in subject title are all super.

This title is a modern dance with 9 stars plus the special twist of adding an excellent opera choir, the members of which are coached to act and do strange stuff as well as sing. So this is probably a unique combination of talent: the result might best be called a work of performance art. If that is apt, then this would be the first performance art title published in HDVD.

Of the 9 dancers,  I've been able to match up the bodies and names for Daisy, Lisi, and Rosalba. But despite several hours of surfing the Internet, I still can't accurately name the other 6. They are all so weird and wonderful. I would like to name them correctly in the screenshots.  If you know the European contemporary dance scene well enough to ID all the dancers, please let me know. I think they all should get better credit than they do on the disc keepcase.

Since this show is so far out of normal boundaries,  there would be no way to describe it in text. So let's get going with some screenshots. The dancers are introduced first, one by one, and each in a unique way:

Most of the dancers have their underpants folded in a neat bundle, and they carry the bundle between their teeth:

Eventually they gather and there is a terrible commotion as they try to put their underpants on while shaking violently as if afflicted by some physical or mental illness. This dimension of the scene can't be appreciated from a still photo:

Now everybody is finally dressed and ready for action:

The chorus comes on stage and they are ready for action too. They are saying "I love you" in several sign languages. Still, I don't know for sure what this hand sign means in Brussels or Madrid. Finally, some chorus members have their thumbs holding down the middle and ring fingers. This is the official fighting sign of sports fans at the University of Texas! The UT mascot is a longhorn steer. The little and index fingers are the horns. (Just to be generous, Alan Platel is hereby granted permission by a citizen of Texas to use the UT fighting sign in any of his ballets.)

Then each member of the chorus takes off his jacket and we see a heart, or is it a target, or is it a bleeding wound?

Now we get into some philosophy:

We are some very intense dancers and a bunch of opera singers who are starting to act like performance freaks:

The are two little boys on stage representing, I assert, hope. The boy here is wondering if these half-naked people running around are cannibals who plan to roast him for dinner:

Different contingents from the chorus follow the dancers in wild atavistic displays:

You have to be flexible if you join an opera chorus:

In some parts of the world, the greatest insult possible is to throw your shoes at someone. So here everyone throws his shoes at the rest of the world. I guess this is a reference to the Arab Spring:

In this scene, the dancers all lie on the floor:

Or pull up their skirts with their teeth:

Now the show becomes a kind of political meeting. The Mistress of Ceremonies in red has one of the most beautiful speaking voices you ever heard. She keeps coming up with interesting comments and propositions for the crowd:

Shards of ideas careen through the air/Spunsense and unsense litter everywhere. Here's what one member of the crowd thinks about politicians:

A square-dance:

Another order from the Mistress of Ceremonies:

Two of the dancers look like sisters:

While chorus members try to make you think, the twisted sisters command attention with profuse strains of wild performance art:

The little boys are borne away (I guess) as a symbol of perished hopes:

Amidst all the the clamour, suddenly we get a serene, classical image such is this:

But mostly we are treated to more bizarre gyrations:

Close to the end are passages from the Verdi Messa da Requiem with Consuelo Garres as soloist:

The dancers decide to go to judgment pure (in the buff): They will exit the stage at the rear, which avoids frontal nudity.

I get the impression that chorus members were given in each performance the options of staying on stage or heading for the rear. Those leaving early could show sympathy for the dancers (by taking off this or that) or demonstrate complete solidarity. Possibly each chorus member waited until the exodus to make his or her decision. Here we see three chorus ladies heading for the rear:

In the last two views, the soloist Garres (in black) is wisely facing the audience; other performers are resolutely retreating. I don't know how many times the scene got played in Madrid in 2012, but this was definitely a finale that no member of the Teatro Real Opera Chorus will ever forget!

So what grade should I allow? There's a lot more to this show than what is revealed in these screenshots. Still, because of the surrealism, intellectual density, and nudity encountered, this would not be an "A" title under our grading scheme. It's a "B" for sure if you have an interest in this after reading this review. And on account of the brilliant quality of the video and the music, I bump this up to a "B+."

This clip appears to be this whole title in HD and from EuroArts: