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Published Friday 19 May 2006 at 16:30 by Katie Phillips

With the Vatican allegedly criticising the Da Vinci Code for challenging the views of the church, I wonder what the hell they would make of Ballets C de la B’s Vsprs.

Alain Platel’s horrifyingly brilliant reinvention of Claudio Monteverdi’s Maria Vespers - one of the most crucial works in the history of European religious music - sees dancers stripping, masturbating, screaming, oscillating, climbing and contorting to the intensely devotional baroque score.

A Jesus figure tries to work out how to break a loaf of bread; a red-shoed woman shouts about fantastical figures from Marvel Comics and film stars to biblical characters and dancers pause with hands in open prayer.

Heads flick, shoulders bounce and limbs roll. Religious imagery and prayer become entangled with extreme physical endurance and confused psychoses.

Each dancer is technically brilliant and entirely unique - highly idiosyncratic characters of all races, backgrounds and performance styles overflow with rampant absurdism and twisted reasoning (and movements).

Iona Kewney, a contortionist and wolf child of a performer, gets lost in her baggy pants, tying herself in knots, her arms appearing where her legs should be; a cavorting, stripping business man with physical turrets, played with energy and daring by Ross McCormack, humps a sunglass clad fashionista against a mountain made of strips of white cloth reminiscent of lunatic asylum attire.

Audiences writhe with embarrassment as - whether in weird sexual abandon or a moment of extremely disturbed psychological despair - intense masturbation scenes last uncomfortably long, before dancers fall dead to the floor.

The magic of Platel is that he manages to place his dancers in a way that allows a cascading series of absurd images to stream across the stage. It is a theatrical ghost ride through a surreal musical landscape. It is a cultural bitch slap asking us how we have allowed society to create such an isolated community of misfits. It is a psychological maelstrom that will make even the most unhinged feel sane.

It is possibly the weirdest, most shocking and provocative dance performance you will ever see and all the way home (if you stay to the end - many didn’t) you will be wondering if you liked it or hated it. It is mind blowing.

Production information

Sadler's Wells, London, Choreography: Alain Platel

Les Ballets C de la B
Cast includes:
Ross McCormack, Iona Kewney, Hyo Seung Ye, Elie Tass, Lisi Estaras, Rosalba Torres Guerrero
Running time:
1hr 45mins

Production information displayed was believed correct at time of review. Information may change over the run of the show.

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Run sheet

King's Head, Islington London
January 24-February 15 2014