En Avant, Marche!
Strange and otherworldly, En Avant, Marche! – from Ghent-based NTGent and les ballets C de la B at the Edinburgh International Festival – steps into the world of the marching band, with a highly theatrical production that draws on classical music, opera, clowning and ballet.
The piece evolves around performer Wim Opbrouck’s larger-than-life trombonist, given eight months to live and reduced to the ranks of cymbal player in the band which is the centre of his life. It’s a category-defying performance, with Opbrouck marauding around the stage, terrorising members of the Dalkeith and Monktonhall Brass Band, addressing the audience, singing Verdi arias and performing an unlikely ballet duet with Hendrik Lebon.
The band, augmenting the seven players in the touring ensemble, are integral to the production’s success. Following Opbrouck’s hilarious – but truly observed – creation of a cymbal player’s practising for his few notes in Nimrod from Elgar’s Enigma Variations, their rendition of the full piece is subtly played, raising the requisite hairs on the back of the neck. But it is their arrival on stage, placement and trouping around it – led by Griet Debacker and Chris Thys as gold glitter-clad cheerleaders – that frame the whole piece.
Luc Goedertier’s set places the rehearsal room of the band in front of a high rear wall with huge oblong windows, across which characters can parade or practice. Strategic placement of one above another makes Debacker and Thys’s cheerleader practice appear to be one, stretched, performer.
At times directors Frank Van Laecke and Alain Platel let Opbrouck’s maraudings veer into overextended self-indulgence. But the whole piece creates a world in which a life can be celebrated, even as its death is drawing near.
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