Review: Coup Fatal at Sadler’s Wells

Our dance critic reviews an unusual new work at Sadler’s Wells.

The motto of the Flemish dance collective Les ballets C de la B declares, “This dance is for the world and the world is for everyone.” Working from that premise for more than 20 years, the troupe’s founder, Alain Platel, has created dance-theatre pieces of incredible variety and dramatic power. Last year his musical director, Fabrizio Cassol, drew his attention to a Congolese ensemble involving a remarkable countertenor and 12 musicians, self-taught on guitar and percussion instruments from drums and xylophone to the thumb-played keyboard of the likembe. Joining forces with this group, Mr. Platel devised the astounding Coup Fatal, a theatrical concert that swirls baroque arias into rock, jazz, pop and traditional Congolese music, intertwining them so closely that new, unimagineable compositions emerged from the blend.

Apparently spontaneous but meticulously planned and rehearsed, the ensemble’s movement comes straight from the music, not in the form of codified technique or refined artifice but as rhythm embodied in gesture. “I’m not a dancer,” Mr. Platel has said, “so I can’t show performers how to dance, and I’m not making choreography either. What I did is simply invite the musicians to share things with me during the rehearsal period.”

In response, they gave him tireless energy, subtle phrasing, rhythmic complexity, streetwise attitudes and joy. Leaving his shirt and keyboard behind, one drummer caught the music’s counterpoint in his rippling back and twitching shoulders, occasionally floating across its jagged surface as if borne aloft by his slowly beating arms. Boogying at lightning speed on a raised platform, another landed an explosive back flip on one melody’s final resolving chord.

Shimmying and strutting with the infectious exuberance of a samba band, the company transformed sound into movement as intricate as lace and as strong as wrought iron. Though you could easily describe Coup Fatal as not-dance performed by not-dancers, few recognized dance troupes can deliver so much choreographic invention with such immaculate precision.


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