BABEL (Words) by Eastman VZW

The Civic – THE EDGE®, Auckland

21/03/2013 - 23/03/2013

Auckland Arts Festival 2013

Production Details

Babel (words), an infinitely beautiful dance-theatre masterpiece from Europe’s hottest and much-lauded choreographers Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Damien Jalet, will sweep you up and carry you away. Prepare your soul for flight.

Immersive and wonderfully multi-layered, the Olivier award-winning Babel explores the world of language and the languages of the world.  Beneath a towering set of transparent, scaffold-like cubes designed by artist Antony Gormley, multi-cultural and multi-lingual dancers beat out fierce, fragile and deeply delicate rhythms as they transform and reform their bodies into images so transfixing they’ll remain with you forever.

Majestically staged and with five musicians playing live on stage, Babel has a score that fuses Hindi beats, Japanese drumming and melancholic medieval flute and harp. It prompts audiences into conversations about culture, community, communication and the borders that separate us. Babel is the climax of Cherkaoui’s choreographic exploration of humanity and the myths that shape our beliefs.

Make that giant leap into Babel‘s magical, terrain and you’ll be awestruck by what you find there.

An avalanche of surprising images, full of humour, imagination and poetry. – Le Soir

The human soul is common everywhere. – Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui

2011 Olivier Award Winner for Best New Dance Production

# In a nutshell: Dance as you’ve never seen it, sensational set, story of our time


Post-show talk: Thu 21 Mar

Dancers: Darryl E. Woods (American), Jon Filip Fahlstrøm (Norwegian originating from the Philippines), Damien Fournier (French), Christine Leboutte (Belgian), Kazutomi Kozuki (Japanese),Helder Seabra (Portuguese), Sandra Porcell Delgadillo (Bolivian/Belgian)

Musicians: Kazunari Abe, Patrizia Bovi, Mahabub Khan, Sattar Khan, Gabriele Miracle

Production : Eastman VZW and Theatre Royal de la Monnaie

Co-producers : Theatre Royal de la Monnaie (Belgium), Fondation d'entreprise Hermès,Etablissement public du Parc et de la Grande Halle de la Villette (Paris), Sadler's Wells (London), Theaterfestival Boulevard (Den Bosch), Festspielhaus (Sankt-Pölten), Les Théâtres de la Ville de Luxembourg, International Dance festival Switzerland - Migros Culture Percentage, Fondazione Musica per Roma (Rome) and the Ludwigsburger Schlossfestspiele (Allemagne).

Eastman VZW is company in residence at deSingel International Art Campus (Antwerp) and is supported by La Fondation BNP-Paribas and Asano Taiko.

1hr 40mins


Review by Simon Wilson 23rd Mar 2013

In the beginning there were no words, and people communicated in signs that allowed them to say everything we can say today. Of course, there were misunderstandings, so over time a single gesture – hand out, palm up – developed to signify what became a vital concept: forgive me.

Such a lovely idea. It’s presented at the start of Babel by a single dancer, with great wit and charm, and knife-sharp physical precision – but with more than a touch of the sinister too, for she echoes Metropolis, Fritz Lang’s city where the dream was to climb to a state of mechanical grace beyond the human. [More]  


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A paean to diversity

Review by Jenny Stevenson 22nd Mar 2013

Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.
— Genesis 11: v.9 (King James Bible)

Although it is the third in a trilogy of works created or co-created by Belgian choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Babel (Words) made in collaboration with Damien Jalet for the Eastman company of Belgium, can stand alone in all its glory as a paean to diversity and the joys of interaction with our fellow human beings.  The enigmatic Foi (Faith) first seen at the International Festival of the Arts in Wellington in 2004 forms the first part of the trilogy and Myth (2007) the second.

Babel (Words) is so much more than a dance with words – it is also partly an art-installation with a constantly moving landscape of shifting geometrical shapes constructed out of light metal tubing and designed by British sculptor Antony Gormley (who also created the sets for Cherkaoui’s work Sutra performed in Wellington in 2010).  The enormous box-like structures which are manipulated by the dancers both contain and frame the performers in space – delineating the parameters or creating mobile vehicles through which the dancers deftly scramble.  At one point they are inserted one within another to create a towering structure that references the Biblical Tower of Babel.

The eighteen extraordinary performers of Cherkaoui’s Eastman company comprise the co-choreographer Damien Jalet, dancers, musicians/composers and singers – all of whom interact on many levels.  They are performers of differing age, ethnicity and body shape, all highly individualistic in their movement practice, yet united in their choreographic renderings.  The result is an immersive choreographic experience that conveys multiple viewpoints on the common themes of diversity, identity and connection.

The work is presented as a series of episodic scenes, many of them hilarious but others quite dark or sombre in their intent.  Two dominant characters emerge – the first a tall doll-like creature, performed by Majon van der Schot with a stiff-legged gait and mostly rigidly-held arms, dressed in thigh-high leather boots.  She opens the show with a fluid discourse on and demonstration of gestural vocabulary – its ability to convey meaning and its evolution from a time when the body and mind were more in sync.  The other character is a suave, loose-limbed, occasionally god-like shyster performed by Darryl  E. Woods who spins homilies on diverse subjects like the attractions of a dwelling-space, the scientific description of human touch and the superiority of the English language.

These two characters between them control, cajole and scold the other characters – herding them, dispersing them and encouraging them into interactive movement.   Occasionally van der Schot is a passive plaything manipulated by the other performers or blown-up like an inflatable doll.  The actual choreographed dance sequences only make up a small portion of the programme – but when they occur, the movement is highly energetic, explosive and volatile, pushing the performers to extremes which occasionally leave them literally breathless.

An entertaining sketch by Jalet sees him attempt to seduce a resistant van der Schot – morphing in four or five quick strokes from an urbane Frenchman to a knuckle-dragging cave-man – in a reversal of the “ascent of man” depictions.

The superb music which is performed live is as diverse as the dance and includes a number of works performed by the composers themselves.  They are Gabriele Miracle, Patrizia Bovi, Mahabub and Sattar Khan.  Drummer, Kazunari Abe also performs the compositions of Shogo Yoshii and the musicians together perform various other traditional forms. 

The pan-arts experience is one that succeeds only when the performers totally embody the material.  This is the case in Babel.  The performance is fully integrated because the performers are always highly charged, present and believable – giving their all until the last scene as they attempt to move as one – feet interlocking as they take giant strides forward.  The work finishes with a message of unity and hope that speaks to every culture and celebrates a global commonality.




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