Flemish company Les Ballets C de la B has built a reputation on sprawling physical dramas by Alain Platel and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. Bâche, by company member Koen Augustijnen, is cut from the same cloth, but not tailored to quite the same quality. The title (meaning “tarpaulin”) refers to the sheeting at the back of the stage, but it’s also apt for a piece about defence and concealment.
More specifically, it’s about blokes. The six men – four dancers, two musicians – are in workaday clothes. Ted Stoffer wriggles backwards from under the tarpaulin, as if breach-born. He fumbles on the floor, snagging on his own awkward limbs. The others jab and swipe at him, his flinches amplifying into twists and falls. Augustijnen and Ghislain Malardier’s knockabout tumbles flip easily into aggressive sparring as they dodge each other like boxers. Wrapping his sweatshirt round Malardier’s head, Stoffer yanks him about like a dog on a leash, or tightens the knot like a noose.
Even when telling confessional stories, they cover up their inner lives with comedy
Pianist Guy Van Nueten remains impassive, casting deadpan glances at the jostling men, who show little emotion. Even when telling confessional stories, they cover up their inner lives with comedy. The disconnection between body and voice, between action and emotion, is nowhere clearer than when countertenor Steve Dugardin intermittently breaks into songs by Purcell, his flowing falsetto a counterpoint to the stage action: as he sings of music as balm to the soul, Tayeb Benamara jerks in torment.
Intriguing, impressive and exasperating, Bâche packs emotional punch only towards the end, Augustijnen juddering as if some inner, other life were hammering ribs, skull and skin in a bid to escape the body it is trapped in.