Following the success of our collaboration on 'Sutra', in 2010 Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui invited me back to be dramaturg to him and Damien Jalet on their joint project 'Babel (words)'; co-produced by Sadlers Wells & Theatre de la Monnaie, Bruxelles and many others.
The show won 2 Olivier Awards (that Bram Smeyers (Assistant Producer) and I were very happy to accompany Antony Gormley to accept on behalf of Larbi & Damien!); and the Benois Prize for dance - the most prestigious dance prize in the world.
The show is now in its 3rd year of touring.
For more details see www.east-man.be
Programme Piece for Babel (words) by Lou Cope - Dramaturg
BABEL(words) takes as its starting point the specific moment in the tale of the Tower of Babel when God punishes those who built a tower in his name, causing chaos by splintering them into different languages, cultures and lands.
That is to say that on Day 1 of rehearsal, a microcosm of 18 performers from 13 countries, with 15 languages, 7 religious backgrounds and numerous performance modes between them, joined choreographers Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Damien Jalet, as well as visual artist Antony Gormley, to embark upon a new journey.
And it was in the swirling maelstrom of identity, nationhood, and culture that they found their inspiration. Where language is both verbal and physical, where it unites and divides, makes communication both possible and impossible, and is loaded with meaning at the same time as being profoundly meaningless.
Both in process and production, what grew was a city of multiplicity, a network of possibilities, where Gormley’s huge 3-dimensional frames are raised, knocked down and transformed, as if made of nothing but our thoughts. Space is dissected and appropriated, creating territories, axes and borders that hint at the often random but sometimes deadly geo-political divisions of land, as well as evoking the boundaries and limitations we impose on ourselves and each other. But, of course, by also offering shelter and relief in a landscape of chaos and complexity, structures enable tender, private and intimate moments, without which none of us could survive.
The city is not dissimilar to the landscape French philosopher Michel de Certeau strolls through in his work ‘The Practice Of Everyday Life’, where wanderers wander blindly, taking decisions by the millisecond, knowing not what they do, nor why they do it, what it means or where it will lead. People stumble into choices of belief, community and identity that as well as giving support - close doors, build boundaries and set limits.
And of course they build ivory towers, not just as a demonstration of status and wealth, but also in search of some kind of higher knowledge and enlightenment. The aerial view of, and distance from, those silent patterns far down below bring feelings of comfort, control and order, because as the old sign at the top of the Empire State building tells us - ‘it’s hard to be down when you’re up’!
Indeed Cherkaoui and Jalet’s journey was informed by their own profound ‘belief in the belief that something matters’ and their joint search for what that something might be. During the process the show revealed to its makers that what they were doing was turning the Tower of Babel upside down: what mattered was not the external multiplicity of our (regional, spiritual, linguistic, physical…) differences, but the underlying bond of what unites rather than divides us, and therefore the responsibilities we all share.
Thus just as the piece spirals towards some kind of omega point, we see a peeling away of the artificial boundaries, structures, definitions and technologies we seek to impose on our geographical, virtual, political or spiritual worlds. We are left with something more primitive, transcendent and unified. We are left with each other. Chained together, as neuro-scientist VS Ramachandran’s words tell us in the performance, entirely and literally by our neurons and separated only by our skin.
Lou Cope April 2010