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Les Ballets C de la B – Ashes, Corn Exchange, Brighton, May 2 until May 4
In June of 1991, Mount Pinatabo erupted on the island of Luzon in the Philippines, killing 800 people and making 100,000 homeless. Choreographer Koen Augustijnen recalls seeing images of the aftermath, when ashes swept up by the wind dropped on to nearby villages, creating a strange, monochromatic landscape.
“People came out and found themselves in a different place,” he says.
In his latest work for the pioneering Belgian dance-theatre company Les Ballets C de la B, Koen uses the event as inspiration for an exploration of loss and impermanence.
Eight dancers find themselves in a post-apocalyptic environment. The disaster itself is unspecified but, Koen says, “You see that they have lost their normal references and maybe they have also lost people. Their environment is radically changed and they have to make a new context for themselves.”
It is Koen’s most dance-orientated work for the company, for which he also choreographed Brighton Festival 2007 show Import Export. “Although there are still theatrical elements, I wanted to use a kind of language that has a bit more abstraction. You can do that with dance,” he says. “It has more poetry and tenderness.”
The themes have a particular resonance with Koen, who lost his father shortly after beginning rehearsals for Ashes. “I didn’t see it coming, but maybe you feel something...” he suggests. Now in his early 40s, he realised his days as a professional dancer were numbered and he would have to adapt to survive. “It all led to this kind of conciousness that things were going to change – things don’t last forever.
“Ashes are a symbol of mortality but they are also a transitional element. In mythology, saints are burned but reborn from ashes. Fire is destructive but afterwards the ashes make the soil more fertile.
“I liked the idea that you could find peace and accept things won’t last, but that you can live with this.”
The work, a Brighton Festival commission and one of two special showcases the company will present this week, reunites Koen with composer and musical director Wim Selles and alto Steve Dugardin. The score is inspired by a classical composer – Koen says he chose Handel because his music is “emotional, it’s on the Earth. It’s less cerebral than something like Bach, for example.
“It helped me as a centre point for the piece. In the beginning, the scenes are more aggressive and the music is a strange comfort against the things that are happening in the piece. Later on, it becomes more harmonic.”
Koen’s hopes for Ashes are humble. “I want to leave audiences with a certain kind of calmness,” he says. “I want to give them the feeling they are not alone.”
- Starts 8pm, tickets cost £12.50-£18.50. Call 01273 709709