‘Dancing on the fault lines of time’ – De Standaard

nicht schlafen

Alain Platel, les ballets C de la B

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Nine dancers lose themselves in Platel’s characteristic dance idiom around a sculpture of dead horses. The imposing set design was made by visual artist Berlinde De Bruyckere and the music is by Gustav Mahler. Platel – whose previous productions at the festival include C(H)ŒURS and pitié – focuses on the troubled early years of the 20th century, which led to the tragedy of two world wars. He draws striking parallels between then and now. The intense emotions and confusion that Mahler’s music expressed are once again relevant. Platel and his dancers go on a quest for transformation, hoping not to end up in large-scale destruction once more.


Background information

Alain Platel’s new piece uses Gustav Mahler’s music as its starting point - an idea suggested by the great Belgian producer Gerard Mortier. Initially Platel resisted the music, although he eventually became totally captivated and he had a particular affinity with the 

time of acceleration and disruption leading up to the First World War which Mahler evokes.

Together with composer Steven Prengels and musical dramaturgist Jan Vandenhouwe, Platel browsed his oeuvre, at first only picking the slow pieces, before finally changing tracks and opting for high-contrast work. The final selection draws upon all of the symphonies, with the exception of the 8th. Composer Steven Prengels manipulates Mahler, adding contrast with the polyphonic chants of Boule Mpanya and Russell Tshiebua as well as sounds of cowbells and cows. Two songs complement the orchestral work: a text by Nietzsche in Also sprach Zarathustra: O Mensch. The other song is from a choral work from the 2nd symphony and runs through the performance like a leitmotif: ‘Hör auf zu beben, Bereite dich zu leben’. By way of contrast, a cantata by Bach can be heard briefly: ‘Den Tod nobody Zwingen kunnt’.

Platel shares his love for the big themes of suffering and death with visual artist Berlinde De Bruyckere. De Bruyckere agreed to design nicht schlafen. The design centres on three dead horses piled onto a pedestal.

In between the many pictures on the wall of the rehearsal room – images meant to inspire costumes or improvisations – there was a photograph of the Dutch company Schwalbe: a player is lying on the floor, his clothes being ripped off by two other players, each pulling to one side. The fight inspired by the photograph constitutes the core content for director Platel. It is the violence scraping off the thin veneer of civilization that holds together communities. The team of dancers with whom Platel tackles this quest consists of a mix of regulars and new arrivals. Among the regulars: Elie Tass (vsprs, pitié!, Out of Context-for Pina, tauberbach), Ido Batash (C(H)OEURS), Romain Guion (C(H)OEURS) and Berengère Bodin (C(H)OEURS, tauberbach). During the auditions Platel met Samir M'Kirech, Dario Rigaglia and David Le Borgne. The two Congolese performers Russell Tshiebua and Boule Mpanya are the same backing vocalists with whom Platel worked in Coup Fatal.



les ballets C de la B (Ghent) was founded by Alain Platel in 1984. Since then it has become hugely successful. Alain Platel has built a vision of an artistic platform for a group choreographers and dancers working with artists from various disciplines and cultures to take part in this dynamic creative process. As a result of its ‘mixture of artistic visions’, les ballets C de la B is not easy to classify. It is nevertheless possible to discern something like a house style (popular, anarchic, eclectic, committed), and its motto is ‘This dance is for the world and the world is for everyone’.


Alain Platel (1956, Gent, Belgium) is a self-trained director. In 1984 he set up a small theatre group to work collectively. Emma (1988) signalled his concentration on directing. He was responsible for Bonjour Madame (1993), La Tristeza Complice (1995) and Iets op Bach (1998), which propelled les ballets C de la B (as the group was now called) to the international heights. His collaborations with the composer Fabrizio Cassol (1964) go back to 2005, when he was invited to create the opening performance of the new Koninklijke Vlaamse Schouwburg (Royal Theatre of Flanders), in which he united various choirs from Brussels with varying cultural backgrounds. Up until 2006, Platel's work had been exuberant in both the diversity of performers and themes, but vsprs (Holland Festival 2006), based on Claudio Monteverdi's Vespro della Beata Vergine proved to be a new turning point in his career. After the baroque pitié! (2008), which was performed at the Holland Festival in 2009, Out Of Context – for Pina (2010) was an almost ascetic reflection of the movement repertoire of spasms and tics. In 2012, Platel was back at the Holland Festival, stunning the audience with C(H)ŒURS, with the dangerous beauty of the masses, featuring the one hundred and fifty strong choir of the Teatro Real from Madrid and ten dancers from his own company. In 2014 the festival showed Platel’s Coup Fatal (with Fabrizio Cassol). nicht schlafen will be Platel's seventh appearance at the Holland Festival.


Berlinde De Bruyckere (1964, Ghent) lives and works in Ghent. In February 2010 she received the Flemish Culture Prize 2009 for Visual Arts. Berlinde De Bruyckere represented Belgium at 2003 Venice Biennale after which she rose to fame internationally. She represented Belgium again at 2013 Venice Biennale with the work Kreupelhout-Cripplewood in cooperation with the Nobel Prize winner J. M. Coetzee. In 2015 the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag presented a big exhibition of her work. This year at the Holland Festival her work is featured in Mariavespers by Pierre Audi and the National Opera, and in nicht schlafen by Alain Platel and les ballets C de la B.


The work of Steven Prengels (1978) has been performed by the Chamber Orchestra of Belgium, Brussels Philharmonic, deFilharmonie, SPECTRA, the Nieuw Ensemble Amsterdam and the Symphony Orchestra of Flanders. In 2012 he wrote Wagner in Bayreuth, commissioned by the Oxalys Ensemble and created by the bass-baritone Dietrich Henschel and the Oxalys Ensemble. In the world of theatre and dance, he often works as a musical director and composer. Highlights are Gardenia (2010), by Alain Platel and Frank Van Laecke, of which he created the musical concept. Other projects with Alain Platel followed: C(H)OEURS (les ballets C de la B/Teatro Real, 2012), in which Steven Prengels created additional music and soundscapes to the work of Wagner and Verdi, tauberbach (les ballets C de la B/Münchner Kammerspiele, 2012) and En avant, marche!, which he created together with Alain Platel and Frank Van Laecke (les ballets C de la B/NTGent, 2015). For Accatone, the season opener of the Ruhrtriennale 2015, he composed the soundscape, commissioned by director Johan Simons.


Alain Platel
Gustav Mahler, Steven Prengels
music and musical direction
Steven Prengels
created and performed by
Bérengère Bodin, Boule Mpanya, Dario Rigaglia, David Le Borgne, Elie Tass, Ido Batash, Ro-main Guion, Russell Tshiebua, Samir M’Kirech
Hildegard De Vuyst
music dramaturgy
Jan Vandenhouwe
artistic assistance
Quan Bui Ngoc
set design
Berlinde De Bruyckere
Carlo Bourguignon
Bartold Uyttersprot
Dorine Demuynck
stage manager
Wim Van de Cappelle
production management
Valerie Desmet
tour management
Steve De Schepper
les ballets C de la B
Ruhrtriennale, La Bâtie-Festival de Genève, la Biennale de Lyon, L’Opéra de Lille, MC93 - Mai-son de la Culture de la Seine-Saint-Denis, TorinoDanza, Holland Festival, Ludwigsburger Schlossfestspiele, Kampnagel Hamburg
Frans Brood Productions
with support of
Stad Gent, Provincie Oost-Vlaanderen, de Vlaamse Overheid en Port of Ghent
thanks to
Universiteit Gent en Prof. Dr. Paul Simoens en Marianne Doom, Guy Cuypers & team, Alexi Williams, Bart De Pauw, Bob en Monir, K49814, Isnelle da Silveira, Lieven Vandeweghe, Griet Callewaert, de vrijwilligers en het personeel van atelier Berlinde De Bruyckere, Pierre Philippe Hofmann, Manège de Hoefslag in De Pinte, Warner Classics1