Alain Platel (°1956) is trained as a remedial educationalist, and is an autodidact director. In 1984 he set up a small group with a number of friends and relatives 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), with which les ballets C de la B (as the group was then called) rocketed to the international top. In the meantime his collaboration with Arne Sierens had a similar effect on the Ghent youth theatre company Victoria, with the three plays Moeder en Kind (1995), Bernadetje (1996) and Allemaal Indiaan (1999).
After Allemaal Indiaan he announced that he was stopping making productions. But shortly afterwards Gerard Mortier persuaded him to do Wolf (2003) based on Mozart for the Ruhrtriennale. Subsequently a choir project for the opening of the new KVS in Brussels marked the start of close collaboration with the composer Fabrizio Cassol. vsprs (2006) proved to be a turning point in his career. So far his work had been exuberant in both the diversity of performers and the themes, but now it became more profound and intense and revealed a world of passion and desire. And violence, as in Nine Finger (2007) with Benjamin Verdonck and Fumiyo Ikeda.
After the baroque pitié! (2008), Out Of Context – for Pina (2010) is an almost ascetic reflection of the movement repertoire of spasms and tics. Platel consistently continues to search this language of movement for incarnations of feelings that are too vast. The yearning for something transcending the individual is becoming more and more palpable.
In collaboration with director Frank Van Laecke, he created Gardenia (2010), a production in which the closing of a transvestite cabaret affords us a glimpse into the private lives of a memorable group of old artists. In 2015 Platel and Van Laecke renew their collaboration, joined again by composer Steven Prengels, for En avant, Marche ! a performance about a society inspired by the tradition of fanfare orchestras and brass bands.
In 2012 Gerard Mortier convinced Platel once more to work with the opera’s from Verdi and Wagner: C(H)ŒURS became so far Platel’s biggest project. Together with his dancers and the Teatro Real choir he examined how ‘dangerously beautiful’ a group can be. With Opera Ballet Vlaanderen, Platel recreated this performance in 2022. With a premiere just after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, reality shimmered again in the performance.
The political connotation in performances such as tauberbach (2014) and Coup Fatal (in collaboration with Cassol, 2014) lied in the joie de vivre and energy that was displayed on stage to show how people sometimes live or even survive in undignified circumstances. “Lust for life” as a way of rebellion. It’s this lust for life that pushed the dancers in searching the possibility for transformation in nicht schlafen (2016), a performance on music by Mahler, that carries the restlessness and sense of foreboding doom of an accelerating society.
The theme of death had always featured significantly in Platel’s work, but never before it had been so central as in Requiem pour L. (in collaboration with Cassol, 2018). By writing a book of the same name, Platel digested the heavy process of this Requiem’s creation.
Meanwhile, Platel was also focusing on the development of connexions in his hometown, Ghent. Together with Lisi Estaras and Quan Bui Ngoc, he united 300 townspeople of all ages and backgrounds in an unprecedented performance of Le Sacre du Printemps (2018). In 2023, in co-direction with Frank Van Laecke and composer Steven Prengels, he is reuniting a hundred-strong choir of Ghentians for Mein Gent, a musical and theatrical tribute to Ghent.
But let it be clear, Platel is not just into large scale projects nowadays. In the recent past, he worked on small projects such as Nachtschade (for Victoria in 2006), coaching work for amongst others Pieter and Jakob Ampe and their production Jake & Pete’s big reconciliation attempt for the disputes form the past (in 2011) or the creation of Another Sacre (2021) together with Bérengère Bodin and the final year students of the Antwerp Conservatory. These projects have had a significant influence on his way of perceiving theatre.
He also almost surreptitiously entered the arena of the dance film together with the British director Sophie Fiennes (Because I Sing in 2001, Ramallah!Ramallah!Ramallah! in 2005 and VSPRS Show and Tell in 2007) and with photographer Mirjam Devriendt (Why we fight? in 2021) or solo with de balletten en ci en là (2006), an impressive view of what goes on in a twenty-year-old dance company, taking us all the way to Vietnam and Burkina Faso, but also and mainly being an ode to his hometown Ghent.