Devisor and Director: Jonathan Glazer
While the BBC may have nearly run out of new drama to show us, its Culture in Quarantine series continues apace and its latest production, a 10-minute dance piece about a mysterious phenomenon, obviously has resonances for today. Featuring some of the world’s most talented dancers, Strasbourg 1518 is a dark and uncomfortable watch.
In 1518 the inhabitants of Strasbourg were caught up in a mass hysteria that caused them to dance on the streets for days. Sometimes called The Dancing Plague, myths have grown up around the incident claiming that people would even dance to their deaths. The BBC along with Sadler’s Wells and Artangel have invited dancers such as Botis Seva (last seen in another Culture in Quarantine film, CAN’T KILL US ALL) and Tsai-Chin Yu from Tanztheater Wuppertal to reimagine this historical event.
In the film, directed by Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast and Under The Skin), the performers show no physical joy in their dancing; instead they seem cursed with involuntary and repetitive movements. Tics and jerks plague the dancers, twisting alone in their rooms from all over the world. Tsai-Chin Yu is compelled to wash her hands in a barrel, her wet hair sticking to the plain white walls while another woman pulls her dress up and down in an endless cycle.
To a minimal techno beat composed by Mica Levi (behind the music for one of the best films of last year, Monos), Andrey Berezin twitches around in an attic room with the light changing from day to night. We only see a short glimpse of one woman exhausted and slumped against a wall. She may have found rest or death, but the manic editing of the last few minutes makes sure the viewer doesn’t share in this woman’s peace. Scenes change even more quickly than the relentless beat and it’s surprising that Strasbourg 1518 doesn’t come with a health warning.
Our current situation may not make us want to dance on the streets, but the shadowy images of people losing their minds in isolation seem very relevant for today. Overall, the film lacks narrative and seems more like the videos that Glazer once made for Radiohead, dark and atmospheric. There is no relief in this short film; no cure for this plague.
Runs here until July 2021