Babel 7.16 – An epic dance performance about diversity

Photo by Christophe Raynaud de Lage

An epic award-winning international dance performance Babel 7.16 will be on offer to the Canadian audiences through DIGIDANCE webcast from Dec. 8 to 19, 2021.

With a cast of 22 dancers from 15 different countries, Babel 7.16 weaves together dance, music, and theatre in a two-hour production to explore the complexity, chaos and possibilities that arise when different people with diverse backgrounds and languages try to understand each other and coexist.

The expanded Babel 7.16 was a special commission for the 70th anniversary of the Festival d’Avignon in 2016. The original version was created in 2010 by Belgian choreographers Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Damien Jalet, with stage design by British sculptor Antony Gormley. The piece was performed nearly 150 times in cities all over the world for nearly seven years.

DIGIDANCE is an initiative of Centre national des Arts (Ottawa), DanceHouse (Vancouver), Danse Danse (Montréal) and Harbourfront Centre (Toronto) to present exciting dance performances through streaming.

“This work is something special. I hope the audience who have access to view it will do so. It shines a light on how vast the world is, how different we all are, and how much we are connected and need one another, that is a very timely theme,” says Jim Smith, the artistic and executive director of DanceHouse.

He adds that even in normal circumstances, it will be difficult to present this particular production on stage in Vancouver given the size of the work, the scale of the venue, and the resources that need to be marshalled for it to happen.

A dance performance with diverse languages

With the stage set of five huge three-dimensional movable frames symbolizing the ‘tower,’ the performance uses the Bible story The Tower of Babel as a starting point. It hints at a nameless intersection in a no man’s land where people who speak different languages strive to cooperate.

In the biblical tale, God creates multiple languages to prevent man from building a tower to get closer to God. To some, the Tower of Babel represents the gates to enlightenment, but to others it symbolises chaos, confusion, and conflict.

Seventeen different languages are used on stage in Babel 7.16 according to the creators. The creators themselves, despite being fellow countrymen, speak Flemish and French respectively, reflecting two of Belgium’s three official languages.

“We see the cast that has been pulled together, it is very diverse. We see it visibly, but we also see it stylistically, in terms of the physical languages they speak. There is a range of hip-hop artists, some more classically trained dancers, dancers in contemporary idioms, as well as a number of forms of street dance.” Smith explains. “Both choreographers are recognized for being very open to creative gestural languages that are well beyond the confines of traditional training of dancers.”

The music score is also as diverse as the dancers themselves. Within the production, one can find a fusion of eastern and western sounds from Japanese taiko drums to the voice of Italian Soprano Patrizia Bovi.

“The musical element is another lens through which we see this richness of differences; it is very much an extension of this idea of the diversity of languages. When we are trying to come together, how it can become an obstacle,”
says Smith.

Spoken language vs gestural language

The dance performance brings to the surface some of the challenges of diversity caused by language, and how we can’t always rely on it, says Smith.

“One point that the production makes, it talks about before there is language, there is the gesture. The gesture has this reliability that we could all trust. We all understand what a shrug is. Physical gestures have this foundational way for us to be able to communicate,” he adds.

Smith further explains that the ensemble cast try to use vocal language to communicate first, but the underpinning gestural language becomes more dominant and reliable.

“We lost connection with our bodies as a means to communicate in modern society. This production does a remarkable job of questioning vocal language and reinforces the practicality and reliability of gestural language,” he adds.

For more information, please go to: