dirty undead weeekend

In-between inexplicable torrents of rain and general foulness passing for summer in Vevey, Compagnie Nomades have been performing Le Bal des Vampires in the splendidly neo-gothic and very derelict Château de l’Aile. Needing a weekend away from Zürich, wanting to see everyone in the company one last time before they fly off, and just wanting to hang out in what is one of the world’s most beautiful places, I decided to sleep in and miss the train on Friday.

Got up Saturday, drank coffee, discovered soy milk was off, hence the sourness, packed absolutely bloody nothing – except a toothbrush and clean underwear – and came to as the train exited the tunnel to the very grande vista of Lac Leman spread around the mountains, unfocussed under a glaring pale haze.

Lunch. Pizza, chocolate, coffee. Town. Go to the Château to say hello and hang out while they warm up, undergo three hours of hair and make-up to create convincingly undead ghouls, and then it started raining.

The performance was split between a theatrical spectacular inside the castle, and the how-many-steps-can-we-do danceathon outside, below the vast promenade of a balcony in the garden. The gentle but persistent rain first delayed, then eviscerated any hope of jumps and turns. But I got groped by one of the abmortal groupies, and several of us drunk half the night away at the National, so it wasn’t entirely a lost weekend.

Today was spent rendering ourselves insensate on pastries, coffee, more pastries, chocolate criossants … the ensuing sugar-coma wasted what remained of the day before returning to the castle where I graciously turned down an offer to warm up on the outside stage before the return hike on the train.

But I took an opportunity to explore the castle, which is pretty much rotting under its own weight. The masonry in soft grey sandstone has become porous like whipped cream, and flakes off in disturbingly large chunks with the slightest pressure. The same can be said for the exterior woodwork, sun-bleached, hollow and dry like driftwood. The underlying stonework and timber frames look fairly solid and intact, but the whole place desperately needs huge amounts of money thrown at it. Which was the point of the show.

The reviews have not been kind, and from what I saw in the interior – the theatrical half – despite the phenomenal costumes, wigs, makeup, horse and carriage, and dancers who are all more than capable of being awesome – it didn’t in any way represent several months of dedicated attention by the choreographer. Even the vampire theme was easy.

Up the main staircase under the barrelled ceiling, into the tight spiral of the servants’ stair, then up past where the meticulous fake stone and marble paintwork and intricate woodwork finishes, into the first level of the attic, the roof sloping inwards, but the floor paved in thin brickwork. Up again to the second level, smaller, and mostly empty, with one last door leading into absolute blackness and the tight throat of the last circular stairwell, then finally to come out on the highest point bar the pinnacle of the main spire on a crow’s nest looking out over the lake and all Vevey vertiginously high above the gardens.

In one level of the attic amidst the masses and years of detritus and ephemera was an open trunk, strewn with papers and pruned, dead foliage. It’s like a story from when you’re young, going into the attic and finding a mysterious steamer trunk full of old letters, photos, a few books, sheet music, someone’s life. A letter from a Dublin cemetery regarding the dressing of a headstone, a thank you letter for the weekend spent in the castle, a trail across Switzerland and Europe.

Here was the past of the chäteau. Here was the performance. Not vampires and other facile stuff, but real people who lived there, the trace of their lives drying out and fading in the dim attic just below the rusting spires and crumbling slate. And it was there all along, another missed chance.