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.

le bal des vampyres

There’s an outpost of Little Australia in Vevey, beside the lake which is where I spent my first week in Suisse. Compagnie Nomades is currently one third full of aussie dancers – that means there’s two of them, and after the routine several months rehearsals every company here seems to get (enough to make three or four performances in Australia where we don’t muck around, mate) they’re about to slap in the vampire teeth, flounce baroquely, and pound the harpsicord to save Château de l’Aile, the old and slightly decrepit lakeside castle where a few of them have been living.

This Wednesday is the premiere of «Le bal des vampires» in, around, and maybe in the unexhumed crypt of this astonishingly beautiful lakeside château, the kind of place you’d treat yourself to a weekend holiday in if you did something really amazing and really, really deserved it, or your boss would because your weekly pay wouldn’t get you past the horse stables, or you’d walk by and think, “jeez wouldn’t it be sweet to live there…”, and the kind of place exceptionally talented developers look at and think, “what a dump, lets pull it down and slap up a bunch of crappy concrete slab storage closets, call them apartments and make enough to by that mountain across the lake and bulldoze the fucker”. Real genius right there.

So, dancing, music, occasional debauchery and sucking the blood of ravishing young virgins, stunning dancers from all over the place, and I can’t imagine there won’t be a memorable opening night party. I’ll be there.

Le site ne pouvait que séduire Serge Campardon, chorégraphe et directeur – avec Florence Faure – de la Cie Nomades installée à Vevey depuis une quinzaine d’années. «Depuis longtemps, j’ai le projet d’un spectacle dont le point de départ serait l’univers de Bram Stoker et l’inspiration directe du film Nosferatu… C’est le mythe des vampires, l’immortalité, l’imagerie populaire qu’il transporte et tous les fantasmes qu’il génère qui m’intéressent.» Jeux d’ombre et de lumière sur les façades du château, prologue dans l’une ou l’autre des somptueuses pièces de réception aux boiseries marquetées, chorégraphie dans les jardins: chaque élément se fera décor, prétexte à l’étrange, au merveilleux, au mystère pour ce Bal des vampires dans lequel Serge Campardon imagine «toutes sortes de personnages caricaturaux et démesurés dans une fiction en noir et blanc inspirée directement du cinéma muet».

— Migros Magazine

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holiday in vevey

The past week has been mostly spent lying on the beach beside Lake Geneva, eating, sleeping, and doing as little as possible. It’s been an unplanned holiday which I’ve really needed. In-between the doing nothing, I’ve been hanging out at Compagnie Nomades which is currently populated by a bunch of aussies. Felt right at home. All this has led to many evenings on the lake, eating and drinking, mad car trips to Castle Gruyere (yup, the cheese castle) to eat fondue and raclette and drink in the H. R. Giger bar, and long nights on the roof smoking an Egyptian water-pipe.

I’m off to Zurich in a couple of hours, to begin SiWiC, make some dance and see some friends I haven’t seen for too long.

slumming it in vevey

The most skanky flight I have ever had in my life was on the weekend, Hong Kong to Bangkok, to Dubai, to Zurich. Emirates Airlines. The food was so bad I could not recognise what it was I was being asked to eat. And that was the least of my worries. Dubai. What an utter shithole of an airport. Please someone pull the bathplug and watch it get sucked down past the u-bend.

But now I am in Vevey. And oh-my-fucking-god is there anywhere else is the world so beautiful to wake up in? It is disgusting. The lake. The mountains. The other mountains. The lake again. The 300 year old castle by the lake full of dancers. So beautiful I had to sleep for 36 hours before I could face it.

So, a week in Vevey before going to Zurich to SiWiC. I’ll write stuff some time, but currently I’m on holiday.