As the history books would have us believe it, once upon a time in the town of Strasbourg, the locals succumbed to an unusual strain of mania. A so-called ‘dancing plague’ hit the border between France and Germany in 1518, inciting villagers to get their groove on for such staggering lengths of time, and with such all-consuming intensity, that scores are reported to have perished.
This being so long ago, many elements of the record remain fuzzy. (Experts disagree over the origin of this odd affliction, the number of casualties has been estimated as anywhere from 50 to 400, and some authorities doubt that anyone even died from dancing at all.) But that’s of no matter to Jonathan Glazer, who has oriented his latest short film around the symbolic significance of this strange 16th-century footnote.
A press release tied to the BBC’s Culture in Quarantine initiative announced today that Glazer will bring his new project Strasbourg 1518 to BBC Two on 20 July, a “collaboration in isolation” that sees the music video veteran teaming with the elite dance company Sadler’s Wells. Filmed during the lockdown, the presumptive dance sequences will be soundtracked by Mica Levi, composer of the haunting score for Glazer’s most recent feature Under the Skin.
The resonance of that far-flung corner of history to our present moment is clear; everyone feels a little stir-crazy right now, trapped in our flats with no end in sight, and dancing may be the only reliable way to get the ya-yas out. How different is the constant low-grade craziness of our pandemic-driven self-containment from the viral fever that descended on Alsace all those years ago, really?
This comes hot on the heels of Glazer’s last short-form visit to BBC Two, the eerie and conceptual vision of terror The Fall, which premiered last October. His games with concentric squares and frames-within-frames suggested a phase of formal experimentation, a restless streak that we may safely expect to breathe jittery life into Strasbourg 1518.
Strasbourg 1518 will premiere on BBC Two on 20 July at 10pm GMT.
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