uwws: ballet preljocaj – review

By Josh Windsor

There are two pieces of music that most choreographer’s will take on during their careers – the first is Stravinsky’s La sacre du printemps and the second is Vivaldi’s violin concerto The Four Seasons. It is the latter that Anjelin Preljocaj brought to the UW World Series last Thursday night. By cutting up the score and punctuating it with moments of silence, Ballet Preljocaj’s Les 4 saisons attempts to break the music from its Baroque meteorological past and present the work anew for the audience.

Ballet Preljocaj (photo © JC Carbonne)
Nevertheless, the piece never strays far from the Vivaldi’s symbolic roots. The curtains open to a stage framed by a collection of seasonal imagery suspended from above—lightning bolts, grapes, a Santa suit, a sun, angel wings, a yamulke, etc. As the performance runs its course, several of these items are released from their celestial dwelling and become incorporated into the movement. This hints at the creative process behind the work. From what could be gleaned from the program notes, Anjelin Preljocaj invited visual artist Fabrice Hyber into the process to introduce many of the visual elements and costuming into the dance, with the promise that whatever was brought forth would be incorporated—a role which earned him the title “chaosographer” in the credits.

What did this process yield? This was the question that kept running through my mind throughout the night.

The structure of the work became quite predictable early in the performance. A section of Vivaldi would play (at an uncomfortably loud volume), the company would develop a theme (usually centered around an object that had just fallen from the sky), several of the dancers would leave the stage (to aid in the frequent costume changes), and a pas de deux/trois/quatre would follow. The music would stop, a silent dance with rhythm punctuated by onstage vocalizations would then introduce the next random Vivaldi movement.

The themes, taken on their own, were interesting. Three, in particular, were astonishingly beautiful—a jump rope dance-off that had members of the company leaping from arabesque to grand jeté with impeccable timing, a duet of two dancers controlling each other’s movement by pulling one another by handfuls of flesh, and a pas de trois in which two women competed to be engaged in a perpetual kiss with a male dancer (assisted by a two-sided mask he wore).

Yet, when viewed as a whole, nothing seemed to materialize from the underlying concept. Each moment seemed fleeting and ideas rarely developed beyond their initial introduction. Many of the visual elements were too extreme to be incorporated with any coherence (a solo by a dancer covered in sponges springs to mind). But, to Preljocaj’s credit, the performance never drifted into cold intellectual pretension.

I was left feeling a little empty after the performance. Perhaps it was the high expectation that builds for the Seattle premiere of a company. However, there were enough small moments of fascination and the sublime, that I would welcome more from Ballet Preljocaj—maybe without the collaboration with a chaosographer next time.