Ballet Preljocaj

November 27, 2006

Ballet Preljocaj
Joyce Theater, NYC

November 27–December 3, 2006

Reviewed by Wendy Perron

Hervz Chaussard, Harald Krytinar, Toshiko Oiwa, and Natacha Grimaud in Antonin Preljocaj’s Empty Moves

Photo by Laurent Philippe, courtesy Ballet Preljocaj

The pairing of Empty Moves (Part I), a dance of cool Cunningham-esque rigor, with Noces, a hard-hitting battle between the sexes, showed two completely different sides of Angelin Preljocaj. Both, however, exemplified the distinctive, very contemporary style of this French choreographer.

An openly lit bare stage, a quartet of thoughtful dancers, and endlessly interesting interactions gave Empty Moves (2004) a quality of calm but intense concentration. The recording of John Cage’s sonorous voice, reading (often incomprehensible) passages from his Empty Words, along with sounds of an audience that seemed to be responding to something entirely different—plus the dancing—suggested three distinct realities on parallel tracks. You could wonder what that disembodied audience was cheering, hissing, or laughing at as you watched this meditative dance with sensuous stillnesses.

With tasklike demeanor the dancers leaned, fell, and made intimate connections—a head touched the crook of someone else’s knee; a hand pulled back the pelvis of another dancer; a forehead dropped onto a palm, making a slapping noise. Other rewards for the alert viewer: A wondrous moment when the two women sat up to encircle the slowly falling men was repeated later, but with the partners separated. One sequence, where the choices of who raises his/her arm when, was repeated facing upstage, allowing you to see the math from another view. As it cast its quiet spell, the dance seemed to unravel back to the beginning. The dancers ended as they began, each picking up an imaginary object from the floor.

As empty of histrionics as Empty Moves was, Noces (1989) was full of them. With a bit of the brutality of Preljocaj’s controversial Rite of Spring, the men and women taunted each other, making brilliant use of five benches and five life-size bride dolls. The dolls seemed to symbolize the happily-ever-after ideal of marriage, with the women coddling them and the men heaving them. The choreography caught the insistent quality of Stravinsky’s music. The visual framework of the five benches both triggered and contained the wildness of the dancing. In a breathtaking repeated sequence, each of the five women scampered up on a bench, jumped high in a swan dive, and landed by toppling her man to the floor in a roll. After all the mayhem, the couples walked calmly upstage, leaving the dummies pilloried on the now-vertical benches. In the end, they preferred each other to the virtual version of marriage. See