Grand Théâtre de Provence
April 29–30, 2013
Steamy. Slinky. Sexy. Such adjectives could be used to describe that fictional princess, Scheherazade, and the 1,001 tales she spun in order to stay alive. In Angelin Preljocaj’s evocative telling, Les Nuits (The Nights) the French-born Albanian has seemingly given us 1,001 scenes, as many snippets of music from Natacha Atlas & Samy Bishai, and 79D, and more costume changes than Lady Gaga, courtesy of haute couturier Azzedine Alaïa.
Wrapped up in his signature choreographic style—a hybrid of classical and contemporary movement infused with intense physicality and emotion—Preljocaj’s latest epic debuted in Aix (home to his troupe), as part of a yearlong celebration of Marseille-Provence 2013, European Capital of Culture. Since founding the company in 1984, Preljocaj has made an international name for himself, with controversial works, including his 2002 Rite of Spring and his 2008 Blanche Neige (“Snow White”), still in demand.
Les Nuits, for 18 dancers, looks to be no exception, as the work is currently touring throughout Europe, with stops planned for Lebanon, Kazakhstan, and Russia (and possibly Brazil and Macao), before arriving in Los Angeles in June 2014.
Suffused with Cécile Giovansili-Vissière’s sumptuous lighting, the work opens on a Turkish bath–like tableau. Reminiscent of Ingres’ painting “Grand Odalisque,” the dancers, some topless with arms outstretched, writhe and luxuriate in their bodies. Ah, let the eroticism begin—or not—as the ambient soundtrack seemed to include crickets chirping and rain falling before morphing into a rhythmically propelled vein more in keeping with the mysterious East.
Angelin Preljocaj’s Les Nuits, Photo ©JC Carbonne, Courtesy Preljocaj
Furthering the communal bath motif, there was also a scene that smacked of Sweeney Todd, with men being shaved by other men, the mock throat-cutting providing an ominous tone. But a disco beat soon prevailed and a dozen women clad in red mini-dresses with matching high-heeled boots moved in semi-unison to James Brown’s, “This Is a Man’s World.” Hot and humorous, the Rockettish bit gave way to several violence-tinged duets, with Natacha Grimaud being tossed about by Jean-Charles Jousni, and Yurie Tsugawa, her long hair flying, facing off against Sergio Diaz. Continuing to riff on gams, Preljocaj also staged a sequence wherein four large Persian carpets were transported across the stage, with only legs (dozens of them), visible, a Pilobolussian touch!
Constance Guisset’s alluring stage designs ranged from Moroccan-style arches to fluid fabric backdrops. Aluminum cages with pliable elastic bands became home to crotch-grabbing, preening men, bumping and grinding in “Magic Mike” mode to a reprise of “This Is a Man’s World.” Women in bondage-like halters and trunks soon joined them, and the entangled couples sparred within and between the malleable bars, exuding force fields of sexuality, before the story shifted to…urns and hookahs.
A trio of women, perched on giant vases and seen in striking silhouette, spread their legs and slunk about acrobatically, with cerulean blue and saffron-colored lighting accenting the exotic/erotic aspect. Music also veered from neo-Egyptian modalities and vocal vamping, to more pop culture tunes, including, inexplicably, the James Bond theme, “You Only Live Twice.” Perhaps the only missing composer was Mahler, a Preljocaj favorite and one who would have been at home with this production’s array of twitchy shoulders, warrior poses, and Nijinskyesque leaps.
Filled with undeniably exquisite moments, the 90-minute work nevertheless suffered from awkward transitions, as well as a lack of a true focal point. We did not have one Scheherazade, we had a dozen. As for a king, all the Preljocaj men are noble in bearing, but it’s as if the morphine-addled dreamscape of Eugene O’Neill was fused with Preljocaj’s aesthetic, giving birth to a Long Day’s Journey Into Les Nuits.
Photo at top ©JC Carbonne, Courtesy Preljocaj.