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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 13 MAY 2011 — There was an air of expectation inside the pretty Theatre des Abbesses, situated in the heart of Montmartre. Le Funambule (The Tightrope Walker) , an intimate piece created in 2009, an ode to artists in general, is a one-man show lasting one and a quarter hours, conceived and danced by leading French choreographer, Angelin Preljocaj. It is inspired by and based on a text by Jean Genet, written in 1955 (Poésie Gallimard NRF, 1955), which explores not only the loneliness and solitude of an artist, but also serves as a poetic meditation on Genet's passionate love for the 19-year-old tightrope walker, Abdallah Bentaga.

For those who had not already seen Preljocaj's piece, it was an event not to be missed this time round, particularly as it was being interpreted by the choreographer himself.

Jean Genet/Angelin Preljocaj: Le Funambule
Ballet Preljocaj
Theatre des Abbesses
Photo: © JC Carbonne

Alone on a subtlely lit stage, Preljocaj, now aged 52, wearing a white, V-necked t-shirt and beige jeans, began to recite from a text, his voice deep and low-pitched. He questioned as to what made dancers follow their calling while simultaneously making large, slow generous movements first with his arms, and then with his whole body over which he had complete control. It was mesmerizing. No gesture was repetitive as his hands sliced through the air.

If offstage, Angelin Preljocaj, a man of few words, secret and quasi mystical, who rarely draws attention to himself, lacked a certain presence, then his choreography, extremely creative and emotionally charged,  sufficed in itself. Variations of rhythm and unexpected changes of lighting and  scenery culminated in a spectacular episode when he, such as a tight-rope walker, swung dangerously high above the stage on a wire ‘rope’ which was suspended in the air by several rigid steel bars leaving him clinging on perilously by one hand. It was followed by a dramatic knife scene, where he threw a sharp-bladed knife from one hand to the other but where the total theatricality of the sequence was softened by the gentle nature of the artist as his own personality took over.

It was, however, fascinating to see this man, one of France’s foremost choreographers, interpreting his own work. Shortly the piece will be danced and recited by Paris Opera étoile, 2005- 2007, Wilfried Romoli, a dancer who excelled both in strong character roles and contemporary dance, and who has since turned his attention towards theatre. It will be a role made to measure for his powerful, charismatic personality, and a role, he told me, that he had dreamed of interpreting.

Le Funambule is an impressive piece, profoundly anchored in the French language, which truly merits to be called dance-theatre.

Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe. She has contributed to The Guardian, The Observer and Dancing Times and was dance consultant to the BBC Omnibus documentary on Rudolf Nureyev. Based in Paris,  Patricia Boccadoro is the dance editor for Culturekiosque. She wrote recently on the Bengali choreographer Akram Khan 

Travel Calendar Tip: chosen by the editors as being of interest to Culturekiosque readers.


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