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Seduction in a French Garden :
Angelin Preljocaj's Le Parc at the Paris Opéra Ballet


By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 13 March 2002 - When Le Parc, a highly sensual, intelligently thought out ballet inspired by the Countess de La Fayette's La Princesse de Clèves (1678), and Choderlos de Laclos' Les Liasons dangereuses (1782), was created at the Palais Garnier in 1994, it was one of the most interesting programmes that season despite its unequal choreography. Precise and elegant, it was neither too intellectual nor over obscure, and was set to some of the most beautiful adagios from Mozart's piano concertos*, mixed with electronic sounds. Choreographer Angelin Preljocaj, born in France, of Albanian parents, described it as a search for what remains of the 'art of loving'.

However with its limited, repetitive steps, and superficial lightweight libretto, it seemed destined for a short career, for no matter how wonderful the interpreters, it is not always possible to turn a minor work into a classic. Re-staged in 1996, and 1999 in Paris , and presented on tour in Singapour, Rome, New York and San Francisco, I felt the work had probably passed its peak, and lost its edge. Wrong.

In the recent reprogamming at the Opéra Bastille, guest artist Isabelle Guérin, delicate and exquisitely feminine, partnered by the sinuous, muscular and eloquent Yann Bridard, not only breathed new life into what they made into a contemporary classic, but in the final pas de deux, raised it to the level of sublime. Tension was at its maximum when they were on stage.

Isabelle Guerin and Yann Bridard in Le Parc
Isabelle Guerin and Yann Bridard in Le Parc
Photo: Icare

Ironically, Bridard had worked on the principal role in 1996, but as understudy to Laurent Hilaire. Then, when Hilaire was injured last year, Bridard began rehearsals with Guérin to appear in the U.S., but as she was finally unable to dance, the partnership was shelved, to re-emerge in Paris in February for two unforgettable performances. Those who saw them can count themselves lucky.

"We worked together for fifteen days last year, and then for the last three weeks we were coached by Preljocaj himself and his assistant Noémie Perlov", Yann Bridard told me after the performance. "Each day I worked with Isabelle, who created the role in 1994, I learned even more. She is a very great ballerina who translates emotion to movement, and with unlimited artistic generosity. It was a very special moment in my life; no-one has ever given me so much. It's impossible to believe that such a unique artist can no longer dance with the company because of rules made years ago. "**

Bridard, a very 'actual' dancer who has been studying modern movements seriously, also commented on the difficulty of dancing the steps. The choreography, he told me, was very mathematical and not easy intellectually, apart from the final pas de deux, when, he said, his mind was totally at peace as he was guided solely by his partner and the music.

"It's not a drama of amorous intrigues and even less about love", he commented. "Angelin Preljocaj questions what love is about and presents it as a combat. There's no tenderness, no simplicity and no sharing, but just an impassioned desire to escape loneliness."

Certainly the decor and costumes reflect this troubled state of mind. Nature has been controlled, and the branches of the trees have been hewn down to form cages for imprisoned hearts, while the sky, weighed down with clouds threatens the tormented souls it sees below. Four gardeners, whose role is to ensure the surrender of the 'fortresses of pride', wear dark glasses for 'love' is blind.

Isabelle Guerin and Yann Bridard in Le Parc
Isabelle Guerin and Yann Bridard in Le Parc
Photo: Icare

Blind or afraid? In recent years, Preljocaj, a man of infinite creative powers with a distinctive, pure, precise style capable of turning poetry and music into movement, has been setting himself rigid limits in what appears to be a search for 'modernity' rather than love. His work is very sophisticated, very 'French'. Since his beautiful short pas de deux, L'Annunciation, which entered into the repertoire of the French company in 1996, he has lost his way. Angelin Preljocaj deserves more than his current label of being one of France's most fashionable choreographers, a description which is far from being a compliment. It's time he found what he has been looking for.

* Allegro from the Divertimento in B flat Major K. 137 (1772)
Adagio from the Serenade"Haffner" in D Major K. 250 (1776)
Adagio in F sharp Minor from the Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Majeur K.488 (1786)

** Isabelle Guèrin, born in 1961, is the latest of the great Paris Opéra ballerinas to be forced into an early "retirement" because of nonsensical rules belonging to another epoch. She can be seen taking a master class with Violette Verdy in Dominique Delouche's documentary film, Violette and Mr. B. which will be presented in New York on 25 and 26 March 2002 at Lincoln Center, Bruno Walter Hall and the Alliance Francaise, Florence Gould Hall

Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe. She contributes to The Guardian, The Observer and Dancing Times and was dance consultant to the BBC Omnibus documentary on Rudolf Nureyev. Ms. Boccadoro is the dance editor for

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