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Ballet Preljocaj's "Near Life Experience"


By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 2 March 2004 - Angelin Preljocaj, one of the most important choreographers on the French contemporary dance scene has returned to Paris with a new, visually very attractive ballet, which, contrary to his work in recent years, is neither provocatively violent nor startlingly innovative. It therefore disappointed those avid for sensation, while delighting the rest of us, nostalgic for Les Noces, Le Parc, and Annunciation.

After a year spent resting and travelling, from the banks of the Ganges to the heights of Kilimanjaro, Preljocaj has created Near Life Experience, a work containing moments of extreme beauty and set to extraordinary music by the French electro-pop group Air, more frequently associated with topping the charts.

This latest work was inspired, he said, by the effects due to the lack of oxygen on the top of Kilimanjaro, when, at 5963 meters, all his movements were in slow motion. "It gave me the idea of creating something out of life", he said in an interview on the radio, "something where you could stop the world and get off for a time, but then return. My ballet is therefore about the body succumbing to various states, including a trance-like ecstasy, having a sexual orgasm or fainting, where everything comes to a halt for a while. I was concerned, too, about what happens when someone has an epileptic seizure, or a fit of hysteria."

"The challenge also came from the music", he added. "I listen to music almost all the time, to suggestions friends give and to programs on the radio, looking not necessarily for something which immediately evokes images, but often for quite the opposite which can be more stimulating. "Air" is an adventurous group, and as they've already worked on film music, I didn't consider I was taking much of a risk."

Angelin Preljocaj: Near Life Experience
Angelin Preljocaj: Near Life Experience
© Photo: Guy Delahaye

Indeed, few chances were taken with this piece, created for eleven of his dancers, all of whom were superb and totally committed. Not only does the music by the couple Jean-Benoit Dunckel and Nicolas Godin fit sublimely to the choreography, creating both setting and atmosphere, but the costumes, first in white and then in a shimmering transparent peach, complement the pure, light, white decor conceived by Preljocaj himself in collaboration with Tom Pye. The costumes, designed by Gilles Rosier, who learnt his trade with Balmain, Kenzo and then Gautier, were very pretty.

Angelin Preljocaj is a choreographer in the true sense of the word. He knows how to deal with groups and a pas de deux or pas de trois holds no secrets for him. He also understands the importance of silence, and there are several moments of total stillness, when we are looking at something beyond everyday matters. On several occasions, I was only aware that the music had stopped when it began again.

A group of six in white meet and cling to the other. A group of four swings a girl in slow, sensuous movements before, with a rapid twist of her whole body, she leads them into a pas de cinq of very great beauty. Contact is never lost, and movements seem to gain in clarity and precision in a silence that is only recognised when the music returns.

At one moment, gravity is defied as two girls are carried aloft by the rest of the company, and float through the air in effortless movement, the tips of their toes barely touching the bubbles, the large round glass bowls.

Angelin Preljocaj: Near Life Experience
Angelin Preljocaj: Near Life Experience
© Photo: Guy Delahaye

A ball of red wool crosses the stage diagonally, and two dancers meet, join, and separate, in echoed movements. One body replies to the questions of the other with a glance, a smile, a caress. The dancers enlace, cross and re-cross the dividing line.

The rest of the company is seated on the stage throwing balls of red wool that tangle round their bodies. A sort of cat's cradle is made. Movements are big and generous, not cut in space as in recent works. Everything is lovely in this world; it is pure and uncluttered. The syrupy music succumbs to the charm and the choreography is repetitive, deliberately so, suspended in time.

Then a bare-breasted woman arrives, with rope in her mouth. The gentleness seems now a veneer and as an enormous red ball rolls on stage out of which a foetus emerges still in its wrappings, the curtain comes down. It is the audience who is left out in the cold, rejected, and forced from their seats to fight with the rain and the dark.

Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe. She contributes to 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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