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Review 3, 12-12: Near-Pilobolus Experience
Everything but the Kitchen Sinks New Preljocaj
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2003 The Dance Insider
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PARIS -- These are fallow
days for Angelin Preljocaj. Perhaps the most popular touring French
choreographer in the United States over the last seven years, and
still a darling of the chic set here, his name elicits a shrug or
a smirk when I float it to dancer friends under 35. And after seeing
his new yet tired "Near Life Experience" Wednesday at the Theatre
de la Ville - Sarah Bernhardt, my third disappointment from him
in three years, I can understand why.
It's hard to do justice
to Preljocaj's internalized choreography of the heart and how he
communicates it on the body, especially for an inadequate critic
like myself. In the simplest terms, let's say he confronts ballet's
legs with post-modern's waist, upper-body, and demeanor. His scenarios
often go to the heart, as the 1998 "Casanova" for the Paris Opera
Ballet, raved by me last
season. They also rely on the dancers to communicate
a lot from their hearts, amplifying the sometimes generalized ecstasy
or agony conveyed by the choreography. Thus, I can tell you that
I recall the very French (as much a battle as a tryst) pas de deux
from his 1996 "Romeo and Juliet," and that his setting suggested
a re-casting in a fascistic Balkan state, but little of the choreography
of that pas de deux lingers besides that it involved lots of grappling.
There's lots of that,
too, in "Near Life Experience," in which, says the choreographer
in a program note, he was working with, among other things, states
of trance, orgasm, and hysteria. He also says that he was trying
to "penetrate a totally extraordinary dimension of life." The man
aims high, he's in earnest, and he often gets there, but unfortunately
the tools he uses this time around are of the ordinary variety.
A colleague to whom
I unloaded after seeing this piece immediately asked, "Were there
lots of chairs?," evoking another ballet for the Paris Opera, "Le
Parc." In her DI review of that attempt to infuse the
extraordinary into the ordinary, Aimee Ts'ao observed that "Preljocaj,
for some inexplicable reason, assumes that the audience lacks that
ability to understand his choreography without his drilling it so
deeply into their heads that the net effect is that of having had
a lobotomy." He's equally lacking in subtlety with his latest work.
That extraordinary experience the orgasm is evoked by a woman on
a yes, lifeguard chair upstage right moaning unimaginatively to
simulate her ecstasy (we're not talking Brigitte Bardot or even
Meg Ryan here) while a man diagonally downstage from her weaves
around another lifeguard chair, in slo-mo. In fact, there's a lot
of slo-mo here, but extraordinary experiences are not heightened
just by slowing down their depiction, especially when the depiction
is so base, as in another segment where -- am I ready for my lobotomy,
yet? -- a girl-girl couple tenderly grapples upstage, while a boy-boy
pair (pardon my language, but the base act merits the base word)
rolls around humping in their underwear upstage right.
But it gets worse! In
recent review of Les Ballets de Montreal, my DI colleague
Gus Solomons jr described a segment of one piece in which, "Their
rhythms doggedly matched the barrage of athletic, stamina-defying,
joint-punishing movement of five men in black Speedos: Paul Taylor
meets Pilobolus." Yes, now it's.... Pilobolus meets Preljocaj!
Long-time DI readers
know me as a fan of the Pilobolus aesthetic. It doesn't always work,
but when it does work, it works because there IS an aesthetic. If
that aesthetic sometimes involves the USE of props, props are not
in and of themselves the aesthetic. The aesthetic is PLAY, not PROPS.
The problem with the increasing number of Pilobolus and Momix copiers
is not that they use props, but that their reasons for using them
are not playful but facile. The only apparent reason I can see for
their use in "Near Life Experience" is to prop up, so to speak,
a tired choreography. But there's a difference between the chaotic
and the non sequitur, between the truly inventive and the simply
inane. All of Preljocaj's props here have the effect of a joke that
the originator thinks is funny, but that drops with a thud for the
rest of us.
If I may go into Joe-Bob
mode to get this over with quickly, we're talking lots of yarn,
yarn sex, man covered in shaving cream emerging from giant ball
of yarn rolled onto stage by Lifeguard girl, yarn trailing from
the mouth, yarn wrapping around two grappling bodies..... And opposed
to Pilobolus, which expands the use of ordinary objects, Preljocaj
uses them in expected ways, as when plastic bubbles are placed one
by one across the stage, following which two pairs of men each lift
a woman from ball to ball, with the rule that her feet can't touch
the ground. In similar circumstances, Pilobolus would have involved
the balls and made the lifts more involved. It requires the active
imagination of a child (that's a compliment) to do this, and big
boys like Preljocaj shouldn't play with toys.
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