writers on dancing


A Decorative Life

“Near Life Experience"
Angelin Preljocaj/Ballet Preljocaj
Brooklyn Academy of Music Howard Gilman Opera House
Novermber 3-6, 2004

by Nancy Dalva
copyright © 2004 by Nancy  Dalva

They were taut, focused, inward, yet you felt them absorb the energy of their audience, and fuel their movement with it. Their costumes were brief and functional, revealing the leanest of muscle, the sparest of physiques. They were economical of gesture and plumb of line, with turn in the norm–so much so that even the slightest deviation from the parallel registered on the viewer. Their arms were always in motion, but never decorative. In fact, there was nothing about them that was decorative. Even those relying on mechanical devices were as one with their machinery, generating a functional momentum that translated to the viewer as heroic.

After Ballet Preljocaj earlier in the week, how marvelous to see the New York City marathon front runners, rounding off the Queensboro Bridge and heading down the half block to First Avenue and 59th Street. There they took the corner with great economy, and sped off toward the north like antelope. What a tonic!

Angelin Preljocaj's "Near Life Experience" is decorative, complicated, symbolist, at once vague—as to meaning—and weirdly specific—as to sets, costumes, and props. These include balls of red yarn, life guard-type chairs, wine glasses attached to body, glass spheres, and other paraphernalia that make the French choreographer look like the New Age Alwin Nikolai, with a little Merce Cunningham and a little Butoh thrown in. The eighty-minute work seems to take place in a glacial crevasse, bright, shadowed, white, luminous. It seems to be about being about to be born, or being about to die, or various states that, in some lesser way, mimic these conditions. (Sex, for instance.) Being French, the company wears chic costumes—white or black shirts and briefs giving way to creamy lingerie giving way to half nudity. You have no doubt that the company of twelve is talented, beautiful, smooth, desirable.

And you have no doubt that Angelin Prejlocaj is a deeply talented choreographer whose character somehow precludes any kind of artistic progression. Is he easily bored? Is he afraid of repetition? Is he readily influenced by his latest experiences, whether physical or psychic? Who can say? Whatever the pathology or motivation, his chronology of works seems to be is a series of one-of-a-kinds. This dance was the least coherent seen here, the most messily symbolic, the most gimmick-ridden. (Dancers connect by mouth with red yarn, for instance.) And yet, there was some sumptuous, precise movement—in particular, a quartet with one woman surrounded by three men, who either have her contained her out of concern and kindness, or have her trapped like a fly in a web. The leaps into their arms, onto their thighs, the near-flight of the ballerina (Claudia de Smet)—this was wonderful.

But insufficient compensation for the gap between the choreographer and the audience—one that the company, in this dance, could not bridge. Something interesting happened to Mr. Preljocaj; he fell into, or impelled himself into, some state (or states) whose experience is symbolically replicated here, to small avail. Instead, by the time the evening threaded its way to the final image–copulation, and the "birth" of a naked man covered in a creamy, vernix-like substance from what seemed to be a red felt ball, the urge to decipher gave way to the urge to pass out, and torpor was all. Sleep is of course another kind of abandon, so perhaps the response was mimetic. Then again, maybe not.

Ballet Preljocaj in "Near Life Experience" at BAM. Photo: Jack Vartoogian.

Volume 2, No. 43
November 15, 2004
Copyright ©2004 by Nancy Dalva


DanceView Times

What's On This Week
Index of Reviews
Index of Writers

Back Issues
About Us

Sister Sites:
Ballet Alert! Online
Ballet Talk
Ballet Blogs


Mindy Aloff
Dale Brauner
Mary Cargill
Christopher Correa
Clare Croft
Nancy Dalva
Rita Felciano
Marc Haegeman
George Jackson
Gia Kourlas
Sali Ann Kriegsman
Alexander Meinertz
Tehreema Mitha
Gay Morris
Ann Murphy
Paul Parish
John Percival
Susan Reiter
Jane Simpson
Alexandra Tomalonis (Editor)
Lisa Traiger
Meital Waibsnaider

Kathrine Sorley Walker
Leigh Witchel



DanceView is available by subscription ONLY. Don't miss it. It's a good read.  Black and white, 48 pages, no ads. Subscribe today!

DanceView is published quarterly (January, April, July and October) in Washington, D.C. Address all correspondence to:

P.O. Box 34435
Washington, D.C. 20043
last updated on October 25, 2004