Sunday, December 15, 2013

Saturday in the Parc with Mozart

Pujol as the lead ballerina in the final pas de deux of Preljocaj's Le Parc (to give you an idea of the wonder of this moment, know that they aren't spinning yet - she's holding herself up like that)

Angelin Preljocaj’s Le Parc, which I saw this weekend at the Paris Opera, is a full length contemporary ballet that constantly has multiple ideas up in the air at once. The work manages simultaneously to be intellectually stimulating and emotionally rewording (most of the time). 

The action takes place in a modernist rendering of a garden; giant, square wooden trees surround a clearing. The three acts are divided by time - day, evening, night - and the final scene takes place at daybreak. For the most part, the dancers are costumed as 18th century courtiers, with the exception of four ‘Gardeners’ who open each of the acts and close out the ballet. Unlike the Mozart people, who dance to selections from that composer’s vast catalogue, the Gardeners perform to compositions of found noise (something that obviously tickles this choreographer’s fancy). The Gardeners also bring some kind of steam-punk attitude to the stage with leather aprons and goggles. 

As strange as they are, the Gardeners are a marvelous touch. They bridge the gap between the modern world and the era of Mozart. While watching, I couldn’t help comparing this work to Jiri Kylian’s many ballets that use 17th and 18th century music for their score. Kylian uses older music in a direct, unmediated way, playing for his audiences’ emotions. Preljocaj’s Le Parc, in contrast, acknowledges the temporal distance between us and Mozart’s Vienna. The engagement with the music is more distant, more ironic. But when emotion does seep through (or explode through as in the case of the final pas de deux) it can be all the more touching for the wait. This distance is mirrored in the lack of rhythmic correspondences between the music and the dance, an unusual and fascinating departure from balletic tradition. Speaking of the music, it helps that the Paris Opera orchestra handles Mozart’s delicate scores with a joy and ease that is rare among ballet ensembles. 

A delightful game of musical chairs from Le Parc

The ballet’s three act structure allows Preljocaj to approach a wide variety of emotions and theatrics. Act I is a playful flirtation, Act II a seduction, and Act III a melancholy contemplation ending in (according to the program) ‘abandon.' Within each act is a variety of comic scenes (one man miming his sexual frustration to his friends), intellectual puzzles (a joyful game of very musical chairs), and emotional powerhouses. Each act ends with a pas de deux between the ballet’s main couple, and these two mirror the progression of light and emotion that unifies the ballet; in the first one the two dancers never touch, in the second they touch each other delicately, and in the third they throw themselves at each other, manipulating, carrying, kissing. My only complaint about the work would be that the emotional and tonal timbre of acts II and III (along with the lighting) are similar enough that it tired me out and made it difficult to differentiate the individual numbers. This could be solved easily with an intermission between Acts II and III - there’s no reward for forcing your viewers to sit in their chairs for 95 minutes uninterrupted. 

The dancers were excellent and had really mastered Preljocaj’s somewhat unusual movement vocabulary. The Gardeners, Simon Valastro, Adrien Bodet, Mallory Gaudion, and Adrien Couvez, were especially impressive, forming one precise, physically-charged unit. Laëtitia Pujol likewise performed her part with an unusual degree of presence, emotion. It’s difficult to make such an unconventional part shine (there’s none of the typical types of balletic virtuosity to be found here). But Pujol was convincing in her slowly emerging emotional engagement.

It’s understandable why this intellectually rich work has stayed in the Paris Opera Ballet’s repertoire for so long. I long for another opportunity to see the full production - lucky the Parisian balletomanes who get to see it again and again!

Paris Opera Ballet, Le Parc, choreography: Angelin Preljocaj, music: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, sets: Thierry Leproust, costumes: Hervé Pierre, lead dancers: Laëtitia Pujol and Stéphane Bullion.

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