Ballet Preljocaj brings the apocalypse to the Orpheum
The apocalypse has never been so popular. Whether you consume your end-of-days narrative via comic book, film, games, or literary tome, scenarios depicting humanity's demise due to technological (cyborgs), biological (werewolves, zombies), or intergalactic (aliens) malfeasance has us all running for our lives.
French choreographer Anjelin Preljocaj, however, has a wholly different perspective. After reading the Apocalypse of St. John in the Bible's book of Revelations, he envisioned a new work for his dance company, Ballet Preljocaj, which is based in Aix-en-Provence. The company, with over 20 members, presents "And then, one thousand years of peace" Wednesday evening at the Orpheum Theatre.
"The production is not an illustration of the New Testament and, most importantly, it won't depict the end of the world," Preljocaj explains. "For me, what's important is to ponder the present times and the society we live in. The world moves back with intolerance, blockages, and tensions that scare me."
Preljocaj's emotional response to the Apocalypse of St. John was so profound that he had to find an outlet. "If I wanted to express myself in words, I would have written a book. But what I want to speak about is difficult for words and, as I am a choreographer, I have created a ballet about it. The body can express many things that can't be put into words. In a sense, the body is a reflection of the soul."
The dancing body, placed with atmospheric theatricality created by the sets and props for which Ballet Preljocaj is known, is also immensely expressive. Those who witnessed the company's performance of Preljocaj's "Blanche Neige (Snow White)" in 2012 could hardly forget the dwarves emerging from then scuttling -- crab-like -- across a sheer "rock" wall. Or, for that matter, Snow White's Jean Paul Gaultier-designed diaper/romper costume, which many feared would fall off her at any moment; or Gaultier's S&M getup for the evil Queen.
The visuals in "And then..." promise to be just as arresting. Chains unfurl and snap into place across the stage. Dancers wear automaton-like headgear seemingly constructed of steel bowls. Metal chairs hold dancers struggling against their confines. Fright wigs, reflective platters, books, a stand-alone wall, cloaked faces, and machines guarding the stage are made more forbidding by Laurent Garnier's ominous score.
Preljocaj calls the visual, taken together, scenography. In "And then...," the scenography is by Subodh Gupta. "When I met Subodh, his work was a revelation for me," Preljocaj says. "When I started thinking about apocalypse, I realized that Subodh was the person who'd suit the theme perfectly. It was his first work for the theater. But we can say that contemporary dance is very close to many forms of contemporary visual art. It was really interesting to collaborate together."
"The props are used as symbols [throughout the piece], but different readings are possible," Preljocaj adds. "Plastics and chains can be an expression, a reflection of the growing lack of communication between people in our societies. Books can refer to the biblical texts and the current rise of religions. Flags can be symbols of nations needing to be washed from all the disasters and wars of history."
Preljocaj notes that apocalypse, when considered in its original Greek context, has a meaning quite different than the one we associate the word with today. "It evokes the idea of revealing, unveiling, or highlighting elements that could be present in our world but are hidden from our eyes. It should thus evoke what is nestled in the innermost recesses of our everyday rituals, rather than prophesizing about compulsive waves of catastrophe, irreparable destruction, or the imminent end of the world."
"[And then...] wishes to highlight bodies that drift along, tossed about by ideals and beliefs, somewhat lost between the lines of the apocalypse," Preljocaj says. "It's a reflection on the present times and the progression of our societies." Moreover, he concludes, the work's title bears a complexity open to interpretation. "I like the ambiguity of the 'thousand years of peace,' which can be taken in a religious sense, but also political."
IF YOU GO:
Ballet Preljocaj: "And then, one thousand years of peace"
7:30 p.m. Wednesday, October 30
910 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis
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