In the southern French city of Aix-en-Provence, where Angelin Preljocaj directs his own theatre – the Pavilion Noir ("Black Pavilion") centre of choreography, he is viewed as a national hero in much the same way as the artist Paul Cezanne, also a native of Aix-en-Provence, was once revered. But before he achieved such widespread acclaim, at the age of thirty- seven Angelin staged Mozart's Le Parc at the Opera de Paris. This was a fortunate case where Preljocaj's style took on a new quality and when the individuality of the Parisian stars once again came to the fore. Even today the recording of Le Parc creates a powerful impression with the groundbreaking performances by Isabelle Guerin and Laurent Hilaire, though initially it resulted in jubilant bewilderment: classical stars trusting an avant-garde choreographer? Twenty years later you can recall that with a smile. Today a new generation of dancers has grown up with Le Parc, it is danced by new stars and depending on the performers the point of view of the free and reflective artist changes.
Isn't Le Parc, with its secret passions, a self-portrait of Angelin Preljocaj?
For thirty years now Preljocaj's provocative productions have divided audiences into supporters and opponents: this was the case with his production at the Bolshoi of Creation 2010 (And Then, One Thousand Years of Peace), this has been the case with his productions in Aix-en-Provence and this was the case with the premiere of Le Parc in Paris. The fact is that since the 1980s Preljocaj has cemented his reputation as a "shock choreographer" of the French "nouvelle vague". At first glance this was indeed how it looked when his company's Moscow tours between 1990 and 2000 saw classical zealots struck with horror when they saw a nude Chosen One in Le Sacre du printemps or when passages of Fokine's pensive Le Spectre de la rose were staged with a naturalistic image of a girl's erotic dream. Quite simply there are no forbidden themes or taboos for the experiments of this French choreographer who has Albanian blood and whose southern temperament is plain to see.
The young choreographer was invited to enter the classical French citadel in 1994 after his homage to "Diaghilev's" ballets had been seen in Paris – Le Spectre de la rose, Parade, Le Sacre du printemps and Les Noces. Le Parc, too, became a kind of elegant homage. In a sense the refined French park is an arrangement: of Diaghilev's early ballet Le Pavilion d'Armide in Preljocaj's own style: the sets of the first scenes are almost identical to the Versailles-like trimmed triangular shapes (as with Alexandre Benois' Armide and Thierry Leproust's Le Parc), and, as if in a mirror, the plot is reflected – with Fokine the mythological goddess was transformed into a viscountess, while Preljocaj's famous culminating duet is nothing other than a dream of his Versailles lover. The Frenchman considers the starting point of his creative path to be Diaghilev's legendary company of the first quarter of the 20th century with its independent nature and search for the new, of which he himself has often spoken in interviews. It is clear that alongside the Russian influence one can see a French influence in particular too: the expressive naturalness, or more precisely the physiologically convincing imagery is more important than anything else for him, because his choreo-graphic thoughts is close to the Fauvists ("wild beasts'') with their sunny palette, primordial culture and sexual nature. Le Parc is a particular example, it is a most invigorating "rebus" piece of contemporary choreography. In Le Parc the dancers speak with loving gestures and mysterious motions. It involves the play of the subconscious and the cult of the rational, the coming together of the corporeal and the imaginary, dances that are moon-like as well as ones that are firmly grounded, the inner light of which definitely counterbalances the incandescence of the passions. Preljocaj achieves this kind of incandescence almost everywhere, because he is most moved and affected by what is male and what is female and the antagonism and the attraction between them. Hence the ideal construction of the counterpoints: reality and dreams, sweetness and languor, women in crinoline dresses and women casually dressed, women dressed in men's clothes and women hiding their faces in the folds of their skirts that suddenly become veils. The three acts are three times of the day, and the three duets are three corps de ballet scenes: playful love in the morning outdoors in a park with benches; gallant men chasing ladies at dusk as they hide in the shadows of the trees; and lunatic women, puppets who must accept the men's embraces outdoors at night. In this elusive game there is something duplicitous and thus illicit: the roots that can perhaps be traced back to French cinema, perhaps to Buñuel's masochistic films Cet obscur objet du désir and Belle de jour), perhaps to Borges' philosophical prose that certainly shades this park of passions with torture. The avant-garde Preljocaj is devoid of sentimentality, but in the age of AIDS (to which he makes reference in connection with the production) he tells the story of love using the refined language of the age of Enlightenment. All of French romantic literature, from the multilayered plays by de Marivaux to Choderlos de Laclos' Les Liaisons dangereuses, all the myths of French culture are at once genetically employed in LeParc.
The ballet begins and ends as if the pages of a book are being turned before our eyes. The action is supervised by the Gardeners in leather aprons who are imbued with the power of Amours - they don't grow flowers, they "grow" couples. Preljocaj outplays the image of a flower, one of the most typical ballet images, without using it as an accessory (onstage there are only models of trees from an average French park, brilliantly conceived by Leproust). Ballet critics will see parallels between the quartet of Gardeners and the four Suitors seeking Aurora's hand in The Sleeping Beauty.
The plot of The Sleeping Beauty can be summed up in a few words – the heroine grows up; in Le Parc the plot is the same – emotions being awakened. It is the Amour-Gardeners who put the heroine into an erotic sleep.
It was not by chance that the famous final duet in Le Parc was entitled "oblivion" (or"Abandoning all Resistance"). Everything is present here – both the beginning and the end of the intrigue.
This night-time duet, which went on to become an incredibly popular concert piece, is preceded by the masquerade game of the cavaliers and the women in male dress. The erotic teasing becomes electrified before our eyes and reaches its culmination with its starry attractiveness and the physical richness of the world. Following the moonlit tryst there will be nothing more, there can be nothing more – this is the end of the performance. And the duet begins with the Versailles lover sticks the phalanges of her fingers into her mouth, as if eating with them, and seems to lose them in her body. Such new "words" of Preljocaj can be found everywhere: in Romeo and Juliet, Juliet passionately licks the palms of her hands, and it is only with Preljocaj that the dancer will beat her head on her partner's chest as if against a brick wall – and it looks incredibly elegant. The duet in Le Parc ends with a kiss, a long kiss, as if the lovers have been shut off from each other: the male dancer, not supporting the ballerina and connected to her only by a single kiss, spins for a few minutes while she, separated from the ground, floats in the air. This sung ode to the kiss has gone down in the annals of ballet history.
Today Preljocaj is an undoubted master of the duet genre, but even as a young choreographer at the Opera de Lyon he conceived unforgettable mise-en-scenes. Angelin Preljocaj generally intersperses his plot ballets with abstract compositions, though these too contain a hidden psychological plot. His productions (of which he has created more than forty) include the indisputable masterpieces Romeo and Juliet and Le Parc.
An avant-garde choreographer, of the plethora of his French colleagues he is the most frenzied and, at the same time, the most poetic. One of the most productive choreographers who never stops thinking up dance combinations of various steps is, primarily, enchanted by the mysticism of movement and the mysticism of relationships. This quality was quickly noted by the classical companies of the Opera de Paris, the Teatro alla Scala and New York City Ballet to which he began to be invited. And more recently the doors of the Bolshoi and the Mariinsky have been opened up for him. Now the Versailles-like Parc, created for Paris, has a new life at the most European theatre in Russia.