'Near Life Experience'
by Daniel Dui
May 22, 2004 -- Sadler's Wells, London
Anjelin Preljocaj, of Albanian origins, studied and worked mostly in France where he has won many prestigious prizes and in 1989 was appointed Chavalier de l'Ordre National des Arts et des Lettres. This is just one of the many prizes and awards he has received establishing him as a prominent choreographer in the international modern dance scene.
Ballet Preljocaj, his company, has existed in various incarnations since 1984 and it is based in Aix-en-Provence, in the south of France. It is now composed of 24 dancers and has a current repertoire of 8 pieces (or maybe 6, there is an inconsistency in the programme). Recent projects include "Portraits in Corpore", "MC 14/22", "Helikopter", and "The Rite of Spring".
Air is a French band that with their music that blends electronica, ambient pop, and trip-hop has caught the attention of critics, but also of the broader public climbing the charts with their album "Moon Safari", and singles such as "Sexy Boy" and "Kelly Watch the Stars". The tracks used in the show are taken from the soundtrack for Sofia Coppola's film "The Virgin Suicides" and have been adapted specifically for this performance.
Asked to comment on his latest piece, Preljocaj answered, "Near Life Experience is an attempt to remove oneself from space and time. A sort of eclipse of the self, a quest through this imaginary amnios - a new expression in the space left by the body." He says to have gathered inspiration for this work travelling to India and then to Tanzania.
In India he watched people bathing every morning at sunrise in the Ganges to purify themselves: “They believe that something profound is happening to their bodies, that they are purified by the ritual, despite the filthiness of the water. The ecstasy on their faces is remarkable.”
Climbing the Kilimanjaro in Tanzania showed the choreographer another kind of out-of-body experience. At 6000m the lack of oxygen puts the body under severe stress and the mind is telling to stop and at the same time to keep going. “You feel muzzy, you feel lost, you can only move painfully slowly, and the effort of each step makes you feel 110 years old. [...] That experience made me think about our notion of vitality, about what it takes to access extraordinary states of being.”
The show is a solid 80 minutes long, no breaks. It is demanding from both the performers and the audience. In many ways it does what the choreographer intends: it exposes states of trance, ecstasy, semi-conciousness, lust, and the grey areas awareness. Sexual references are abundant from the beginning, when one of the dancers slowly flows down and around a ladder at the sound of soft breathing and moaning. Then the distinctive music from Air starts and all the dancers on stage (10 or 12), until now standing still, start moving first very gently, in contrast with the solid beat and electro sound of the music, and then gradually more energetically.
The music is in turn acoustic and electronic and at times there is hardly any musical background. The interaction among dancers evolves from energetic or even forced and violent to gentle and spontaneous. A string of blood-red wool becomes a dividing line in a beam of light on the floor on which to walk and step across. Then more red strings join the performers, tie them as to restrict their movements. Then a thick white cord joins them as an umbilical cord. Glass bowls are used to create an ethereal atmosphere and dancers hop from one to another as butterflies on flowers. Two dancers enter the stage with glass receptacles attached to their skin to suggest a fragile personal aura and they engage in a duet unable to breach each other's aura.
It is all quite abstract and it certainly takes the spectators where the choreographer intended. I would have preferred a format that challenges the attention span of the audience a little less by breaking the piece in two or three shorter parts. I also wonder if the choreographer had considered reading some books on psychoanalysis or neuroscience instead of going all the way to India and Tanzania. And if the result would have been very different.
In conclusion, I would rate the performance good, but not excellent. It left me satisfied and it fulfilled my expectations, but without exceeding them.
"Near Life Experience" was performed in London Sadler's Wells theatre from the May 20th to May 22nd. The next performances will be in France in Nantes (May 26-27), Aix-en-Provence (May 29-31), and Ollioules (July 9-10). A complete calendar is available on www.preljocaj.org.
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