Ballet Preljocaj

"Helikopter" and "The Rite of Spring"

Barclay Theater, Irvine, CA

October 26, 2002
By Art Priromprintr

Tossing aside tradition and the norm is what Angelin Preljocaj and his company, Ballet Preljocaj, did in its two-part program at the Barclay Theatre this past weekend. In Helikopter, the dancers played with movement and found something to dance to in a completely unconventional recorded score of string musicians playing from inside three helicopters in flight.

Karlheinz Stockhausen's music for Helikopter appeared to be completely un-danceable. And it was almost un-listenable as well; as played over the loudspeakers at the Barclay Theater, it was a barrage of noise filled with the thudding of helicopter motors and screeching of string instruments. There was no musical rhythm to speak of and no clear points from which a choreographer could hang dance steps.

Yet Preljocaj found a way to set a dance to it – a fascinating way at that. The effect of the constantly flowing choreography, which increased in complexity as the music wore on, was exhilarating. The movements at first appeared to be completely random; two dancers came onto the stage and threw their arms and legs around in a swinging motion as if propelled by some unseen – and aurally indecipherable – force. Eventually, as more dancers came onto the stage, there emerged a kind of strange order to the chaos. The dancers were moving in ways that complemented each other's motion and the dance had structure.

The choreography appeared to be working against the music, almost completely throwing it away. In fact, it seemed that the whole dance could have been performed without Stockhausen's score. But in Helikopter, Preljocaj was making a point about the coexistence of human beings and their mechanical creations. The music was the merging of pure sounding, pre-machine string instruments and the pounding mechanical sounds of a machine age chopper. The dancers on stage danced in a world dominated by these machines, both with the mechanical noise and with the computer controlled lighting on the floor. The blue projection that covered the floor was linked to a computer system that created lighting ripples on the stage wherever the dancers stepped. The cast found their own way to dance within the machine world, much in the same way that modern society finds its own way of living with computers, cars, and lights. There was an astounding sense of completeness when the 35-minute piece came to a conclusion, the helicopters whirred to a stop, and the choreography flowed to its completion.

Preljocaj's version of The Rite of Spring, performed in the second half of the program, was almost normal in comparison to the against-the-music dancing of Helikopter, even with its own set of differences from the original Rite of Spring. Stravinsky's music, once considered wildly experimental, was more familiar and far more musical than Stockhausen's string quartet. Meanwhile the dancing followed the climaxes and lulls in the music the way one would think they should.

But, also unlike Helikopter, Preljocaj's Rite was far less insightful and affecting. It was clearly about sex, and Preljocaj did make a few interesting comments about how men and women interact in the sex game. He seemed to be saying that life is all about the sexual tease and the natural instinct to seek and conquer through sex. At the beginning of the piece, six women walked onto the stage and pushed their underwear to the floor from beneath their skirts – mischievously teasing the men behind them. Eventually, the men and women alternatingly worked each other into a frenzy that culminated in a violent release of sexual energy in a graphic rape scene.

But then the ending of the piece took a completely different, rather confusing turn. One of the female dancers was shoved onto a mound of grass and had her clothes completely ripped away, ending the tease and baring all of her sexuality to the other dancers and the audience. Then, she proceeded to dance wildly atop the mound, alone and without the contact of her fellow dancers. The solo made little sense in the context of the rest of the piece since it was such a marked difference from the constant contact the dancers had with each other before; it seemed, rather, that the examination of lust and human relationships was abandoned so that Preljocaj could give a nod to the original Stravinsky scenario for Rite of Spring. In that scenario, a chosen girl dances herself to death, alone and separate from her society. But in this Rite, there was no clear reason why the naked woman was chosen, nor was there any clear indication as to why she was even dancing herself to "death."

Preljocaj's Rite of Spring lacked the continuity and flow of movement that ultimately made Helikopter so exciting. Placed next to Helikopter, this ballet had nothing nearly as interesting to say; this Rite was all about the sex – unique and attention grabbing in its discussion of human relationships, but puzzling in its conclusion. The major work of the evening was clearly Helikopter, whose constantly flowing movement and intriguing relationship with its music was a far more fulfilling adventure outside the norm than the naked dancer of The Rite of Spring.

Rite also proved shocking for some Orange County audience members. During the naked solo at the end of Rite two audience members in the front orchestra got up and left.


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Edited by Mary Ellen.

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