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BWW Dance Review: BALLET PRELJOCAJ Returns to the Joyce Theater

Ballet Preljocaj, under the direction of Angelin Preljocaj, opened its New York premiere engagement of Empty Moves (Parts I, II, & III), to Empty Words, by John Cage, on April 20, 2016, when I had the opportunity to attend. Preljocaj has created 45 choreographic works for his company, formed in December 1984, ranging from solo to larger formations. His productions (49, to date) are now part of the repertoire of many companies, many of which also commission original productions, notably La Scala of Milan, New York City Ballet, and the Paris Opera. I was excited to see the work of this acclaimed contemporary choreographer, aware that his dancers are known to be very good.

The sound, by Cage, was words, not distinguishable as meaning. After a short time, his words and vocal sounds were joined by sounds of crowds, sometimes cheering, sometimes jeering, or screaming, or laughing, or... Empty Moves for empty sounds, I suppose that relates; but why, I could not quite figure out, nor could many in the audience, I presume, who walked out all through the 1 hour 45 minute performance, without intermission. (Parts I, II, & III) were indistinguishable from each other, although the program notes tell us that they were created in three different years. Preljocaj states, "For my part, in Empty moves I play on the construction and deconstruction of choreographic patterns, looking for a way to feed my own writing. For that, the idea of detachment, of disaggregation of movement and a new articulation of choreographic phrasing takes precedence over the meaning and essence of movements." It seemed to me as if I were looking in on a blasé movement improvisation class. The vocabulary used came from ballet, contemporary dance, mime, yoga, acrobatics, and swimming. No movement seemed respected, begun, sometimes with intention, but left unfinished and walked away from, without continuity nor a look back. This level of non-commitment continued throughout the piece.

Of the 26 dancers in his company, he brought only 4, as this work requires only that number. The dancers were very accomplished. Febrizio Clemente, born in Italy, joined Ballet Preljocaj in 2009. His passion was evident in every step he took, every move he made, even though the choreography never followed through or went to ultimate completion, as we see in most dance performances. He could not help but to exude his essence. I would be happy to see him dance other roles in other ballets. Nuriya Nagamova, born in Russia, was a corps de ballet dancer with the Bolshoi Theatre (since 2001), in 2009 when Preljocaj) chose her as one of ten Bolshoi dancers to participate with Ballet Preljocaj in the creation of And then, one thousand years of peace. She joined Ballet Preljocaj in 2011. When she would begin a beautiful movement with her long, shapely legs and expressive arms, only to stomp off like a tomboy who'd never heard of dance, I found it disappointing. But, that is, perhaps, a matter of taste. I'm not a fan of choppy, arrested movement, never climaxing. The other two dancers in this work, Yurie Tsugawa, born in Japan, and Baptiste Coissieu, born in France, were also exploring shapes and energies shared and transferred among the dancers, appeared to be well trained. Much energy and perspiration was spent by all four dancers, all on stage, throughout the long performance, continuously moving through many patterns and variations on a theme.

At the end of the performance, which I had hoped would come sooner, the audience was generous with applause for the high level dancers. When Preljocaj came out for his bow, I heard something I don't believe I've ever heard at a dance performance: Boos! One man would not stop until the choreographer/Artistic Director left the stage. The dancers looked shocked. When they were again alone on the stage, applause of appreciation was showered upon them.

Ballet Preljocaj will be at the Joyce Theater through April 24t

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