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Philip Sandstrom

BAM presents Angelin Preljocaj’s
"And then, one thousand years of peace"

BAM Howard Gilman Opera House
Nov 7—9, 2013; 7:30pm
tickets $16-$50
Performed by Ballet Preljocaj
Choreography by Angelin Preljocaj
Music by Laurent Garnier
Set design by Subodh Gupta
Costume design by Igor Chapurin
Lighting design by Cécile Giovansili-Vissière


Anton Savichev & Celine Galli. Photo by Jean-Claude Carbonne.

How did it all begin and why St. John's Revelations, the Apocalypse? Are you choreographing the seven revelations?

I was invited by the Bolshoi to set a work on the company. They were initially interested in a piece from my repertory that could beintegrated into their repertory. When I went to visit the company and see the dancers to get an idea as to what piece might be the best for this company, I saw that the dancers are so particular that I decided to create a new piece for them that I proposed, not an old piece but a new creation with the condition that we would share the dancers, half of my company and half of the Bolshoi. And then we started like that, we shared everything even the period of rehearsal, two months in Aix en Provence (at the choreographic center) and two months in Moscow. We did the premiere in Moscow then at the Dance Biennial in Lyon and at Théâtre National de Chaillot in Paris (in 2010). Everything in the ballet is shared -- dancers, designers, costumes, everything.

PS: How did you decide what to create for this project?
AP: After it was agreed that we would do this shared work, I was thinking what should I do with these two groups of people. Then suddenly I had this idea, instinctively, to re-read the Apocalypse of St. John. I was thinking, wow, it is a very nice thing, because there is a lot of metaphor, a lot of images, very powerful. In the beginning I didn't really understand why I had this intuition, but after awhile, as you said, he (St. John) was talking about the seven Revelations. Isn't it true that the two nations collaborating on this project, France and Russia, both had a very violent history and powerful revolutions in their histories. The French with their 1789 revolution and in Russia the 1913 Bolshevik revolution. In both cases it was really violent; not soft revolutions.

PS: You are using these revolutions to reveal a synergy between the two countries and St. John's Revelations?

AP: I was thinking that there is a real sense of an Apocalypse in those revolutions. For example St. John used the metaphor of Babylon, the big prostitute, which is a metaphor for the oppressive rule of the Roman Empire. He used this metaphor to talk about the political reality of the 1st century.

PS: Are you strictly choreographing metaphorically or are you addressing each Revelation via the dance?

Photo by Jean-Claude Carbonne.

AP: I do not want to describe every thing that happens in St. John's Apocalypse; (this work) is more an impressionist point of view. It's not point-by-point, it is more my sensation of the book than the reality of the work. This is what I tried to put onstage. Like the impressionist painters, they do not paint the landscape they paint their sensation of it.

PS: The work of the Impressionists certainly speaks to me as a visual artist.

AP: It (impressionism) is a way to have a question about our time, our political situation, and what is the concept of nation and why the nations are fighting, but in a very large frame;, it’s a kind of universal question.

PS: When you divided this dance up between large cast sections and more intimate duets, were you targeting any particular part of this book?

AP: Yes, I take a section of the book and first I give this section to the musician Laurent Garnier, who made the music. I then give a different part to the dancers, and we work with improvisation coming from this text. Usually what comes from the improvisation is an idea, a physical idea, of what is in the work (text) and from that I start. The idea of the book is very present.

PS: Have the dancers read the whole book, are they familiar with the text?

AP: You have to "eat" the book. It has a choreographic theme. It was very interesting for me to work with this book and to make an expression of the book (in dance).

PS: How does your approach to this dance "And then, one thousand years of peace" differ from your "Romeo and Juliet" or your "Snow White" which are also drawn from books or stories?

Photo by Jean-Claude Carbonne.

AP: I think "Romeo and Juliet" and "Snow White" are more from a universal realm; everybody knows the story. You know more or less what happens. In a certain way, it's easier to use such a familiar text. You don't have to exaggerate things to help people understand what happened on stage at this moment. But for the Apocalypse of St. John, people know about this text but there are few people who have actually read it. If you want to have a real connection with the audience (when choreographing to this text) you have to be more metaphoric on the metaphor, it's a metaphor of the metaphor. In this way we escape from the idea of narration.

PS: Because few have read the text…

AP: And, as I said before, we are trying to think more about our current period, thinking of the political problems of today, through the sensation of the reading of Apocalypse of St. John. It's a different scale.

PS: To move on to your work in general, you've done a tremendous variety of different types of work, some with large casts while some, with small casts like "Empty Moves", which had only four dancers. How do you do it? What's your approach to each situation?

AP: My approach I think is scientific. In science you have really different activities, you have fundamental research, for example, and you have in another way the application of the science. You have fundamental research, which is thinking with numbers, abstract concepts and, on the other hand, you have the scientist who are able to make things that are convenient for humanity. It is kind of the same thinking in my work. I need to work in the manner of fundamental research in terms of what is movement in terms of an abstraction; thinking of energy, weight, trajectory. These are almost mathematical concepts. And these things become part of me, these things become my tools to make other things (dances) that are more narrative and less abstract. I can combine fundamental research and technology, which is a result of the fundamental research.

PS: Your dance "Empty Moves" is quite abstract. How does that differ in approach compared with "And then, one thousand years of peace"?

AP: It’s like you have a track when you work on something like Apocalypse of St. John, you have a road. You still need to try things and find things but you have a direction and a way. On the other hand, when I worked on the music of John Cage for "Empty Moves" that's what you have empty moves, it's movement associating the idea of composition of movement. I didn't look to find anything else. It's just the work of composition and spatial relationship, it can give you an emotion, but there is none. It's closer to the work of Merce Cunningham.

PS: In "Empty Moves", and in all of your work, you use humor and violence to great effect; do you use those ideas in "And then, one thousand years of peace"?

AP: Humor is very important in the humanities; it's a level of modulation, like a sound can be flat, like a "zzzzzzz", or you can modulate it, (here he does an tonal shift moving up and down the scale while zzzzz'ing). You must include modulation in what you show, you can show something hard and violent, you can also modulate this tragedy to provide more of a nuance. And sometimes this can bring a more powerful result.

PS: You gave us a great explanation of your creative inspiration for "And Then, One Thousand Years of Peace", does this method describe your usual process or do you ever wake in the morning with a fully formed concept?

Photo by Jean-Claude Carbonne.

AP: Each project has its own context, like the Chinese saying "it's never the same water running under the bridge". Each new project is a new project, it has its own context. It depends if I'm in New York or Moscow, this is enough to completely change the process of the creation. It's very important for people in the field of creation to see other people, to meet other artists, it makes you move, I like that.

PS: Is this the first time you have worked with Laurent Garnier (composer of "And Then, One Thousand Years of Peace")

AP: I really like working with Laurent Garnier. This is the second time. The first time was a very specific event, the inauguration of the Pavilon Noir (Preljocaj's choreographic center in Aix-en-Provence, France) which is the place where we work in France. This was around ten years ago; he made the music for a small piece that we never reproduced. It was so great for us to work together that we decided to find, someday, a new project, that would be less specific and that can live longer. When I was in Moscow thinking about the Apocalypse of St. John I immediately thought of him (Laurent). I called him and said let's do this together.

PS: Is there anything particular about doing this show at BAM?

AG: For me to perform at BAM is always an important event. It's a place where the greatest artists of our time perform. For me it is an honor. It also presents a certain pressure. I am always afraid, even for work that I've already created. The audience at BAM is very sophisticated and they are used to exquisite work.

PS: Well, we are certainly looking forward to your work making a big splash at BAM this year.

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