There are some works of art so classic, so familiar, that it’s inadvisable to reinterpret them-unless you really know what you’re doing. There’s general agreement in the dance world that Angelin Preljocaj does know what he is doing. For his latest project, the founder and artistic director of France’s Ballet Preljocaj took on the challenge of choreographing a contemporary ballet to one of classical music’s most celebrated and most frequently-played scores: Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. He spoke to me on the phone from Aix-en-Provence about this choice, his influences, and what he looks for in his artistic collaborations.
It’s got to take some courage to choreograph a dance to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. How did you make that choice? This concerto is almost a joke now, because it’s used so much in publicity, for elevator music, and in commercials. It has been very nearly destroyed by these uses. And I was thinking, “How can we restitute this music, its beauty and energy and originality?” This was my target: to put people in the situation that after the performance they feel that they’ve heard this music for the first time.
How did you do that? First of all, I asked to work with a very innovative French artist, Fabrice Hyber, who does very strange and very innovative work with objects and design. I asked him to disturb my process of creation. We agreed upon a simple goal: that all the objects he brought in the studio, I had to use and to try to make choreography with. It was sometimes very strange, because he made me special objects that you’ve never seen in the dance studio. And this pushed me to invent new movement that I never would have made otherwise.
What made you want to collaborate with him? He was the winner of the Venice Biennale. I was there and saw his exhibition, and he was so much the opposite of what I am usually drawn to that I thought, “That’s a good reason to work with him.” You know when the sun is shining and it’s blue and you decide to have a picnic, and when you start your picnic the rain comes? Then you have to move everybody, you scream and you run, and something new happens, right? For me Hyber was like that. He was the rain on my picnic. He created a new situation that forced me to invent new things, and that’s what I wanted. I really want to be changed by the people I collaborate with. I want always the sensation that after the collaboration I am a new man.
In what ways were you influenced by your time at the Merce Cunningham studio? I worked for one year in New York in the Cunningham studio, and even just seeing his work influenced me greatly. I also worked a lot with Viola Farber when she came to France to direct the National Center of Contemporary Dance in Angers, and she brought a particular lesson from the Cunningham background, which is that what is important is not to look like something but to be what you do. That is the main thing I learned from the Cunningham studio: that what is important is to do the movement, not to show the movement.
I was also interested to learn that you studied Noh theater in Japan. How did that influence you? From Noh I learned about structuring the space by the position of your body. Noh is so precise, the movement they use is so rigorous, that when they move they don’t move themselves, they move the space around them. And this was a very determinate influence.
What do you look for in your dancers, and how do you know when you’ve found it? First of all, most of the time when I do an audition, I’m not looking for a good dancer; I’m looking for somebody who dances very well. What I mean by somebody is a person who dances very well. When I find a person like that I have a good sensation. I see each person as a new flower in my company because I prefer a very complex bouquet of flowers. My company is not just 20 roses; we have tulips, dahlias, and even field flowers.
What would you say to a potential audience member who doesn’t know very much about dance? Sometimes people like violin concerts. But not everybody who loves the violin plays it at home. Yet everybody has a body-everybody knows what it is to move, to run, to walk, to turn, to move their arms. Dance is a kind of artistic vision of that. Because everybody has a body, I’m sure everybody can understand dance, even if they don’t know what dance is. Sometimes people say “I don’t really go to modern dance concerts; I don’t know if I will appreciate it if I come to see your performance,” and I say, “Just come. Because you have a body, maybe you will find something.” It’s very simple, but I think it’s true.
Ballet Preljocaj will perform “Les 4 Saisons” at the Granada Theatre on Tuesday, April 28, at 8 p.m. For tickets, call 893-3535 or visit www.artsandlectures.ucsb.edu.