Some dances are blatantly narrative, some tell nonlinear stories, and some are completely abstract. And then there are dances created in order to answer a question: dances that serve as experiments in choreography. Angelin Preljocaj’s Les 4 Saisons is one of these.
At once lured and repelled by Vivaldi’s most famous violin concertos, Preljocaj set out to discover whether or not one could make such music fresh by presenting it in a new context, calling upon designer Fabrice Hyber to push him further into challenging territory. The resulting work distracts attention from the familiar score as much as it draws out new interpretations, and uses all the tricks imaginable-from nudity to slapstick humor to sex-in an attempt to unveil new meaning. It’s a dense work with some arresting moments, but the 84-minute menagerie of cellophane bears and sponge-covered monsters, green-suited gremlins and bikini-clad glamour girls fails to deliver even the shock of a sudden downpour, let alone the transcendent renewal of spring.
Above the stage runs a track from which is suspended an odd assortment of items, among them a set of angel wings, a Santa costume, a stuffed tiger, and a number of long-haired wigs. The first item to fall to the stage with a thud is a small tree, and its arrival heralds the triumphant opening allegro movement of “La Primavera,” along with a costume change from black robes to bright-colored boy shorts and tanks. There’s something of Paul Taylor’s Esplanade here in the blend of pedestrian movement and precision partnering, but these dancers speak, too, and break out of contemporary dance vernacular to gyrate nightclub-style and slap one another in the face.
When a pair of black pumps clatters to the ground, they serve as the centerpiece of a theatrical solo that melds into an ensemble work. Women balance on precarious props with steps on top and bases curved like the hull of a boat. They rock back and forth, sometimes in play, sometimes moving between men in a dance of seduction and manipulation. Mostly, it looks scary.
Often, Preljocaj seems to catch an undercurrent in the score and then ride it out too far. The staccato punches of a presto movement full of urgent cello passages are translated as the spasms of a woman collapsing-shocking at first, then repetitive. A game of jump rope is too literal a metaphor for the rush of autumn, but dancers wearing pearls on their wrists and ankles capture the chill of winter, all rattling vibrations and sharp angles.
By the time a bushel of loofahs cascades to the floor and dancers dressed from head to toe in lime green velveteen start lobbing sponges at what appear to be man-sized porcupines, it’s hard to stay engaged. There’s the simple impulse of surprise, sure, and then there’s revelation.