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Transfigured by the dance

From Story Act 2, 2016

6 min watch

We chat to award winning French choreographer and artistic director of Ballet Preljocaj, Angelin Preljocaj.

In the mid-1960s on the outskirts of Paris, two dance teachers welcomed a young boy in judo pants into a ballet class, despite protests from his parents.

Two decades later Angelin Preljocaj founded his own company, Ballet Preljocaj, which now has 24 dancers and occupies the iconic Pavillon Noir, a purpose built choreographic centre, in Aix-en-Provence. QPAC spoke with the award winning French choreographer and artistic director on a recent visit to Brisbane.


Angelin recalls how he was drawn to dance…

I was 11 years old and I met a girl in my school. She gave me a book about dance and I read this book and suddenly I was completely fascinated by an image, a photograph, of Rudolph Nureyev jumping in a fantastic position and with a beauty on his face, it was amazing, and I see that and the caption says ‘Rudolf Nureyev transfigured by the dance.’ And when I read that I was thinking, ‘Wow what is this dance that can make somebody so beautiful?’ And then, when I give back the book to my young friend I ask, ‘Where do you dance?’ and she says at this school. And then I follow her with my judo uniform and then I started my first dance class, it was a revelation for me. [My parents] didn’t want to know at all that I had become a dancer. It was my first fight with them…

On mustering the courage to follow his dreams…

Well, first of all I had to go to ballet class without my parents knowing that, and so I said, ‘I’m going to judo,’ but then I go to dance. And it is very nice because the people believed in me. The teachers of ballet didn’t ask me for money because they wanted me to continue to dance because I said that my parents didn’t want me to, and they say ok, no problem, come if you can. And I decided to come.

“But Snow White is exactly the problem that can lie in society, actually, between mother and daughter.”

Artist as philosopher and social critic…

It’s always, for me, a pleasure and astonishing to see that I am here dancing, you know? At the moment, people are suffering on this earth and it’s a great opportunity to be an artist and to dance. I think, you know if you take the field of the painting, for example, and you see the painting and the history of the painting, you can see and feel the history of humanity? This is in music also, in the theatre, and for also in dance which is made with the body, which is a specific tool for the choreographer and for the dancer. The violence of humanity exists, everybody knows that, but it’s not so often that you can see the violence in dance because the idea of most of the people is dance is beautiful and graceful. But dance really needs to be an art, like Picasso, for example, painted Guernica which was very hard and violent and he expressed through his heart what humanity is and what happened in our conscience and in our body. Can you imagine an artist who is involved with the body ignore the violence that a lot of bodies receive? It would be very inconsistent. Just to make beautiful things is just entertainment, but without deepness.


Angelin contemplates his decision to recreate Snow White

I chose this fairy tale because I was thinking that Snow White is very modern, very actual. I think this is the moment of Snow White actually. Why? Because of the progress of science, of medicine, of a lot of diets, the food, we become older but with better health, you know? And, for example, you can see women of 50 or 60 are very elegant, very nice looking with a lot of seduction, and you can see in the street a woman of 50 walking with her daughter of 18 and there is like a competition of seduction between the two. For example, they can wear the same clothes and they exchange and that’s why I was thinking, ‘But Snow White is exactly the problem that can lie in society, actually, between mother and daughter.’ I was thinking it is really the period of a Snow White complex, like we say an Oedipus Complex… I think this is the period of that.


On collaborating with Jean Paul Gaultier…

First of all, when I was thinking of Snow White, I was thinking, ‘Who could do the costume?’ and obviously I have a lot of occasions to see different fashion events, and one day I saw a Jean Paul Gaultier fashion show based on the fairy tale The Little Mermaid. And then we started to work together and the first encounter in terms of work was with my set designer and I told the story to Jean Paul, manipulating the set, and during this moment he was writing things and taking notes, and after one week he sent me 200 sketches of costumes, and most of them are in the performance. He has an incredible creativity and imagination. After we worked together, we specified some things to make all the costumes deeper. After we chose the fabric together, it was incredible, and all of the discussions we had with that. And after we were waiting for the costumes, one day very close to the premiere the costumes arrived and everybody was very happy, the dancers were completely excited, it was like Christmas, and Jean Paul came with all the costumes and suddenly with each dancer he recreated every costume. He moved it, curved it, and changed it on the bodies of the dancers, this was the third scale of the creation. That means that Jean Paul Gautier is in a continual process… an artist.

An iconoclastic approach to art…

It is almost like a game to play with the concept. Number one of the concept is to take the same structure of the ballet, of traditional ballet like Swan Lake or you know, but decide to inject modern dance, and the material is absolutely modern but the structure is based on the formal ballet. I like to play. I am still a child and this is really what guided me. I tried to continue to play like when I was a child!

Read the entire transcript here.  (PDF, 80KB)

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