Ballet’s performance a singular event
Ballet Preljocaj’s performance of Angelin Preljocaj’s “Empty moves (part 1, part 11, part 111)” Friday and Saturday at the American Dance Festival stands out as a singular event this season and probably for years to come.
The inspiration for this abstract dance has something to do with that. Preljocaj uses that inspiration – avant-garde composer John Cage’s reading of Part 111 of his “Empty Words” – as the sound for his dance. Thus, this ADF performance is very much in the spirit of the Merce Cunningham/John Cage partnership where the music and dance existed, in the same time and space, but independent of each other. In “Empty moves,” there is no correlation between the sound and the dance except that both embrace the abstract. Dancers calmly go about their task with no emotion, storyline or any other way of playing to an audience.
Plus, this performance gives audiences a rare opportunity to hear the rare recording of Cage reading from “Empty Words” on Dec. 2, 1977 at the Teatro Lirico in Milan, Italy.
Both the dance and Cage’s reading constitute marathon efforts; Cage read for almost three hours. Dancers Virginie Caussin, Yurie Tsugawa, Fabrizio Clemente and Baptiste Coissieu perform challenging, sometimes complicated, athletic moves for almost two hours. They did take two water breaks, which, Preljocaj cleverly includes to both give performers a break and also to mark the three sections of the dance – so far. He plans on finishing his work by making part 1V to correlate with the four sections of Cage’s work.
There is a big difference in the way audiences respond to these two works. The large ADF audience remains quiet, perhaps because of the large community of modern dance-goers and ADF students in the audience. The Milan audience, however, vigorously demonstrated their protest of Cage’s reading by shouting, whistling and otherwise heckling, even calling Cage “stupid.” Early on, they started clapping and clapped often throughout, presumably because they were ready for it to be over. The fact that Cage’s reading made no literal sense had much to do with the response. For his text, Cage had extracted, by chance means, words, sentences, phrases and syllables from Henry David Thoreau’s Journals.
So, why didn’t the Italians just leave? Perhaps they were enjoying pitting themselves against Cage and wanted to win this fight. There was no contest. The unflappable Cage persisted – even when an audience member came onstage and shouted into his microphone.
It seems that it’s easier to watch abstract dance than it is to listen to abstracted sounds. And, there’s a reason for this. In a way, there’s no such thing as a 100% abstract dance because human beings perform it. And, sometimes, images dancers create resonate because of this. For example, in a really innovative move in “Empty moves,” a dancer looks as though she’s riding a wave. She starts out by balancing, on her stomach, on a male dancer’s stomach as he’s on the floor. When he suddenly rolls to his side, this propels her, as though she’s pushed by a wave, to glide, chest raised, head back.
Dancers amaze throughout by their endurance and ability to pull off some intricate linkages and balancing acts. In a most spectacular balancing act, a dancer stands very still, arms to her side, on the soles of a man’s feet, his legs together and raised, as he’s supine on the floor.
The dance ends when dancers simply walk off as though it’s just another day on the job.
Now, that we’ve seen the moves Preljocaj has come up with in this abstract work – that also serves as a laboratory for the story ballets he also creates – wouldn’t it be interesting to see how he uses some of these moves in a new story ballet? Hopefully, his company will return to ADF and do just that.