Ballet Preljocaj’s performance of “La Fresque” was a wild experience. At first I wasn’t really sure if I liked it. The first few dances were set to music which I would describe as a mix between ambient and electronic while the dance itself was very abstract (at one point I recognized a series of moves as yoga positions I did during my fitness kick last winter). I found myself feeling like I was watching a caricature of what people would imagine a modern ballet to look and sound like. However, I slowly became more immersed in the performance and really started to enjoy myself.
The ballet did a very good job of presenting the story it was trying to tell of a man in love with a painting come to life and his journey into the painting, through alternate dimensions. The use of curtains and set to create the impression of the painting in its frame was particularly successful. The ballet was supposed to explore juxtaposition and it definitely accomplished this, but it was to a fault. Each dance featured vastly different dance styles and music, going from hard rock to soft ambient music, flowing ballet to frenetic jumping, leaving me with whiplash sometimes. I often felt confused by the abruptness of the changes in tone and felt like it was being extreme for the sake of being extreme. While my overall impression of the ballet was positive, I often felt like the creator was just trying too hard to be edgy. It certainly stretched my idea of what is considered ballet.
A theme developed early in the ballet which was present throughout in various iterations and that was hair. There was so much hair. All the ballerinas had long, beautiful hair. Was that a requirement for auditions? “Ballet Preljocaj seeking female dancers with hair at least two feet long.” And their hair was so shiny and healthy. Are they sponsored by Pantene? I could almost imagine some of the dances being featured in one of those ridiculous shampoo commercials. The focus on hair almost started to feel inappropriate, like we were getting a glimpse of Angelin Preljocaj’s obsession. The first dance performed by the female ballerinas made this theme apparent as they would cover their faces with hair then slowly pull it back or toward the end of the dance when they started furiously flipping their hair to a degree that felt comical. They also used hair to distinguish between the prima ballerina and the crew as she kept her hair down and flowing for much of the performance while the other women tied their hair back in ponytails. Then there were the hair suits. Most of the crew came out in masks and black bodysuits with what looked like long braids of hair attached to them to perform a dance which felt very much like an amalgam of African and South American traditional dances. The hair continued to be included in wilder ways. The dance that really took the cake was toward the end and featured the female dancers with long bungee cords attacked to their buns, meant to look like their hair, attached to the ceiling. The female and male dancers danced in pairs on and around the cords. At first it seemed ridiculous. However, after they started dancing it became beautiful. The women wrapped the cords around their hands, arms, or torsos to support their own weight or the weight of their partners as they suspended each other from the ground and spun in circles. It was truly magnificent. My favorite of the “hair dances” featured the female dancers to a beautiful piece of string music in an intimate and emotional dance. The four dancers each held a portion of the prima ballerina’s hair and danced around her, eventually wrapping her hair into a bun like a human maypole and taking turns to secure the bun with pins. It was a little silly in concept, like the rest of the hair dances, but it felt more sincere than much of the rest of the ballet. The final nod to hair was in the final scene, after the couple fell asleep and the man was taken out of the painting dimension, the roses he had given her were placed in her bun in the painting showing him that their adventure was real.
Image courtesy of the UMS Twitter account.