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Fresque - Jump together
© Jean-Claude Carbonne

La Fresque by Preljocaj, across the Atlantic

Inspired by a Chinese fairy tale, La Fresque features ten dancers from the Preljocaj ballet. The dark sets and luminous couples are the purest expression of the style of a choreographer whose creations are the fruit, as he likes to say in the words of René Char, of a “furious art”. The ballet is touring the United States.

Published on 18/03/2019

5 min

After the success of the US tours of his Snow White in 2012 and 2014, The Preljocaj ballet expands its conquest across the Atlantic with a series of new dates in Seattle, Minneapolis and Santa Barbara, from 24th March to 18th April 2019.

For this American version of La Fresque, the choreographer relies on one of the keys to his success: close collaborations with other French artists. The music was written by Nicolas Godin from the band Air, who had already composed the score for Near Life Experience in 2003. The costumes are from the hand of Azzedine Alaïa, who also created those for Nights in 2013. The choreographic language of the work is that of Preljocaj's previous narrative creations. Extravagance, precision, the expression of strong feelings and amorous courtships full of eroticism.

A frustrated love

La Fresque is the staging of a love story woven from the tenuous thread separating the real from the imaginary. When a heavy rain surprises two young travellers, they take refuge in a place decorated with a fresco. It depicts a circle of young girls with loose hair, a sign of virginity. One of them catches the attention of one of the two young men; the attraction is such that he plunges into the image to join her.

As in most of Preljocaj’s ballets, the two young people fall instantly into a terrible and quickly-frustrated love. Just married, the young man is hunted down by the guardians of the fantasy, a world to which he does not belong. Back with his friend, in real life, he thinks it was all a dream. He then notices that the girl in the fresco has put her hair up in a chignon, in the style of a married woman. This one hairstyling detail confirms for the young man the reality of what he has experienced. The symbol of hair is present throughout the work, both in the choreography and through the video projections created by Constance Guisset Studio.

La Fresque, the kiss
© Jean-Claude Carbonne
La Fresque, the kiss

The power of an image

The tale poses, in the words of the choreographer, “the question of representation in our civilisation and the place of art in today’s society”. Written by Preljocaj, at the heart of this tale is the supernatural power of painting and, more broadly, of art: the emotions we feel when we face a work, an image, are always real even if what it depicts is fictional.

The power of the image has been the source of many major moments in Angelin Preljocaj’s career, including its beginning. It was a photograph that inspired him to dance as a child. A shot of dancer Rudolf Nureyev, bearing the caption: “Nureyev, transfigured by dance.” Preljocaj, then 12 years old, was captivated by the image and decided, in his words, to dive into it.

The son of Albanian immigrants, Preljocaj began studying classical dance in the suburbs of Paris, before focusing on contemporary dance. He discovered the work of Karin Waehner, whose choreographic creations are part of the German expressionist movement. For the young dancer, this discovery was a shock whose waves can still be seen today in his narrative creations.

From Paris to New York

In 1980, Angelin Preljocaj moved to New York, the geographical centre of gravity for contemporary dance. He worked notably with American choreographer Merce Cunningham, from whom he inherited a taste for virtuosity, the study of movement for its own sake, and pared-down sets and costumes, as dance must “be enough on its own”.

After completing his training and returning to France, he joined Dominique Bagouet's company, a choreographer who played an essential role in the revival of contemporary dance in France during the 1980s and to whom Preljocaj became the artistic assistant in 1983. Encouraged by his master, he set up his own contemporary dance company the following year in Champigny-sur-Marne. In doing so, the choreographer’s desire was to follow in the footsteps of the Russian ballets where artists worked together over a long period of time, but also to allow young dancers to make a living from their art. The ballet is now based in the Black Pavilion in Aix-en-Provence and includes 26 permanent dancers, who frequently undertake projects locally in schools, hospitals and prisons, as well as abroad and notably in the United States.

Today, the New York City Ballet regularly takes up the creations of the French choreographer and also commissions new ones, such as Stravaganzza in 1997 or Spectral Evidence in 2016, created specifically to be danced on its stage.

While US critics offered mixed reviews of the recent tour of Snow White, audiences were fully won over. Preljocaj’s dancing fairy tales have this in common: they appeal as much to discerning ballet viewers as to audience members taking their seats for the very first time. This success is due in part to the subjects they address, with narratives reduced to their essence; but also to the expressive bodies that reflect universal emotions, accessible to all ages and cultures.


La Fresque, the hairs scene
© Jean-Claude Carbonne
La Fresque, the hairs scene
The Institut français and the project

La Fresque is touring the United States with the support of the Institut français.

L'institut français, LAB