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Review: Angelin Preljocaj's 'Les 4 Saisons ...'

May 3, 2009 |  2:52 pm

Ballet 

A potted plant falls from the heights onto the UCLA Royce Hall stage, galvanizing nine meditative, heavily cloaked Ballet Preljocaj dancers into action. They throw off their weighty covers, glory momentarily in their youthful nakedness, turn upstage to don colorful briefs and muscle shirts, and begin yelping and hooting as they cavort to the music of Vivaldi.

Spring has sprung, with a vengeance.

So begins Angelin Preljocaj’s “Les 4 Saisons …,” an 85-minute fantastic excursion through the Red Priest’s most famous score, intercut with periods of silence and movements from other, unidentified Vivaldi concertos, including some of the weirder music the 18th-century Venetian composer wrote.
The performance was seen Saturday as part of the UCLA Live series.

The potted plant was the work of French sculptor Fabrice Hyber and constituted one of the many hanging and on-stage props — or, as he calls them, “POFs” (Prototypes of Functioning Objects) — which contributed to the whimsy of the piece. But they were intended to do more than that. Like changes in the weather, by falling from the top of the stage or otherwise interacting with the dancers, they disrupted order and introduced elements of chaos into the dance. Correspondingly, Hyber received credit in the program booklet for his “chaosgraphy.”

For his part, Preljocaj wrote that he had four themes of interest — “bursting forth, exultation, suspension and vibration.” Not all the dozen or so episodes illustrating these ideas sustained equal interest, but the majority were imaginative and compelling.

Four set pieces of curved steps, for instance, provided difficult, marvelous teeter-totter balance challenges, executed strongly by various dancers.

Nagisa Shirai was the startlingly twitchy, tormented character calmed only for moments by Davide Di Pretoro in “Summer.”

Caroline Finn proved a master of Beckett-like comedy as the Queen of Greeny’s, emerging from a cocoon first to marvel at four lithe, phosphorous-green suited men, and then to entice a sequence of charming kisses around her body from one of them (Damien Chevron).

A tug-of-war game between two groups developed into a captivating jump-rope sequence in which different dancers showed off their bounding, virtuosic talents. The audience rightfully rewarded them with bursts of applause, as if it had seen a sequence of 32 Black Swan fouettes.

Shirai and Claudia de Smet danced a curious S&M-tinged duet (manipulating each other by pinching or tugging at exposed skin) to an unidentified Vivaldi concerto. They returned for the evocative Mask Trio in which they slowly took undisputed turns, pulling each other away and repositioning themselves in a mask fixed in a kiss to another mask worn by Julien Thibault. The competition was tranquil and strange.

Ayo Jackson and Emilie Lalande proved rock-solid in a series of classically cool balances and high extensions in a section called “Perles” (pearls). In contrast, Chevron and Yang Wang were the friends wearing curious pants-seat costumes in the comic by oddly inconclusive closing movement of “Winter.”

The piece came to a gentle, tender close, however, to another unidentified concerto, as all the characters reentered to affirm two gorgeously costumed porcupines (de Smet and Baptiste Coissieu) slowly making their way toward each other to answer the perennial question of how do porcupines do it.
Carefully. Lovingly.

Throughout, the 12-member company danced with vigor, precision and spirit.

The ballet was danced to a recording by the brilliantly idiosyncratic violinist Giuliano Carmignola and the virtuoso Venice Baroque Orchestra, conducted by the equally inventive Andrea Marcon.

Except for the costume POFs, Preljocaj designed the vibrant and imaginative costumes.

-- Chris Pasles

See more phootos of Angelin Preljocaj’s “Les 4 Saisons …”

Ballet Preljocaj at UCLA Live. Next: Carpenter Performing Arts Center, 6200 Atherton St., Long Beach; 8 p.m. Tuesday; $45 to $50; (562) 985-7000.Also: Friday; La Jolla Music Society; (858) 459-3728

Photo: Julien Thibault, Nagisa Shirai, and Claudia de Smet,  Credit: Stefano Paltera/For The Times.

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