The essence of dance is a ritual, says the choreographer whose seductively mysterious works embrace everything from the annunciation to the apocalypse

Angelin Preljocaj is celebrated for his precision engineered choreography, but there is one move he can’t quite control: the extreme hair flick. “I try to choreograph hair – it’s not so easy,” he says, laughing down the phone from Aix-en-Provence, home to his company for more than 20 years. “It’s funny how hair can extend the movement of the body in a sequence, but it’s also hazardous. There is something that occurs that is … unexpected. But that is very nice.”

The choreography of his dancers’ glossy locks, as well as their limbs, is essential to Preljocaj’s 2016 piece La Fresque, which has its UK premiere at Sadler’s Wells in London this month. It is based on a traditional Chinese tale about a traveller who discovers a painting on the wall of a temple, enters the world of the picture and weds one of the five women it depicts before crashing back to reality. When he looks back at the image on the wall, he discovers that the woman’s hair, which once flowed freely, is now fixed in a chignon symbolising that she is indeed married.

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