Ballet Preljocaj performed “And then, one thousand years of peace” at the Orpheum Theatre on Wednesday night and while the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse didn’t appear, there were moments when it seemed some sort of wrath might be visited upon us.
The 2010 work by French choreographer Angelin Preljocaj draws upon the Book of Revelation in the Bible’s New Testament as inspiration for a disturbing and question-provoking but just as often thrilling glimpse into how humankind is its own worst enemy.
Preljocaj created “And then …” with Russia’s Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow, but now his own nearly 30-year-old troupe performs the evening-length piece. The 21 dancers who fill the stage are by turns powerful, sensual, malevolent and vulnerable. There is no room for anyone to hide within this forward-thinking work; the focus is on interpersonal conflict and détente. Preljocaj is drawn to the act of exposure: revealing faults, weaknesses, desires, flesh.
“And then …” moves forcefully through scenes, propelled by Laurent Garnier’s raucous industrial-techno mix. At one point the dancers hold slim books in their hands and mouths, gracefully marching like fervent believers (or, more darkly, servants) to a merciless beat of a belief system. They wrap themselves in the flags of nations, swaying in communal harmony and then falling into sexual poses, blurring the geopolitical lines between ally and foe, supporter and exploiter.
The jaw-dropping event of the evening comes when chains fall from the rafters just a few feet from the dancers. There is a silvery flash and then a jangly thud. This dangerous scenic stunt by Subodh Gupta is daring and visually unforgettable. There is also a sort of eerie beauty and subtle horror when two dancers don the chains about their necks.
Preljocaj is prone to the occasional overindulgence and this work is no exception. The female dancers are exceptionally strong, so it is disappointing when the choreography inserts a bump-and-grind without any apparent context.
“And then …” is at its most potent when women and men perform on the same level, as in the final scene, laying out the flags (now soaked in water) one at a time, so two (real) lambs can gingerly trod upon them. We all have an interest in peace, even if it takes a millennium to get there.
Caroline Palmer writes about dance.