When Angelin Preljocaj first began work with the Bolshoi Ballet the plan was for them to adapt one of his earlier works.
But the alliance was much more fruitful than either side expected. “I began working with the Bolshoi in 2009 and 2010,” Preljocaj explains. “We met to discuss which piece from my repertoire would be most appropriate, but I was immediately inspired by the way their dancers interacted with mine, and started to feel the desire to collaborate on an original piece”.
“Obviously the styles of our respective work are very distinct, very different. The Bolshoi’s dancers are used to performing to very rigid choreography, within tight constraints. Yet when presented with the opportunity to do something more fluid, to improvise, I think everyone was surprised how quickly they rose to that challenge, utilising talents even they possibly didn’t know they possessed. Given the differences in the dance styles employed by the Bolshoi and my company, the experience also brought out something different from my dancers. After our initial period of collaboration I decided I wanted to create something new, and fortunately the Bolshoi liked that idea”.
The something new was ‘And Then, One Thousand Years Of Peace’, one of two productions being presented by Preljocaj’s company at the Edinburgh International Festival this year. The piece is set in a post-apocalyptic world. “The theme seemed appropriate because the ‘Revelation Of St John’ in the New Testament, while on the face of it about the apocalypse, has a political element to it, the desire to overthrow a regime, revolution. Violent revolutions exist in both French and Russian history, and it is something that unites the French and Russian people, making it a theme that seemed appropriate for this collaboration”.
By beginning with a theme rather than a fixed story, ‘And Then One Thousand Years Of Peace’, as a piece in development, was influenced by imagery and emotion rather than a predetermined sequence of events, making for a piece where sensation is very much part of the experience. “If I’m working on ‘Snow White’ obviously I begin with the story”, Preljocaj says, “but with a piece like this, it’s more impressionist if you like, where a certain image or symbol can take the creative process forward”.
The alliance with the Bolshoi wasn’t the only interesting collaboration that took place in the creation of this piece. The music was created by techno producer and DJ Laurent Garnier. “He was my first thought when it came to choosing a musical collaborator for this piece”, Preljocaj admits. “DJs are like masters of ceremony, and when you see people like Laurent controlling crowds of thousands as he mixes his music, it’s an almost religious experience. And that’s what I wanted for this”.
“It was a very interactive collaboration” he continues. “I would send him some imagery from the work, and he’d sketch out some music, or select a sound, and then we’d discuss it some more. It was quite a new experience for him but, like the Bolshoi directors, he quickly began to tap into previously unknown ideas and skills. I think he loved the theatrical nature of the project, and learned a lot, about a whole new strand of his art, and about talents he’d not previously utilised”.
This is Preljocaj’s first time at the Edinburgh Festival. “It’s an honour to be invited here, because this is such an important festival, and I am thrilled to be able to present our work for this audience”, he says. With such a combination of dissident talents in ‘And Then, One Thousand Years Of Peace’, one assumes the audience will be just as thrilled to experience it.
Angelin Preljocaj’s shows ‘And Then, One Thousand Years of Peace’ and ‘Helikopter/Eldorado’ were both performed at The Edinburgh Playhouse as part of Edinburgh International Festival 2012.