That’s what happens to the protagonist of the 1700s Chinese folk tale that inspired Angelin Preljocaj, choreographer and artistic director of Ballet Preljocaj, to create La Fresque.
A traveller, Chu, becomes enraptured by the image of a young woman on a temple wall fresco. Her long, loose hair indicates she’s free. The man is drawn into the image, imagines he marries the woman and stays with her for many years, until he’s chased out by warriors.
As he returns to the real world he is amazed to be told by his companion, Meng, that he’s been away for only a matter of minutes. However, looking again at the fresco he sees the woman’s hair is now done up in a chignon, a symbol of the married woman.
Aided by a hard-to-qualify fusion score from Nicolas Godin (one half of the musical duo Air), discreet but highly atmospheric video projections and simple, effective sets from Constance Guisset, and stunning costumes by the glamour couturier Azzedine Alaïa, Preljocaj creates an enticing, otherworldly narrative.
Diffuse locks of hair are projected onto the stage, slowly undulating like waves of mist. An extended electronic note punctuated by repeated sharp drum beats heightens the sense of expectation.
Chu and Meng crawl on stage, their effortful movement denoting the hardships of their travels. As they rise and walk on, a panel slowly lifts to reveal the fresco, La Fresque: five women with flowing hair, posed alluringly on a raised platform. One stands out, dressed in white, her dark hair lush, long and loose.
As Chu looks on transfixed, they come to life, their head and neck thrusts creating a forceful dance for their hair.
Hair is, of course, a key signifier in this work, and its animation marks the transition between the two time dimensions: Chu’s physical dimension and the transcendental one he steps into.
Much later in the work, there is a breathtaking symbolic sequence where four women hold strands of the young girl’s hair aloft and slowly circle her, as if she here a maypole and the hair the ribbons hanging from it. Gradually they pile her hair into a magnificent chignon.
The ensuing wedding pas de deux between Chu, who carries two rich bouquets of red flowers (red being the colour of marriage in Chinese culture), and the woman in white is slow, tender and dreamy, and ends when they lie down together.
In between, Ballet Peljocaj’s 10 barefoot dancers explore a series of symbolic sequences, some joyful and energetic ensemble pieces, where Preljocaj’s exacting contemporary choreography drinks from the well of classical ballet; another revealing the choreographer’s fascination with aerial acrobatics, with the dancers slowly climbing then hanging from long black ropes.
Its surface intensely beautiful, La Fresque creates a dream-like state within which Preljocaj subtly raises questions pertaining to the relations between representation and reality, image and movement, and the intriguing possibilities of time.
It is an intelligent, sensitive work where intellectual inquiry never detracts from the physical expression of dance; you take away as many or as few questions as you like, but you can’t escape its web of wonderment.
|What||Ballet Preljocaj, La Fresque Review|
|Where||Sadler's Wells, Rosebery Avenue, London, EC1R 4TN | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Angel (underground)|
30 Sep 19 – 02 Oct 19, 19:30 Dur.: 1 hour 20 mins no interval
|Price||£15-£50 (+ booking fee)|
|Website||Click here to book|