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Ballet Preljocaj: “Empty Moves”

A modern dance work that irritates and fascinates in equal measure.

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A scene from Ballet Preljocaj’s “Empty Moves” (Photo credit: Jean-Claude Carbonne)

A scene from Ballet Preljocaj’s “Empty Moves” (Photo credit: Jean-Claude Carbonne)

[avatar user=”Joel Benjamin” size=”96″ align=”left” ] Joel Benjamin, Critic[/avatar]Testing the patience and understanding of both the audience and the dancers, Ballet Preljocaj, Angelin Preljocaj’s modern troupe from Aix-en-Provence, performed the complete version of his “Empty Moves” at the Joyce Theater.  Two of the three parts were previously seen in New York City.  Set to John Cage’s “Empty Words,” a deconstruction of a text by Henry David Thoreau, the work put four terrific dancers through their paces for nearly two hours.

Preljocaj took his cue from Cage whose slow-motion, syllable-by-syllable recitation of the text increasingly annoyed an audience recorded at his performance in Milan in 1977.   As he droned, hissed, mumbled, sang and spouted the text, turning it into what the Italians clearly decided was a meaningless and formless mess, they slowly erupted into hoots and catcalls that soon escalated to angry curses and threats.

Cage, always the iconoclast, philosopher and provocateur, probably had a very good time—even if his life was threatened.  His patience and dedication to his artistic vision were inspirations to an entire generation—or two—of artists, his professional and personal partner, Merce Cunningham probably the most famous.

In fact, if “Empty Moves” resembled any choreographer’s work, it was that of Cunningham who believed in a non-linear, movement-is-its-own-meaning, chance approach.  Many sequences in “Empty Moves” had that cool, non-sequitur feel.

In attempting to capture Cage’s experimental modus operandi in the form of choreography, Preljocaj produced a work both old-fashioned and cutting edge.  In its constant repetition of movement patterns and use of boredom as an artistic statement, it brought back memories of the artistic upheavals of the Judson Dance Theater days.   In the pop-inflected costumes (uncredited colorful short-shorts and tee shirts) and easygoing disregard for entertaining, it harkens to today’s post modern scene, particularly here in NYC.

A scene from Ballet Preljocaj’s “Empty Moves” (Photo credit: Jean-Claude Carbonne)

A scene from Ballet Preljocaj’s “Empty Moves” (Photo credit: Jean-Claude Carbonne)

The dancers entered the stage forming a sculptural grouping in which they leaned against each other, lifted each other and entwined with each other.  This short “theme” was repeated four times during the work, giving it some vague sense of structure.  The mood, despite the arduous length of the work, was light and friendly as the four dancers kept supporting each other in various ways:  sometimes on uplifted feet, sometimes on backs and sometimes draping themselves over each others’ upraised legs.  These were clearly ballet trained dancers.

They were having a conversation in dance, even taking time to retrieve bottles of water from offstage for much needed hydration.  They also took to moving their hands in empty gestures, touching themselves, often making fists, flexing both hands and feet to make angular body shapes.

The four dancers—Nuriya Nagimova, Yurié Tsugawa, Fabrizio Clemente and Baptiste Coissieu—were terrific, their pacing delightful and their easygoing physical intertwinings fascinating.  Perhaps, it was their unremitting coolness and seemingly total disregard for the soundtrack that irritated the Joyce audience while also fascinating them.

Preljocaj’s “Empty Moves” was equal parts abrasive, lovely and sexy.  It was a major achievement and a brave step for a European choreographer surrounded by the glitz of Eurotrash.

Ballet Preljocaj: “Empty Moves” (April 20-24, 2016)

Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Avenue, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-242-0800 or visit

For more information, visit

Running time:  one hour and 45 minutes with no intermission

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About Joel Benjamin (563 Articles)
JOEL BENJAMIN was a child performer on Broadway and danced with leading modern dance and ballet companies. Joel has been attending theater, ballet and opera performances ever since childhood, becoming quite opinionated over the years. He was the founder and artistic director of the American Chamber Ballet and subsequently was massage therapist to the stars before becoming a reviewer and memoirist. He is a member of the Outer Critics Circle.

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