Empty Moves at BAM

Wednesday evening Culturebot saw Empty moves (parts I & II) by Ballet Preljocaj at BAM. We enjoyed it immensely. The dancers were extraordinary – beautiful, precise, athletic, focused and fluid. The choreography was both serious and playful, continually unfolding with one phrase evolving gently into the next, at once languid and rigorous. It was a pleasure to watch these dancers interact with each other and inhabit the space with such quiet confidence.

The piece is set to a recording of John Cage’s Empty Words from Milan in 1977. Empty Words is a solo vocal work based on the writing of Henry David Thoreau. Using reduction and abstraction of the text, he turns the text into pure vocal sound and stretches the monologue over three hours. We hear the crowd grow restless and annoyed – practically to the point of protesting the performance. They get so crazy they start freaking out – shouting and chanting and clapping. The effect is amazing. As we listen to John Cage’s sonorous voice read/perform amidst the chaos breaking out around him, we are simultaneously watching four exquisite dancers move with precision and grace and focus. They seem to mirror Cage’s focus and in some ways they even seem to reference his deliberate phrasing and rhythm.

The silly part of me kept thinking, “How do they remember all that choreography?” with no music cues, no clear reference points. I was amazed not only with the dancers technical virtuosity but with the movement vocabulary which constantly brought the performers together in new and surprising ways. There was one repetition that I noticed – a reprise of the opening quartet towards the end of the piece – but beyond that it seemed like the dance was always ongoing – that the dancers just kind of checked in with the movement, flowed with it for about an hour and then walked away – but the dance is always there. I guess that sounds kinda New Age-y but whatever. The overall effect was hynpotic and transporting. I found myself transfixed and entirely captivated.

Apparently Part 1 was presented at the Joyce in 2006, but these performances at BAM are the first NY performances of the entire work. Go check it out!

Empty moves (parts I & II)
Ballet Preljocaj

Music by John Cage
Choreography by Angelin Preljocaj

Oct 27, 29 & 30, 2010, 7:30pm

BAM Howard Gilman Opera House
63min, no intermission
Tickets: $20, 30, 40, 55

Empty moves (parts I & II), 2007 creation
Coproduction Festival Montpellier Danse 2007

Empty moves (part I), 2004 creation
Commission and co-production Biennale nationale de danse du Val-de-Marne
2006 Restage, co-production The Joyce Theater’s Stephen and Cathy Weinroth Fund for New Work

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