Ballet Preljocaj’s “Les Nuits” Makes Its U.S. Debut at the Music Center

The French company brings erotic flair to a production inspired by <em>One Thousand and One Nights</em>

Los Angeles audiences were left in awe in 2012 after Ballet Preljocaj’s interpretation of Snow White (Blanche Neige) at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The mix of theatricality, classical and contemporary choreography, and costumes by Jean Paul Gaultier was undeniably impressive. Beginning tonight through Sunday, the French troupe returns to perform Les Nuits (The Nights) at the same venue downtown. The production is inspired by the famous collection of Middle Eastern and Indian tales known as One Thousand and One Nights, with choreography by artistic director Angelin Preljocaj and costumes by the legendary designer Azzedine Alaïa. Expect some grown-up themes (sexuality, partial nudity), all in keeping with the seductive nature of the stories. We spoke with Preljocaj about his creative vision.

What is it about One Thousand and One Nights that inspired you to create Les Nuits?
Beyond the mystery of this text, which was most certainly written by several people and features extremely varied tales that emerge from one another like Russian dolls, this text has led generations of readers to dream and be intrigued and attracted by their fantastical and erotic dimension. What makes One Thousand and One Nights particularly captivating is the device established through the character of Scheherazade. With her words, culture, and intelligence she represents a bastion against barbarism and challenges us to question the role of women in society. 

What mood, tempo, and aesthetic are you hoping to convey through your piece? How will the music and set design influence the scenes?
I wanted to work with Natacha Atlas because her music symbolizes the golden age of world music for me. The arrangements made by Samy Bishai are a blend of traditional oriental sounds and electro-modern pop. As for Constance Guisset, I knew her already, as she had designed the scenography of my solo Le Funambule in 2009. I really like her work and her way of thinking about space and stage. It’s very important for me to meet other artists—it makes me move, and I like that. 

How do the costumes by Azzedine Alaïa work in conjunction with the choreography to tell the story?
For the costumes I thought of Azzedine Alaïa, as I am a longtime admirer of his work. He gives a carnal dimension to the characters, a kind of special power. Working with other artists means that you cannot control all the process, and that’s the game. You need to find compromises. Sometimes it works straightaway, sometimes you need to work again. It’s not easy, as you need to get used to a different framework, a different way of working. But it’s always very rewarding.

Are there any specific scenes the audience can expect to see?
In the same vein as Snow WhiteThe Nights is inspired by a tale—but this time it’s totally impressionist. The audience shouldn’t expect to see One Thousand and One Nights unfolding onstage, either. I wanted to focus on the character of Scheherazade and on the fantasy of the Orient. The piece features 18 dancers dressed by Azzedine Alaïa and displays a succession of scenes on music by Natacha Atlas & Samy Bishai and 79D. I sincerely hope Los Angeles audiences will enjoy this ballet just like they did in 2012 with Snow White!

Why did you decide to direct the production toward mature audiences, including partial nudity and sexual themes? How do those aspects help tell the story?
It is not so much about actual nudity but rather about the mystery of a mythical Orient, where the body represents symbols, like a calligraphy expressing moods and emotions. These tales contain some very sensual aspects, which I wished to represent through dance. In 1988, I created Liqueurs de Chair, which focused on the notion of eroticism but permeated with the aesthetics of surrealism. I wanted to return to this theme in a more flamboyant way, and one that preserved all the mystery and fascination that the East still exerts on the collective unconscious. 

Where do you generally find inspiration and what are you working on next?
After creating Empty Moves (part I) in 2004, followed by (part II) in 2007, I wished to pursue this study of movement based on the work Empty Words by John Cage. Empty Moves (part III) will be completed next week for the opening of the Montpellier Danse festival 2014.