The story of Siddhartha’s spiritual journey from powerful prince to supreme Buddha has come alive at the Paris Opera in a new ballet featuring France’s top contemporary choreographer Angelin Preljocaj.
Siddharta, which had its global premiere on March 18, is a rare event in the world of dance – with several performances in a huge venue.
The one hour 40 minute ballet for 50 dancers is playing in the vast 2,700-seat Opera Bastille until April 11.
Aside from star dancers Aurelie Dupont and Nicolas Le Riche, the production brings together rising young composer Bruno Mantovani and one of the world’s few women conductors, Finland’s Susanna Malkki, in a debut performance with the Paris orchestra.
At 53, Preljocaj has already worked with the Paris Opera Ballet – notably creating Le Parc, Casanova, L’Annonciation and MC 14/22 – but the story of Siddhartha’s spiritual quest is a new challenge.
“I was interested in doing this but felt it was a little dangerous. The stage is enormous; you have to know how to fill it, how to give it life,” Preljocaj, born of Albanian parents, said.
The choreographer, whose Ballet Preljocaj is based in the southern city of Aix-en-Provence, said he had been mulling a ballet on the founder of Buddhism for some time.
“I had been thinking about working around the figure of Siddhartha, this young prince who will become the Buddha, but who at the start was just a man like any other.”
“Siddhartha’s undertaking lies in the great gap between life’s pleasures and the domain of spirituality. His journey passes through all sorts of things – asceticism, total fasting, flagellation, the pleasures of the flesh … That is the quest I’m interested in,” he added.
“In many religions, the body plays an important role in the spiritual quest,” Preljocaj said, citing self-mortification and the position taken by a believer during prayer.
“Evoking Siddhartha’s life through dance for me appeared self-evident: he has a body and it is that body that goes out to seek a state of enlightenment.”
Of his 45 ballets so far (including one planned for the Bolshoi around the Apocalypse), four touch on the world of the spirit.
“That is relatively few,” he said. “But I do believe that the role of dance is to give spirit to the body.”
This newest creation is a far cry, however, from ballets such as Snow White, a re-enactment of the fairytale complete with the Wicked Stepmother by 26 dancers that highlights the sharp and precise jumps and turns typical of the Preljocaj style.
“I like each new project to have its own rules; otherwise it would be too simple,” he said.
“But one always creates in relation to what went before, either in opposition, in reaction or in complement.”