The art of seduction

The art of seduction

The Mariinsky Theater premieres Angelin Preljocaj’s sensuous 1994 ballet ‘Le Parc.’

Published: April 20, 2011 (Issue # 1652)

Natasha Razina

‘Le Parc’ portrays the attempts of the male dancers to seduce their female partners, from light flirting to unrestrained sensuality.

The Mariinsky Theater created a sublime and detached rendition last week of Angelin Preljocaj’s ballet “Le Parc,” deservedly praised as the visual epitome of sensuality. The ballet saw its local premiere on April 14 as part of the Eleventh International Mariinsky Ballet Festival, starring Diana Vishneva and Konstantin Zverev as the two protagonists.

As the choreographer himself puts it, the ballet, written for the Palais Garnier in 1994, was inspired by the story of a woman’s resistance to love, and took inspiration from Madame de La Fayette’s novel “La Princesse de Cleves” (1678), and Choderlos de Laclos’ “Les Liaisons dangereuses” (1782). During the three acts of this 90-minute ballet, the audience watches the female character put up a fight against love — until she capitulates completely in the finale.

The plot is built around three choreographic encounters between a couple that begins with playful temptation and triumphs with glaring physicality. Although the ballet master designed his graceful show using 18th-century visual aesthetics and set it to a selection of Mozart’s adagios, each act is interwoven by the entrance of four gardeners. Dressed in plain black clothes that cause them to bear more resemblance to guards than to horticulturalists, the shady quartet almost appear to be “grey cardinals” who mastermind the show and seem to manipulate the main characters into a carefully set emotional trap. To make the distinction between the gardeners and the rest of the dancers more distinct, Preljocaj contrasted the regular harmony of Mozart’s adagios with the harsh sounds of electronic music fused with the sounds of whispers and passionate moans.

Natasha Razina

The choreographic triptych begins on a flirtatious note, with a gaggle of minxes dressed in men’s clothing indulging in a coquettish game of musical chairs with a gang of curious male youths. Yearning and languor reign in the second act, in which the men attempt to make the connection more physical — something that they will have to wait for until the third act — to which the crinoline-clad ladies respond with a chain reaction of fainting.

In a sense, “Le Parc” tells the story of a woman’s transformation from a pure Odette — the white swan — into a voluptuous Odile (her black double), reveling in unrestrained sensuality. In this respect, the role in Preljocaj’s masterpiece is no less demanding than that of the main character in “Swan Lake,” with the only difference being that instead of performing two opposite female characters, the female soloist faces the task of portraying the mysterious awakening of the sensuous side of a woman that had been trapped by her emotional restraint.

There are few ballerinas who can master Odette and Odile with equal ease. Every dancer — and indeed, every person — is naturally more attracted to one of the emotional poles. With Diana Vishneva’s performance in “Le Parc” on April 14, audiences witnessed the depiction of a reluctant opening up of Odette, rather than the story of Odile’s desperate sublimation and ultimate failure to control her passions.

Natasha Razina

Even at the height of the final scene, Vishneva, partnered by Zverev, held on to the note of purity and chastity that forms the core of the classical Odette. Although fully seduced and conquered in the end, Vishneva’s heroine remains unspoiled, her perception of sex apparently being synonymous with feelings and emotion, and not with vice.

While Preljocaj clearly sought to inject every single move in his ballet with an ever-growing dose of eroticism, Vishneva and Zverev performed the role as if delicately filtering the intense and intricate choreographic language to preserve the Mariinsky’s signature classical backdrop. Muffling down the physical aspect and blending in a note of ethereal flair to the performance, the dancers delivered a daydream rendition of Preljocaj’s ballet, as if the whole story was developing in the mind’s eye of the heroes, fantasizing about their loved one all day long from dawn till dusk.

“Le Parc” will next be performed on April 22, with Yekaterina Kondaurova and Yury Smekalov in the main roles. For more information, visit

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