Ballet Preljocaj’s Empty Moves (parts I, II, & III)


Set to John Cage’s Empty Words, this lengthy work featured four dancers completely in tune with each other and focused on the slightest of movements. The quartet demonstrated complete trust in each other as they manipulated each other into various positions and pushed and pulled themselves into elaborate formations where they were all connected. In the ultimate test of trust, one of the dancers stood straight up on the shoulders of another and fell backwards into the waiting arms of the other two.

With stiff, straight limbs, elaborate patterns, and many sequences of slow, deliberate movement, this choreography was fascinating to watch. There were a few contrasting sections of faster-paced movement with wonderful rhythms stomped out by the male dancers as they galloped around the stage. When all four of them moved in fast-paced unison, their fierce determination was a powerful sight.

Split into three parts that were each developed separately over the years, the sections were book-ended by the same sequence, marking each transition. These sequences also served as a slight break for the dancers as they passed a large water bottle around, incorporating the water break into their movements before continuing on.

Colouring their movements was the abstract composition of John Cage. Using an infamous 1977 recording of Empty Words, an increasingly disgruntled audience can be heard in the background as the minimalist composer calmly intones abstracted text that seems completely meaningless. Preljocaj’s choreography is an interpretation of this composition, while at the same time a juxtaposing response to it.

It is interesting to see the way a string of unconnected words, or even simple sounds, can still carry meaning for us. Similarly, the often stilted, precise movement of these dancers carries a great deal of meaning even though it is not fluid. Some would say the Cage recording is not music, just as some would say many contemporary dance works are not dance.

Preljocaj explained it well: “The notion of the alienation effect, of the disintegration of the movement and of a new manner of choreographic phrasing, takes precedence over meaning and essence. Through these means this dance work connects with the text by Henry David Thoreau which was John Cage’s starting point, and attempts to reach the unflappable pugnacity of the mastermind behind that evening [in 1977].”

Empty moves (part I) premiered in 2004 and (part II) was added in 2007. The full work consisting of all three parts premiered in June 2014 at the Montpellier Dance Festival. There is a fourth part to Cage’s recording, and Preljocaj intends to add the final instalment in the coming years.

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