La fresque (The Fresco) dance production based on a traditional Chinese folk tale. Music by Nicolas Godin with the collaboration of Vincent Taurelle. Choreographed and directed 2017 by Angelin Preljocaj at the Théâtre de la Criée, Marseille, France. Stars Clara Freschel, Nuriya Nagimova, Nagisa Shirai, Anna Tatarova, Yurié Tsugawa, Sergi Amoros Aparicio, Marius Delcourt, Antoine Dubois, Jean-Charles Jousni, and Fran Sanchez from Ballet Preljocaj with Mirea Delogu, Victor Martivez Caliz and Simon Ripert. Set designs and videos by Constance Guisset Studio; costumes by Azzedine Alaïa; lighting design by Éric Soyer. Directed for TV by François-René Martin. Produced by Antoine Perset and Denis Molière. Released 2019, disc has PCM stereo sound. Grade: B+
La Fresque is a fun show to watch. Preljocaj is a leading modern dance choreographer whom we admire for his Siddharte (Paris Opera Ballet) in Blu-ray. He has a refreshing style that mixes modern dance with military precision in larger formations and with unusual props and concepts. Above all, he is a genius at displaying feminine sexuality in a slick, tasteful way, and this he can do with dancers who are neither trained in classical ballet nor picked for special beauty. His work states, “All women are beautiful.” Nicolas Godin wrote an intriguing score for this in close coordination with Preljocaj as the dancing was developed at the Pavillon Noir. (In the bonus extra, you see Godin siting with Preljocaj at rehearsals taking it all in.) Godin’s score features a wide variety of modern music styles ranging from electronic noise to heart-beat and breathing sounds to soaring melodies and several varieties of jazz. SQ is fine. This is a narrative work with a simple plot, and Preljocaj knows how to hold your attention as events unfold. This title is worth repeated viewings; the more I see it, the easier it is to ignore the weak aspects of the title.
Ballet Preljocaj has an excellent ballet home building called the Pavillon Noir in Aix-en-Provence, a town with several stages for performance and making recordings. But this video was shot in the obscure and apparently rather primitive Théâtre de la Criée, Marseille which used to be (we understand) the main municipal fishmarket. Videographer François-René Martin is a newcomer to HD video recording for Blu-ray, and he was doubtless challenged by conditions at this away-from-home venue.
PQ of the video was poor on my 4K LG set. Lettering is marred by “jaggeys.” Long range shots tend to break up into pictels and many “line artifacts” are quite noticeable. PQ is degraded by low light in the theater. A scrim further darkens the stage between 00:00 to 13:00, 51:45 to 54:15, and 1:09:19 to the end. Many video projections were made from the rear of the audience onto the scrim, the bodies of the dancers (or both), and on to the rear wall of the stage. It seems most modern theaters are able to project onto the rear of the stage without shining on the protagonists, so I thought at first that images like the first screenshot below were caused by primitive equipment. But later I realized that obscuring the dancers with video could have been done deliberately to create a special effect. In the first screenshot below, you see a video image projected over the dancers, who are two travelers on a journey:
Next below is a focus error by the videographer showing the scrim:
The travelers see a fresco on the wall of an old temple. In the next shot below, you see the girls who are depicted in the fresco. The scrim here is probably appropriate for the live audience as it makes the image look old and mysterious:
Next below one of many dreamy close-up shots:
But the scrim interferes substantially with enjoying the images in the HT. In the next shot below the scrim is being raised:
The next two shots below show the fresco image of the girl in white as seen both with and without the scrim :
I think the girl in white is Yurié Tsugawa, a Japanese dancer who works with several companies:
It’s great to see all these wonderful dancers with long loose hair and bare feet! Slowly I began to realize that long hair is a fetish in this production as you can see in the next screenshot. Also, many of the video projections can be understood as “hair images."
The traveler is attracted to the girl in white. Suddenly he slips into the world of the fresco to approach her. The girl is startled by the stranger. A courtship begins as the traveler learns something about life in the world of the fresco. Here you see him on the far left, and the girl in white on your far right. The ever-versatile Preljocaj shifts gears to depict a folk dance that reminds me of the “square dancing” we did in my youth in little hick towns in the mountains of North Carolina:
And in the next two images, Preljocaj uses the exact same steps I used when I was in the 9th grade to woo Sylvia. My skill and ardor was rewarded with a number of good kisses from her. (I’ll have to give some credit also to Roy Hamilton singing the Unchained Melody.)
The engagement is announced. The companions of the girl in the fresco will become the bridesmaids. As the two in love writhe in ecstasy, the bridesmaids provide counterpoint with beautifully coordinated cool formations:
The girl is enthralled, but also in despair. She knows she is breaking the law:
Exhausted, the girl falls asleep and is tormented by wild nightmares:
But what can stop true love? The wedding celebrations proceed. The hair fetish emerges again as the bridesmaids mummify the girl’s face in her own hair. (The tying up of the hair is a symbol of marriage in the world of the fresco.)
In the next two images, things get rather bizarre. Ropes of hair rise from the girl and each of the bridesmaids to the ceiling. All the dancers get to show their chops as aerialists:
The marriage is consummated after the groom presents the traditional red roses :
Here comes the law — there are three guards in this silhouette:
The traveler is expelled from the world of the fresco. At first he thinks he must have been dreaming. But look! The girl’s hair is tied up with a rose, which denotes that she is now married!
A charming story and production — but why did it look bad on my 4K TV? I fiddled. I eventually changed from my 4K default setting of APS (Auto Power Save) to Cinema, reduced Sharpness from 10 to 2, and increased Brightness from 50 to 60. That improved the image to something not great, but tolerable with fewer artifacts. I visited Guru John Fort in Dallas and saw an even better image on a 2K TV! Our conclusion: maybe François-René Martin’s video file was optimized somehow for 1080 viewing. If you have a 4K or 8K set, you may have to fiddle to get decent PQ.
What about video content? I did a Wonk Worksheet. The pace is 8.4 seconds per video segment, and only 54% of the segments show the full bodies of the dancers. These numbers suggest I should condemn this title for DVDitis. But I make an exception for this show that was (like Ross MacGibbon’s The Age of Anxiety) deliberately shot in the impressionistic style of a movie with a naturalistic set and props, many near shots, close-ups, and rapid-fire segments.
Now to a grade: For PQ issues I drop this from A+ to D+. But for fine choreography and original music with good SQ, I move back up to B+. Be prepared to fiddle. The heavy use of scrims and video projection were appropriate for live performance but problematical for recording for the HT. Maybe this should have been recorded at a special showing without the scrims and with reduced video projections.
H’m. Did I remember to return my video picture settings to the what they were before?
Here is a trailer from Naxos. It looks better on my PC monitor than the Blu-ray looks in my HT: