Interview: Laurent Garnier and Angelin Preljocaj at Edinburgh Festival 2012
French producer and choreographer work on And then, one thousand years of peace
This article is from 2012.
Kelly Apter talks to Laurent Garnier, the techno legend who was happily put in his place by compatriot choreographer, Angelin Preljocaj. All in the name of creating a sublime dance and music experience
‘Laurent Garnier has been making the planet dance for 25 years.’ So states the opening line of the Frenchman’s personal website. While there’s a hint of hyperbole in that statement, it’s fair to say Garnier has filled a few floors in his time. From those heady days at Manchester’s Hacienda in the late 80s/early 90s, through his regular Parisian club nights to an ongoing commitment to breaking new ground on his own webradio station, Garnier clearly earned that place on the shortlist of Mixmag’s 2011 DJ of the Year.
Piecing together the right beats and rhythms to make the human body move has been his forte since he was a child, but recently Garnier has been providing music for a very different set of dancers. At this year’s Edinburgh International Festival, one of the world’s most acclaimed contemporary dance choreographers, Angelin Preljocaj, will present an epic work inspired by the Book of Revelation. Garnier is responsible for the atmospheric soundtrack that drives it.
First performed in 2010 by Preljocaj’s own company and dancers from the Bolshoi Ballet, And then, one thousand years of peace is a remarkable work full of theatricality and heightened emotion. Despite its biblical inspiration, the piece doesn’t depict the end of the world.
Instead, Preljocaj set out to explore society and the world we live in. The word ‘religion’, he points out, once meant ‘to connect’, which is why he wanted Garnier onboard.
‘Laurent’s music is very powerful,’ says Preljocaj. ‘But also, he connects people together. He’ll have huge concerts with three or four thousand people in the audience, and after a while, those people are in the same mood: they are all connected.’
Preljocaj had also heard some of Garnier’s studio albums, in particular The Cloud Making Machine, which Garnier dubbed ‘a soundtrack to an imaginary film’. Keen to move into the worlds of film and theatre, the CD started to open doors for Garnier. ‘I think that album brought me to people like Angelin,’ he says, ‘because the first time I met him, he said he’d heard it and that was the kind of thing he wanted from me. Which is great, because that’s exactly where I wanted to go with my career – to start working with choreographers.’
And not just any choreographers. Preljocaj has spent the past 30 years working with some of the biggest names in the dance world, as well as building up a formidable company of his own. ‘Angelin is my favourite choreographer,’ says Garnier. ‘To me, he’s the best we have in France. I’m a complete fan of his company, and I knew his work very well before we actually met.’ The two men first worked together on a short piece to celebrate the opening of Preljocaj’s impressive headquarters in Aix-en-Provence. So when the idea for And then, one thousand years of peace first came about, Preljocaj knew exactly who to call.
‘Angelin gave me the story of the apocalypse and said, “read it, but then do your idea of what the apocalypse is,”’ explains Garnier. ‘He didn’t want to give me a storyline or too much information. So I created lots of basic musical moods, and said to him, “this is what I get from reading it and from talking to people about the apocalypse: are we in the same place on this?” And we definitely were, we really understood each other.’
The resulting soundtrack goes through varying levels of intensity, evoking images of destruction, resolution, chaos and calm. It’s a far cry from the acid house of Garnier’s Hacienda days. ‘I didn’t use the same skills I use when I’m a DJ,’ he says. ‘And I didn’t build the music in the same way I would if I was trying to make people dance, because it’s a completely different story. Music-wise, it’s pretty far away from what people would expect me to do, which is techno. Of course the music is very electronic, and there are a couple of tracks that have a dancefloor beat, but we are very far away from all that.’
Although Preljocaj and Garnier kept in close contact during the creation of the piece, the two men worked in different cities. During rehearsal, Preljocaj used completely different music to Garnier’s, encouraging the dancers to engage with the choreography before being influenced by sound. The way Preljocaj’s dancers receive a score is distinctly different from the clubbers who usually dance to Garnier’s output.
‘Whatever you do, even if your music has absolutely no beats, dancers can still find the timing of it,’ says Garnier. ‘And that absolutely fascinates me about contemporary dance. I’ve seen quite a lot of it and I always think, “how the hell do they find a way to dance to that music?” Because a lot of the time, the music is completely abstract and yet the dancers are so synchronised. But they are following the music, counting it and hearing it in a very different way.’
There are many such moments of remarkable unison in And then, one thousand years of peace. But then, Preljocaj’s dancers are well used to doing it. The company’s EIF programme will also feature two shorter works, Helikopter and Eldorado, both of which include soundtracks by the late German electronic composer, Karlheinz Stockhausen.
For Helikopter, Preljocaj used an existing piece of music, but Stockhausen composed Eldorado especially for Ballet Preljocaj. It would seem the working relationship between Preljocaj/Stockhausen and Preljocaj/Garnier was on a slightly different footing, however.
‘One day I sent a track to Angelin, and as always he came back to me and said, “you need to re-work this bit or that bit,”’ recalls Garnier. ‘Sometimes he would say so much about the tiniest thing: “maybe you could cut that one second of music” or, “change that tiny noise”. He’s so precise, and I said to him once, “listen, when you worked with Stockhausen, did you do his head in this much? Because I’m pretty sure Stockhausen would have said, ‘fuck off, it’s my track’”. And Angelin said, “no, but I can do it with you”. It was really funny, we had a very good relationship.’
Ballet Preljocaj: And then, one thousand years of peace, 17–19 Aug; Helikopter/Eldorado, 22 Aug. All performances at Edinburgh Playhouse, Greenside Place, 0131 473 2000, 7.30pm, £10–£30.