Wednesday night saw the opening of the Paris Opera’s stint in New York on their US tour. They haven’t been in New York for sixteen years, and I don’t think the audience knew quite what to expect. The program was called "French Masters of the 20th Century" and included Suite en Blanc (Lifar) L’Arlésienne (Petit) and Boléro (Béjart). Initially, this was the night I was least excited about. I’ve wanted to see Suite en Blanc for a long time (and how nice to finally see some Lifar in New York, in Balanchine’s theater no less!) but I didn’t really know that much about L’Arlésienne, and I’ve never liked the music for Boléro, so I must admit to having been less than psyched about seeing Bejart’s version. In a happy turn of events, I cannot imagine a better opening night; it was a triumph (with some very minor complaints).
Suite en Blanc was incredible. From the opening pose to the last one, time didn’t seem to exist; I just sat there and loved it. Now to details! "La Sieste", for me, seemed to be more about the choreography than the dancers. Aurelia Bellet, Marie-Solene Boulet, and Laura Hecquet were nice, but none of them made me go ‘wow!’ Seen as a whole though, it did feel very dreamy. "Thème Varié" united Cozette, Paquette and Bullion, and it went about as well as expected given that particular line up. But let’s move on. Nolwenn Daniel gave a light and bubbly quality to her "Sérénade" (which turns out to be possibly my favorite part choreography-wise). She didn’t turn the fouettés into a trick, they were just another step for her and she made them blend in. The audience didn’t know quite what to do here; we’re so used to clapping at the least provocation that by the time everyone realized that ‘Hey! Fouettés!’ she had moved on. The "Pas de Cinq" I loved as well. Alice Revanand is definitely a dancer I want to get to know more. She reminded me a bit of a fairy, as if the steps were so natural for her that she could just sort of play and be flirty and enjoy herself. Gillot replaced Letestu in "La Cigarette". Of course her technique is flawless, but I didn’t love her in the role. It just didn’t work with the rest of the ballet. I think I feel the same about her as I do about Sara Mearns at NYCB. I really would have loved to see Letestu do this. Thank goodness for YouTube! Does anyone know why Letestu was replaced? Is she injured? Ganio did the Mazurka which I thoroughly enjoyed; everything was big without being too heavy, which is no small feat considering the music! Dupont and Pech did the Adage which was lovely. My problem with Dupont is lack of expression (which is weird since she “loves to act”) but here it works; she can just be pretty, that’s fine. No acting required. What was really fun to see though, is that she and Pech clicked. There were moments on stage where they looked at each other and grinned a bit; I think they were having fun, which is wonderful because I really found it wonderful too! OK, last was La Flute with Gilbert, which couldn’t have been better. When little girls say they want to be a ballerina princess when they grow up, this is what they mean. By the finale I was ecstatic; this is why I love ballet.
L’Arlesienne I loved a bit less. Ciaravola was a great Vivette; very pretty and did a convincing job of comforting poor, desperate, Belingard’s Frédéri…but he sometimes forgot to act. Don’t get me wrong, technically there are no complaints or anything but his expressions kind of went in and out. I will say that his suicide scene was masterful. People around me gasped, which is always a good sign!
Finally, Bolero. I cannot be an impartial judge here; I really -really- dislike the music so there was a snowflake’s chance in Hell that this one would become one of my favorites. I will say that I loved Nicolas Le Riche who was, in a word, intense. His movements were so powerful that it almost seemed like he was trying to hold himself back during the rocking movements and suddenly he would escape and burst out of control. This might be because of the red table and the spotlight, but he made me think of a solar storm. In any case the audience loved it.
I think I understand what the Paris Opera was trying to do with this program: Show the US that they can do everything: classical, contemporary, you name it, they’re masters both in choreography and performing. That’s going to be hammered in with Giselle and Orpheus and Eurydice, but this was their introduction and it was big. I think once the audience kind of got a feel for the company they loved it. Applause for Suite en Blanc was OK, more than polite but less than enthusiastic; for L’Arlesienne it was warm; and after Bolero there was a standing ovation. As far as introductions go, this was perfect. I think New York is more than excited to see what else they’ve brought. Oh, this is exactly the way I wanted to end my ballet season! More please!