After Dances at a Gathering on Saturday night, I only wanted to stand quietly with the one I love and fantasize about how we could possibly try any of those lifts in our living room. Then, Appartement took me brutally back to the fact that our living room really needs a new coat of paint.
a) the music
b) the program notes
c) the fragile beauty of the dancers
…all contributed to my distress.
a) The music. Imagine this: a Celtic folk group takes poppers, plugs in the amps, and tries to play acid rock variations on Steve Reich. When, near the end, the guy playing a thing that kind of looked like a violin got a solo where nobody danced but “police, do not cross” tape stretched accross the stage – that’s it, not a dancer in sight for endless minutes — I found myself fervently wishing he were no longer there. That he had devolved into a chalk-drawn silhouette on the ground as the tape had promised.
b) The program’s “To read before the performance” section couldn’t manage to make a single link between the two ballets. One paragraph on Robbins, one on Ek and et voilà! as if perfectly cooked. Robbins’s Dances at a Gathering “is a luminous exploration of a community joyfully celebrating dance as it wells up out of Chopin’s music.” (L.Gilbert, trans. R. Neel). For Appartement, the editor needed to cite Ek in an old article from Le Figaro: “something about everyday life without heels [“high” is omitted in translation, we see plenty of heels mostly waved in the audience’s direction] and points[sic], and diametrically opposed to everything the building [Palais Garnier] suggests.” If I were grading this paper, I would say: 1) what is your thesis then? 2) needs conclusion to pull concepts together 3) I cannot grade this until you do a rewrite.
c) Yet the company is blessed with beautiful dancers who commit themselves heart and soul to whatever. And do it as beautifully as they can. But all I did was sit there worrying about the impact of this movement on their knees and ankles. Every tiny articulation (and Ek’s movements are always definitely pat-your-head-and-rub-your-stomach challenging) rang clearly to the last row. While a piece like Dances isn’t easy on the body either, it takes you on a voyage where you don’t find yourself analysing every single complex component of movement as it happens.
Muriel Zusperreguy and Alessio Carbone make a perfect and passionate pair with split-second timing. I mused about how I would love to see them in Giselle together – either regular size or Ek. His version of that ballet reaches out to balletomanes in a humane and sophisticated way. For despite Giselle’s woes, at least she didn’t roast her baby in a gas oven [when Zusperreguy pulled it out at the end of the duet and dumped it into her stricken partner’s arms, the roar of laughter from the audience at this punch line truly sickened me].
Vincent Chaillet’s grapple with the couch made me think of both my cat’s daily manoeuvres and Ben Vereen’s boneless Fosse slither (thus this dancer gave me a moment of grace). I want to see Adrien Couvez travel back in time and join Forsythe’s company of twenty years’ ago. God, it was good to see Vincent Cordier doing something other than King in Sleeping Beauty while there’s still time, using his regal presence to make something out of a nothing part. And it’s time for Marie-Agnès Gillot to get back into a goddamned tutu and dance in those ballets which are indeed “everything the building suggests.” She once gave us the softest of Paquita’s, where her feet lovingly caressed the floor, the most thrilling of Lilac Fairies where her gorgeous arms made the air around her seem thick and liquid…why does she insist on dancing in pieces where she keeps needing to sport knee pads?
This ballet gives me three choices. 1) down not one but several drinks before and after 2) go stick head in a bidet until, et voilà!, perfectly drowned. But if so, could I do it on stage at the Garnier as Gillot did? At least, as it’s the first scene, it would be a beautiful death. For I would die knowing that I would never have to endure the rest of this piece ever again. 3) buy paint for living room.
Appartement is one of those pieces that derives its chic from telling you: “Yes, you are getting old. You no longer think ugly is as cool as you once thought it was.” So… the day when the Theatre de la Ville – the Parisan temple of modern dance — decides to present this program, but Ek precedes Robbins (where the “this is not your comfy Palais Garnier” aspect of Appartement would perhaps actually prove funny), I might just try to believe in such conceptually “sophisticated” programming. For years now in Paris, ballet has been too apologetic and modern too full of itself. Both audiences are about the same age.
After enduring these 47 minutes of depressing ideas, images, and music, when I walked out onto the splendid swirling vista of the Avenue de l’Opéra, all I could see was garbage on the ground, ugly posters, ugly people.