I was lucky enough to be in Paris a little over a week ago and had the opportunity to view some footage of the Paris Opera Ballet performing Symphony in C. Initially, I didn’t want to watch it. OK, actually the first time Cléopold tried to show it to me I think I ran away yelling about how I wanted to be surprised in New York (as I had done for Serenade). He suggested that, just maybe, studying and watching videos beforehand wouldn’t make the first performance less magical, but rather the opposite: knowing a little about what you’re seeing actually makes the performance way more fun and easier to understand. Go figure, he was right. As. Always.
What a treat! Watching the Paris Opera version made me excited to see it in New York, but what I noticed most, and actually one of the aspects that I continue to love about the Paris Opera in general, is how totally in control the dancers are. Every movement is deliberate and had a calmness or coolness about it. They never looked rushed or harried even though the piece is not what I would call serene, the music is quite fast, and the steps are very technically demanding.
This makes an excellent contrast to New York City Ballet, which I love for their energy and fire. Yes, every movement still has an intense level of precision and concentration (see: Whelan, Wendy), but the attitude behind the exact same steps is totally different. I wouldn’t call NYCB rushed, and they weren’t behind the music either, but every step felt fast and had sharpness. The dancers at NYCB have an attack that the Paris Opera does not use very often (exceptions: Forsythe, McGregor, etc). Please, please understand that I’m not saying that one is better than the other in any sense, just that they’re very different, and it’s fun to notice!
NYCB always dances with a high level of attack and energy because Balanchine wanted it that way. He even loved when people fell as it signified that they were really giving everything they had on the stage. On the other side of the pond, Paris Opera feels softer and has a lightness that I rarely see in New York. It’s like a velvety cabernet vs. a glass of champagne. Both are fantastic, but totally different.
Honestly, I could say the same thing about the companies’ respective homes. I live in New York, where everything is fast. In fact, everything happens NOW, and you’re probably late for something. “What are you waiting for, dear? Dance now! Do it now! You could get hit by a bus later!” Want to guess who said that? (It was Balanchine.) If there’s a piece that exemplifies the NYC speed, it would be Glass Pieces by Jerome Robbins (which they’re doing next spring. Oh yes, I’m excited already!). Paris, by contrast feels slower as a city. Yes, there were times when I was stressed and rushed there, but I’m trying to talk about the city’s atmosphere. How many people do you see power walking through a market? How many people run around with Starbucks cups because they need their caffeine fix right now? Some yes, but I would lay you money that they’re American students studying abroad. You feel the cities’ energy in the street, and you absolutely see it in their dancing. What a pleasure to be able to know and love both!
Next time: NYCB’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.