Esprit de corps

It gladdens my heart that friends in New  York– one still quite new to ballet, the other a veteran of watching modern dance –  have discovered Giselle for the first time with the Paris Opera Ballet.  By definition, that meant that they would discover the work of the corps.

1) “Giselle” was breathtaking[…] the corps de ballet honestly shined the most. Some of their dancing left people around me gasping. Hopping on one flat foot and then going straight up to pointe without losing balance, brava!”

2) “my friend Kathy and I are floating after tonight’s performance of « Giselle » The NYTimes review [MacAuley, you don’t need a link] does not do it justice.  We particularly loved the second act – the corps was absolutely incredible! I had never seen « Giselle » live but Kathy has seen it multiple times and thought this corps was extraordinary and by far the best she has seen in any ballet.  We were not alone as the ovations were incredible – six curtain calls I think.”

The Paris Opera Ballet’s corps knows just how to float, and make the audience float with them. Sometimes one individual will attract your eye –Ciaravola and Gilbert, not too long ago, could hypnotize my binoculars – but never break the spell.

Even so, I had been leery of the POB’s choice to bring Giselle to the States.  That well-known Benois set that wobbles at every knock, those over-fluffy long tutus for the second act…and, good lord, New York gets to see Giselle almost as much as the Nutcracker!  Bo-or-ing.

I should have remembered that I owe my own love of ballet to the corps in, guess what?

My adorable godfather had treated me to my first ballet: Nutcracker, what else?  I hated it so much – only the“Snowflakes” made the evening tolerable — I cried when my parents stuck me two years later into a school that included ballet in the curriculum…While  I worked and worked at all of this painful and unnatural crap I kept thinking “blech, if I’m to end up in Nutcracker, what’s the point in all this?”

Then my glamorous friend Andrea  ( two year’s older! Quite a coup for a skinny and mournful mite) dragged me to see my second ballet ever: Giselle with ABT  (that company which later got lost along the way).

Whenever I find myself ending up with aching and dully-bruised knees – that means often, I’m clumsy — I think of that first Giselle.  I can still remember being both in pain and in heaven the end of that night.  Perched up on seats in the very last row, house right, at City Center – Andrea on the aisle, me one off.  My ears having begun to explode in response to the startlingly fresh yet structured music hammered up to us by the orchestra during the overture, I began to lean so far forward in this last seat up there that I kept repeatedly falling over onto my knees while the sound of the seat I should have sat on continually annoyed those around me by clapping shut.  I clonked down over and over again, despite Andrea hissing at me that I was making a fool of myself during each solo, duet, the mad scene. By Act II, giving up on the seat altogether, I basically remained in my position of prayer once the corps began to cross the stage.  Andrea started leaning forward…

I still get to tease her about her much too subtle fall-off-the-seat technique : when I tell her that once again in Paris I found myself slipping dangerously forward from my top-of-the-house seat during the second act of Giselle.

Therefore, I’ve been deeply concerned by the average two to four-year turnover in the ABT corps for years now.  It shows on stage.  It used to be a company of soloists who weren’t bothered by being part of the group for they knew they had a chance to one day get promoted.  That’s been lost:  you get stars plus background noise, not a family. I love the way Ailey and POB hold on to their dancers.  L’esprit de corps only works if each individual feels valuable. Neumeier does this in Hamburg, London’s Royal Ballet under Monica Mason found that feeling again, and Manuel Legris has started to give his corps in Vienna that same élan.

While, of course, the stars appeal to me, those who all sublimate their egos and urge to take over space in order to create a unified and living work of art for the audience to share with them remain my heros.  The corps? My definition of performance artists.

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