The Nureyev “Gala” in Paris: I was there, but Nureyev definitely wasn’t.

P1010033What a stunningly lukewarm tribute to a glorious past. If, quite often, some piece turned out to be cleverly — even beautifully — danced, what the evening consistently denied the audience was a sense of how Nureyev had touched the lives of the dancers in this company.

The evening began with a 4-minute slide-show of photos set to Swan Lake’s polonaise. And then, as they say in Italy, è basta. No films of rehearsals, no other reminders during the evening, no tributes at the end, no nothing.

Craning my neck around from my seat even before the evening started, I had been delighted to spot many who once served to inspire Nureyev’s obsessively revisited stagings of remembered worlds of choreography during his tenure in Paris. All of these retired but far-from-dead dancers continue to speak eloquently and openly at other venues about how Nureyev’s passion for dancing inspired their own. Yet not a single one had been drafted to pass along to us this night what they knew of Nureyev, to say a few words, (even on video) before each piece. How I wish that at least they had all been invited onstage at the very end to take a group révérence.

Nureyev’s inventiveness as a choreographer remained equally unacknowledged due to the choice of excerpts.

Why present so many warhorse standards that only shed dim light on what Nureyev had once wrought? We just went through 24 “Don Quichotte’s” two months ago: so did we really have to revisit the entire pas de deux which is the least “Nureyev-y” part of the production, to then only be offered a taste — the entrada and adagio — of the Black Swan pas de deux which he’d idiosyncratically expanded into a pas de trois with that unusual solo for Rothbart/himself?

After Raymonda’s “clapping variation” my mind drifted to how many dancers in the audience had been directly involved in the enormous adventure of “Raymonda.” Nureyev had filled out the life of this ballet by bringing each character to the fore. He transformed the small mime-y roles of Henriette and Clémence, of Bernard and Béranger, into fully and deftly danced ones. Where was the pas de six? Where was the great big waltz for a full corps of boys and girls? And where did they hide that beautiful and exotic and manly creation, Abderahm, with his – for its time — devastating synthesis of classic and modern impulses?

Most of all, I wondered what had happened to the male corps de ballet which Nureyev was purported to have re-energized? It must have been dancing outside the house during those first four minutes of slides when the orchestra had attacked the polonaise and then gone home. Our one moment with more than a four men at a time — Don Q’s fandango — while certainly inventive and stylish, doesn’t really bring any of the technical and expressive abilities of the male corps to the forefront.

An “homage” to Nureyev where men hardly dance at all? Is that possible? In peevish response, I will not mention a single ballerina in this summary.

Almost all of the leading men got stuck being wallpaper. We caught glimpses of: Hervé Moreau, Benjamin Pech, Mathieu Ganio, Stéphane Phavorin, Audric Bézard, Vincent Chaillet, Yann Saiz : all relegated to supporting females  in pirouettes or penchées, The men got to do their moves as if the pre-Nureyev, no, the pre–Nijinsky ukaze against male dancers daring to be other than moving-men was still in force. As in: we do our best, but nobody wants to look at us anyway.

Duquenne tried, stretching out the energy of his arabesques as Nureyev would have liked in the Nutcracker Snow Scene. Magnenet brought energy and delight to “Cendrillon.” Le Riche shrugged off this atmosphere  and charmed his way into Juliet’s heart during the balcony scene from « Roméo ». Each time: a female partner. What about Nureyev’s  many duets and trios for guys?

The only masculine solo saved the evening for me. Nureyev would have relished the way Matthias Heymann returned to the stage after a major injury. Nureyev had always loved beautiful movement full-out, had loved honesty in the moment, had used his eye to pick out those dancers who come fully alive on stage, who need and want to have us out there in the dark. Heymann’s ecstatic resurrection as Byron’s/Nureyev’s ill-begotten “Manfred” provided a rare moment of grace.  Perhaps the only true homage all night.

The evening ended with bits of the last act of “La Bayadère,” including the languorous descent of 32 ballerinas, lovely, albeit no longer an unusual feat for most companies. Why not the devilishly complex fugue for the boys and girls from the first act of his “Swan Lake?” Or the many other moments from Nureyev’s “Bayadère” when male dancers do take part? Or, or… (As Solor, Stéphane Bullion mostly provided wallpaper too).

Perhaps that is why none of Nureyev’s dancers took to the stage at the end of the evening. This provincial gala had had nothing to do with what Nureyev had taught them – and us – about ballet.

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