Onéguine at the Palais Garnier. At a Sunday matinee, February 23, 2014: Ciaravola, Moreau, Giezendanner, Heymann, Paquette.
I knew I would not be able to add to the comments of those who attended Ciaravola’s adieux this last Friday. So this will be about an earlier performance by the same cast, very different in its nuances because artists bring new colors to a character every time they step into the light.
Frankly, I didn’t want to talk about this penultimate performance either and procrastinated. Out of selfishness. I wanted to lock the memories away in a tiny, golden, silk-lined box that I, and only I, could peek into. I would inhale these varied and delicious fragrances during those dark moments when I’d forgotten that the technical demands of dance are only meant to enable dancers to embody poetry in motion, to distill song into drops of perfume, to free emotion from the bonds of words and technique itself. It’s been a long time since a performance made me remember all the ways it can feel like to be sixteen.
“The hills, like giants at a hunting, lay/Chin upon hand, to see the game at play.” [Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came]
Right away, the complex loving bond between Isabelle Ciaravola –Tatiana (boy, does she make “chin in hand, reading” come alive!) and her utterly guileless and radiant little sister (Charline Giezendanner-Olga) warmed the heart. With her torso always just ever so slightly inclined forward as in a 19th century lithograph, fleet and buoyant, Giezendanner seemed to be humming to herself the opera’s teasing and guileless “when I hear those songs, all I want to do is dance.”
“She looked at him, as one who awakes:/The past was a sleep, and her life began.” [The Statue and the Bust]
Both sisters let us experience this. Giezendanner folds naturally and sweetly into Mathias Heymann-Lensky’s open chest. Their duet didn’t look like a series of steps, but as if Olga had added “to dance…with you” to her song and the tenor’s “I love you” could be heard whispered in the background at the same time. Their lines, musical attack, their innate feeling for spin and then drift in balance and then to gently de-accelerate always brought them together. Heymann achieves one of the hardest, yet simplest, things: on your very first day of ballet class, the teacher tells you to always use your upper body in 1st to 5th “as if you were holding the sun inside your arms.” Most of us never get there. Heymann does that, and carries that over into partnering too.
“For I say, this is death, and the sole death,/When a man’s loss comes to him from his gain,/Darkness from light, from knowledge ignorance./ And lack of love from love made manifest.” [De Gustibus]
Hervé Moreau’s instantly provided a man truly depressed who saw all of life in dull grey and could feel nothing deeply, high nor low. He seemed to add another – much less cynical — albeit efficiently cold– layer of backstory to Pushkin’s already dense Chapter One. Something in the eyes, a soft and sinuous attack added to a mysterious aura, where something seemed frozen inside. He distilled the essence of exactly the kind of man so many women feel they need to “help.” He gave a glimmer (through a shoulder or a hand) that even if life he believed life sucked he didn’t too much mind being touched on the shoulder by this young girl.
Moreau here gave us that Parisian purity of subtle technique and épaulement that American critics deem cold because they seem to want all dancers, like waiters, step out onstage and say “Hi, my name is Bob and I will be serving you ten pirouettes tonight.” Well, he certainly served up a haunted solo, where he sang only for himself, not us, and especially not for Tatiana. I had a hard time taking my eyes off of Ciaravola just watching him dance. Her delicate little movements, not in the least intended to upstage – a hand on the heart moving up to the neck and down to the solar plexus; a sigh, widened eyes; an arm starting to reach out but checked — responded to each moment of his soliloquy as if trying to turn it into a conversation. Indeed I have the oddest feeling that I was tricked into seeing him through her eyes: he is unhappy because he doesn’t understand himself.
“At the midnight in the silence of the sleep-time,/ When you set your fancies free.” [Epiglogue to Asolando]
This is embarrassing, but here goes. Watching the dream scene with these two, I felt as shocked and defenseless as Anton Ego the food critic in “Ratatouille” when a bite of food zapped him back into his mother’s kitchen. That’s it! At sixteen (were those the days?) imagining being kissed on the nape of your neck and then leaping into a big lift was as far as your fantasy could stretch. John Cranko understood us.
Pure romanticism, completely seen from Tatiana’s viewpoint, with the orchestra – for once playing coherently for this series under James Tuggle’s responsive direction – stretching and pausing the music to match and suspend in thin air the dreamlike floating ethereal innocent electricity that connected Ciaravola to Moreau. Of course I know the steps require her to jump and help her partner, the skill he needs to make her seem to swoop and hit the ground precisely, but I could forget all that and all I could see was a young girl suspended in thin air, the way you find it normal fly in your dreams.
“White shall not neutralize the black, nor good/Compensate bad in man, absolve him so:/Life’s business being just the terrible choice.” [The Ring and the Book].
Because we all know about his horrible injury, how much do I read into Heymann’s steps now? Each time I see him, I cannot determine whether he uses his body to express love of life or to sing his love of dance for they seem completely intertwined. Heymann danced more than full out, using Cranko’s up and down, forward and backward, arching and aching steps to articulate every thought that might occur to a man who knows he has willingly brought on his own demise and needs to use this one last chance to feel every part of his body from the top of his head to the tips of his fingers to the ends of his toes. He filled space the way Sergei Lemeshev’s voice did in 1937: I found Giezendanner and Ciaravola nuanced their pleas to him – no mistake, despite the confusing schmattes, which of them was the loved one and which one the fond older sister — doubling his trouble.
ONEGIN AT GREMIN’S
“For life, with all its yields of joy and woe,/ And hope and fear, – believe the aged friend – /Is just a chance o’ the prize of learning love.” [De Gustibus]
Moreau, slightly gray-powdered and thankfully without the moustache, gave tensile strength and more than a touch of despair to the “ghosts of women past” scene. Indeed, he reminded me of how the choreography here feeds on Albrecht’s encounter with the wilis.
Karl Paquette’s Gremin, who had proved most present and observant at Mme. Larina’s country ball, has clearly figured out what happened, and certainly knows that even if his radiant wife “adores” him — a Ciaravola too obviously smiling and relaxing into these much less taxing but, oh, so more reliable arms — she doesn’t really love him “that way.” His melancholy and reserved prince had a bit of Siegfried lurking around the edges. Courtly, properly proud to present his wife, here Paquette, in the way he touched and manipulated his wife’s body, fully expressed a complicated melancholy – an inner life and story – that proved compelling. I’ve not often wished Gremin to have a solo, as in the opera, before. Sunday’s Gremin would have deserved one.
“Love, we are in God’s hand. How strange now looks the life he makes us lead. / So free we seem, so fettered fast we are.” [Andrea del Sarto].
I could hear his letters, I could swear I heard her monologue. And for the first time in a very long time I began to wonder about how it all would end and actually started hoping for them to run off together à la Karenina. No two combinations were the same, every look, every fall, added more words. A dense thicket of call and response. I don’t quite know how Moreau managed to grab Ciaravola’s shoulders in so many varied ways, to kiss her neck both as gently and as ravenously as if his life depended on it. He communicated (especially in the way he progressively opened up his catches after the lifts) how his eyes and chest had been forced open by this dazzling creature.
Pushkin leaves the reader dangling: “you’ve heard enough about our hero, I will leave him and you be.” This Onegin obviously heads out to leap into the Neva, and this Tatiana knows that. But in the moment before his body hits the icy river, Onegin will experience the happiness that had eluded him so far: he will forever remember how Ciaravola melted for a few seconds into his needy heart.
So will we.