DAY ONE: THE BALLET DU CAPITOLE, TOULOUSE (evening of October 25)
LES MIRAGES (Lifar/Sauguet/Cassandre)
“Then you shall judge yourself,” the king answered. “That is the most difficult thing of all. […] If you succeed in judging yourself rightly, then you are indeed a man of true wisdom.”
Everyone who teaches a class on Existentialism should simply force the students to watch these two ballets – Les Mirages and Les Forains — and then tell them to hide all those hundreds of pages by Sartre under their beds along with their ripe underwear. Next assignment: go sit in a café and watch those passing by over a glass of the cheapest wine on the menu. Just what are all these people on the sidewalks running after? Love? Money? The moon and the stars? What do they think they will find in the end?
The story of Les Mirages is very much as if, say, a rather more ripe little prince had landed in a never-never-land filled with women, should have known better, and realized – a bit too late — that there’s no place like home. The fresh intensity of the Toulouse company’s interpretation kept me wondering – even if of course I knew – what would happen next.
In a smaller house, on a smaller stage, almost everything seemed magnified, larger than life: the music, the set, the costumes, the dancers.
The men of Toulouse are brawnier than those in Paris, and that physique brings us back to the 1940’s in a very positive way. More Jean Marais than Gérard Philipe, Avetik Karapetyan’s “Jeune Homme,” a faultless technician and obviously reassuring partner (five very distinct women at least, plus the random passerby!) brought that indefinable charisma that makes one of those “god I’m on the stage almost for the entire 45 minutes and I am playing a jerk and always turn to the right” roles seem like one of the best kinds of roles you could hope for. He gave an archetype a soul.
Maria Gutierrez’s sharply-distilled, yet unsettlingly tender, L’Ombre – the clueless young man’s shadow, his shade, his subconscious, the truth about himself that he doesn’t want to face –was likened by Cléopold to a guardian angel. We both noticed the subtle way that she and Karapetyan seemed a microsecond off of the polished synchronization you get at the Paris Opera. And that opened our eyes. Suddenly the point of l’Ombre, to me, evoked Echo and her frustrations with a beloved Narcissus. She is unable to speak first yet ever condemned to always have the last word. More than saddened by her charge’s repeated follies – his chasing after Caroline Betancourt’s shifty bird of paradise, who moved so fast she blurred, or seeming to learn to breathe again while clasping Beatrice Carbone’s graciously swirling Art Deco curves to what he thinks is his heart – Gutierrez’s frustrated stabs at the ground with her toes, her wind-milling arms, her sudden still balances, all conspired to break my heart. I’ve never seen an Ombre so saddened by human folly. And the only way to do this is to turn off the Parisienne’s chic, to let go of irony. To despair, as one might have, in 1944.
LES FORAINS (R.Petit/Sauguet/Bérard)
“It is such a secret place, the land of tears.”
I have a soft spot for Les Forains [The Carneys]. That’s when I first spotted –evening after evening – Myriam Ould-Braham seeming to glow as one of the Siamese twins in Paris. Here I couldn’t focus my eyes exclusively on anyone, for the passion of everyone on stage, including that of the “spectators,” became overwhelming. Did you know that Piaf needed to record a new song based on the mood and music after seeing this very ballet?
I wonder what more Piaf would have given that song if Philippe Béran had been conducting and she had seen this company.
The Toulouse dancers, even when “just watching” with little to do, redefined the phrase “I belong to a company.” That group feeling became completely electrifying and amplified the impact of this terrible story about the loss of hope: a starving family circus troupe along with some minor talents it has adopted, put on a show and then try to pass around the hat. Day after day after day. Roland Petit’s ballet, which premiered in March 1945, recounts just one of those hungry and hopeless days. It makes you feel like an overfed voyeur content to look through a spyglass at human misery, and who brushes it off while looking for a taxi. Alas, this is one story that will never go out of date.
Yet the ballet, like hope, can be delicious if danced by the likes of Artyom Maksakov (a generous and unusually youthful and hopeful Magician, heartbreaking in the subtle way he declined how his illusions of patriarchal strength was been chipped at and then shattered by an axe-like blow near the end – what an actor!); Alexander Akulov (not only a Clown blessed with ballon and élan but…what an actor! He almost convinced me that his character was called “The Narrator”); Beatrice Carbone (fearless as The Beauty Asleep, she seemed to galvanize the onstage onlookers with energy forged by many Kitris); and Virginie Baïet-Dartigalongue (as Loïe Fulller—who remembers Loie Fuller? — who literally set the stage the moment the weary beauty of her persona walked out on to it).
A rapt audience seemed to float out of the theater, their heads in the clouds still. Yet feet dragged, for this meant leaving Sauguet’s music and Toulouse’s dancers behind and returning to this mundane earth. I yearned to doff my hat but, alas, it proved to be only a « boa constrictor from the outside » and needed time to digest these delicious treats.
[All citations are from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s « The Little Prince » from 1943, in its translation by Katherine Woods].