Archives d’Auteur: Fenella

À propos de Fenella

Pour ne pas rester muette, car je n'ai pas les deux pieds dans le même sabot, i will write in English.

Mayerling in Paris : deadly…


Mayerling. Hugo Marchand and Dorothée Gilbert as Rudolf and Marie.

As Joseph II of Austria once purportedly said, even a Mozart can produce something with “too many notes.”

After descending the grand staircase at the Palais Garnier, I stopped at one of the pulpits to buy the illustrated program. Before I could say “bonsoir,” the clearly exhausted usher, without looking up, launched into the bilingual mantra she had obviously been repeating all evening: “there is a plot summary in it! Cast list! Y’a un synopsis dedans, of course!”

That’s not a good sign for a story ballet. Especially one based on history that has become a film and television and touristic cliché: the Decline of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

But if we are in SissiLand, as one visitor to the Palace of Schönbrunn once called Vienna, exactly which one of these equally young women on stage is the Empress Sissi? Despite Scene One, my young neighbour and seatmate admitted during intermission that he had no idea that the tense and sad pas de deux with Rudolf in Scene Two had been with his mother. “Maybe she should have stayed inside the same costume from Scene One? “

My neighbour made a nostalgic reference to how Ophuls’s film of Schnitzler’s La Ronde, set in the same Viennese fin de siècle twilight as this, still makes who is who so easy to follow nearly a hundred years later. Then he began to enumerate silent movies that aren’t that hard to understand, either. “Do they ever use inter-titles in ballet?” he suggested, full of hope.

As to this scene, it turns out that consulting the illustrated program afterwards – the one with a Plot summary! Cast list! – won’t help in any case. “SA peine” [a feminine noun in French despite the object] was translated as “HER grief.” Instead of clarifying that Rudolf was reaching out to his mother with HIS grief, he had been somehow upset for her.  Which was not the case at all. Confusing.

After that scene with “her” grief, we discovered the anti-hero in a different bedroom playing with guns and skulls and yet another young woman. Who she?

You get the picture, it takes an age to figure out who is who, sort of, as there are just too, too, many anxious women and men in fancy wigs buzzing around.  Actually, the wigs help: the redhead, the blonde, the one with bangs.  But do wigs mean anything dramatically? I wonder how many in the audience inhaled and sat back and then sat up straight: “oh damn now who is this new woman with long loose dark hair” during Act Three Scene Two? Ha! fooled ya, it’s Sissi’s New Look.

Let’s not even mention my neighbour’s confusion concerning “those four guys who hang out and seem quite loyal to Rudolf, but seem a bit threatening.” “They are Hungarians who want their country to leave the Empire.” “Really? Wow. I never would have guessed that.” It doesn’t help that they do parallel turn-ins à la Russe and in the cast list are not even given one of that plethora of given-names that only a historian could identify (Count Hoyos? Are you serious?) Upon reflection, my neighbour thought that announcing them as “These four mystery men who lurk on the stage and then on the apron have been added to cover the noise and tedium of scene changes” would have been clearer.

I could go on and on about the “hunh?” factor concerning the narrative: imperial boyfriends and girlfriends galore. Then there is Bratfisch, oh god. (Marc Moreau was both funny and touching and danced with zest, but nobody in the audience had a clue as to why he kept popping up in the narrative in the first place). FYI Bratfish is not an old boy-friend, he is the designated Imperial Coachman Loyal To Rudolf Until Death Do Us Part.

Of course I’ve seen this ballet before. But every single time it takes me ages to finally concentrate on the dancers dancing and acting out about something because I’m just too distracted by trying to channel the Almanach de Gotha. I usually fight hard to get to see every cast for a ballet. I only had a ticket for this one. But should another pop up, I will probably say, “not in this lifetime.” Or better yet: “over my dead body.”


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So, now, as to the leads: Hugo Marchard’s Rudolf is a brusque and sardonic Laurence Olivier-y Hamlet, utterly confused and repulsed by his compulsive need for women’s approval.  Dorothée Gilbert’s Mary Vetsera is more Nureyev’s Clara: she has seen too much of adult life, and tries to mimic it. She has had a theoretical understanding of love, gleaned from overheard gossip provided by the, many, many, women whooshing around her. Her role makes it clear that long before the Internet naive young women were already being groomed by their environment to pleasingly submit to dominant males. I can’t say this pair clicked as “gilbertmarchand” at first, but by the end they convinced me of their “folie à deux.”

I am looking forward to seeing them in Manon”s last pas de deux this summer instead. Perhaps that illustrated program in English translation will contain no more oxymorons such as: “The tragedy reached its tragic conclusion.” And have you ever heard of a “twin suicide?” I’ve heard of the Twin Towers, but as far as I know, few twins were on stage. What was demonstrated at the end of the ballet by the leads was a “murder-suicide.”

Hannah O’Neill, identified as Countess Marie Larisch in the program, grew on me and my seatmate and the audience. She’s the one in the blue dress at first, reddish wig, etc…but with glinting eyes and a unique elegance that went beyond all that — so easy to partner, like Dorothée Gilbert, that every trick seems effortless. O’Neill’s Larisch was the character my seatmate “got” almost at once as an old flame/friend/pimp à la Pompadour. He rooted for her, a discarded girlfriend (out of those too many discarded girlfriends who dominated space on the stage).

As poor Princess Stephanie, the ugly duckling Belgian devout political pawn married off to an Austrian sex maniac, Silvia Saint-Martin came off more as spoiled and stiff rather than frightened or anguished. As Rudolf’s woe-begotten bride remains in costumed variations of white and cream, my neighbour DID understand later on that a woman standing stiffly downstage-left in Act Two was the same character who had been flung about and humiliated at the end of Act One…But then he said, ”but who is she supposed to be in the first place, exactly? She never reacts to anything.”

Mitzi Caspar, what a great role and what waste at the same time. This character appears onstage in Act Two for One Scene that’s all and then hangs around somewhere backstage in costume for an hour and a half waiting for the final curtain calls. Valentine Colasante’s prostitute  — joyful and easy-going and gorgeously all there — finished every whirl with unfussy, light, and impressive suspension. With her long neck and relaxed tilts of the head, she was lit from within. Her dance with Marchand’s Rudolf felt trusting and warmly in synch. They even gave us the illusion that the heavily re-orchestrated Liszt had lifted up its head too for a while. That’s so cool: dancers making the music sound better.

Let it be said: the cast on stage was not helped by the languidly-conducted Liszt score that dragged us down. The orchestra provided zero swing or swoop, especially in the last act. My neighbor noted that a lot of the musicians were awfully young. “Is that normal for a Grand Opera?” “No.” Poor dancers, poor us.

As stunning and challenging as MacMillan’s passionate acrobatic pas de deux can be for dancers, this thing called Mayerling ends up delivering an exercise in narrative tedium.


The Family-Crypt of the Habsburgs in Vienna.


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Classé dans Humeurs d'abonnés, Retours de la Grande boutique

Le Temps d’Aimer la Danse 2022 (5) : « A Carnival of the Animals »

Le Temps d’aimer festival in Biarritz

Saturday-Sunday, September 10-11

When you will go to Biarritz’s fall dance festival next September, you will be trying to run from place to place as fast as a thoroughbred. Be prepared: You will spend your time running around the town and its ‘burbs like a headless chicken unless you hire a limo, and even with a blessed limo you can’t be in two places at the same time.

For an article in French by Cléopold on the same shows, click here.

CERCLE EGAL DEMI-CERCLE AU CARRE par la COMPAGNIE DIFE KAKO, chorégraphe CHANTAL LOIAL, Photographie de Stéphane Bellocq.


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Proyecto Larrua. « Idi Begi »

Saturday, September 10

14h on the esplanade Théâtre du Casino Municipal

Proyecto Larrua: Idi Begi

The entire piece seems to be taking place in slowed-down motion inside your head. Have you ever milked a cow? Felt the warm, silent, yet titanic weight of that flank as you rested your head against it? Those ten minutes feel completely out of time, just as this piece did.

Idi Begi means “ox eye.” Idi probak” means “pull bull,” a competition between farmers. A lot of Basque games – and this is Basque country — seem to be about skilful shows of force. I’d have called this perfectly formed 15 minute piece, one of the winners of the Artepean choreographer’s competition: “Agon.”

To the thunderous and then plaintive sounds of what seem to be pots and pans or maybe cowbells, a bent over and already worn duo with heavy hanging heads trot slowly as they submit to a dominator with a long stick.

Yet the downtrodden mood doesn’t feel violent or frightening, but uncertain and volatile instead. A stylized power struggle, played out through the weight and push and pull these three dancers give to their movements. The dominated tread along and slowly and painfully, yet as bodies intertwine you start to lose the sense of who is on top. Images of paintings of powerful peasants and beasts, the heavy and symbiotic lives they led together, flashed through my mind.


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Saturday, September 10, 9 p.m.

Théâtre du Casino Municipal

Companie Difé Kako

“Cercle égal demi-cercle au carré” [A circle equals a semi-circle squared]

In this increasingly mean and ugly world – where we talk at and not to each other, particularly when the issues at stake include colonialism, racism, and ageism — civilized discourse, friendly interchange, has become as rare as hens’ teeth.  At this performance you witnessed the best kind of cross-pollination as a joyous swarm of colourful bees and dignified butterflies fluttered and stomped around each other in good and infectious cheer.

Welcome to Difé Kako [Things Will Get Hot] a joyously inclusive company of musician dancers of all colors (including pink) and all ages (from young adult to senior). And I mean inclusive: from the get-go the seated audience buzzed, tickled by the fact that after the performance they were invited to another venue where they could meet and dance with the entire company.

At first you are a bit bewildered by what is successively projected on the backdrop: squares (okay that’s part of the title), then ocean waves, then a tan rider galloping on a horse, then odd dated black and white footage of expressionless white men perfecting dressage. It all takes a while to sink in. But when a “caller” shouts out to her dancing “cavaliers” [one of the many words in Creole that you can easily figure out] you start to get it. Aha, not only ballet but the patterns of most old social dances took their inspiration from horses [the term “balletto” was originally coined during the Renaissance to describe intricate horseback parades]. To put it another way: in a past life you were probably either a slave or serf, but when you appropriate these European dances you, too, are as glorious as a knight in shining armor.

The dance varied back and forth in waves. The swooping and dignified quadrilles of the elders were mesmerizing. A quadrille with a caller…a square dance? Of course, that’s how it translates. Yet the first term evokes Marie-Antoinette while the second is Americanized. These church ladies’ casually dextrous use of their fans and the sloping angles of their necks took me straight back to the elegance of the ancien regime, too cool for barn-raisings. One particularly elegant man with jaunty tipped hat and a whisper of a smile wiggled in the lightest and the least emphatic of increments. You could see the energy reserved deep down below the surface, and that he was readied to dance all night. He stole my heart.

Alternatively –and even when the whole company fills the stage — the youth stomps and bops, play with every way to move from Ministry of Silly Walks stalks to hip swivels and wiggles, to two-steps or to gallops around the stage. They even tease each other by imitating the pecks only chickens use to check each other out.

Several members of the younger troupe of dancers meanwhile flowed back and forth from the dance floor to the bandstand house right where they’d join the percussionists and pick up a base, or a sailor’s concertina, or a wood/metal block or with maracas or fiddle. Song and words floated atop the air.

At one point, the ecstatic dance stops as the youths turn to stare at the screen and watch themselves dancing to the sound of a flute on a volcanic hillside in the Antilles.

Absolutely nothing matched, but everything in this patchwork (down to the chequered fabrics that somehow hung on to belts) seemed to be all the right ingredients you’d need for a savory stew. There are are words for “just throw it all it the pot and it will end up delicious” in every single language, after all.

It was marvellous to watch the audience stream out at the end, so much more buoyant than when it fussily trooped in. Now we were ready and willing to engage in conversation, and did. If you open your mind and heart to others you will live and learn. It’s never too late.


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Kukai Dantza. « Eta orain zer? » Photographie ©stephane Bellocq

Sunday, September 11, 9 p.m.

Atabal (not exactly in the center of Biarritz)

Kukai Dantza  “Et oran zer?”

Atabal, like the other suburb of Anglet where I had found “Tumulus” the day before, is kind of in the middle of nowhere outside the resort town of Biarritz. These new venues are quasi-impossible to get to on public transportation on a Sunday. Indeed the space used for this performance seemed to be nothing more than an industrial zone hangar, despite the raised stage area.

You panic about arriving late, worried about the “open seating” plan, then realize that both audience and performers are upright and scattered all over the place. Where is the vantage point where you could sit semi-comfortably on the floor or even lean exhausted by the day you’d just had against a wall? Nowhere. [About an hour in, this turned out to be clearly painful for a valiant elderly gent with a cane who I couldn’t take my eyes off of to the point of worrying about him rather than the dancers. He was a real trooper and survived].

“Eta oran zer”/”And what comes next?” or even “Now what?” turns out to be a roiling group of ten dancers and a plethora of ambulating musicians and their conductor who all couldn’t care less where the stage happens to be traditionally located. You are supposedly part of the performance, swivelling around to follow one dancer or the other from one spot to a palm-held illuminated spot, then unwittingly get encircled and swept into the center like sheep, then pushed back out to the edges of the dance floor.

During the hour and more than a half of Et Oran Zer, these dancers/border collies –gently, but with pre-planned determination and startlingly cold hands —  forced the audience to be squared, circled, and divided.

You might catch and enjoy some energetic Basque references. A girl keeps repeating a Basque flurry of beaten jumps in whiplash fashion (the entrechat-six, among other steps, were integrated into Louis XIV’s new – the world’s first– vocabulary of ballet). Tours en l’air, also of Basque origin, proliferate. And then these hints of an ancient culture translated themselves into delicious hip-hops, crumps and slides. I was particularly taken by the scary intensity of the dancer who looks just like Keith Haring, sans the glasses.

Unlike last night with Difé Kako, however, tonight I didn’t feel included. Just getting pushed about, hither and yon, for no clear reason. And, alas, way too early into the thing we got pushed out of the centre and got to stand around in a circle and watch. Forty-five minutes of just standing around, clearly disinvited to the dance, became endless. Might as well provide seats, then, in the first place.


Kukai Dantza. « Eta orain zer? » Photographie ©stephane Bellocq

At several turns during this festival, you could run into troupes of Basque dancers, sometimes already bouncing on the plaza as you walked out of a venue. Each time, amateurs young and old would join the professionals and demonstrate an ingrained mastery of complex steps and patterns and exchanges. Unlike so many places where “folk dance is like so yesterday,” — Hungary included — here in the southwest of France these peasant dances remain a strong vector of identity, a part of everyday life. I envy how hopping up to the plate in your espadrilles has never stopped being an easy and normal thing that anchors you to a sense of communal and intergenerational identity. Look up some Basque dances and try them out in front of your mirror: it takes a will of steel to learn these deliciously complex steps and patterns. You gotta be born into it.

As for the music, I was instantly amused as I walked into the performance space only to catch tiny threads of  “L’Arlesienne.” Bizet’s eponymous heroine is a mirage whom you will never see. And that seemed like a cool metaphor. But then the music moved on to a catchy melodic hodgepodge of folk-ish instruments like fiddle and flute and ambulating cello, a real score. Alas, the inventive live de-ambulating orchestra’s mesmerizing sound finally faded into in to the predictable beats of a recorded soundtrack about twenty minutes before the end.

Shatteringly loud house techno took over. I pulled back like a terrified mouse and crouched in a corner behind the amps, hoping to spare my ears. In any case, the audience had long been reduced to the usual status of immobile passive onlookers, gaping at dancers whirling in the centered spotlight. I peeked out and watched through the legs of the crowd of static onlookers. Not one amateur Basque dancer’s leg stepped out to join in.

When I walked out of that hangar, I was more panicked about finding the next bus back to town than hushed in reverie. After what I had just experienced, honestly, I felt as deflated and exhausted as a lab rat.

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Le Temps d’Aimer la Danse 2022 (3) : Tumulus. Wondering in the round

Sunday, September 11, 7 p.m.

Théâtre Quintaou in Anglet near Biarritz

François Chaignaud and Geoffroy Jourdain



Tumulus. François Chaignaud et Geoffroy Jourdain. Photographie ©Olivier_Houeix

Did you know that the origin of the word audience is “audio” aka “to hear?” In the choral work that is “Tumulus,” the sound-scape, the landscape, the dance-scape, and the potentially fertile soil that we also call the public must merge or else…

Throughout, you could hear coughing and rustling of programmes and little rude guffaws of incomprehension. Sometimes, you just get it or you don’t. Even I am not sure that I “got it.” And while I hate that I probably got most of it wrong, I am glad this company challenged me to surrender to their mysterious ritual.

All about this solemn, otherworldly, and vaguely creepy realm – the dry clack of wood blocks, eerie soprano voices, and tinkling Renaissance glissandi and ostinatos of movement and sound — evoked the out of time world of the fairies in Britten’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, not the easiest of operas.

At the start, the cast silently descends the aisle sporting what seem to be puffy Elizabethan brigandines and fraises geometrically cut from darkly-colored down coats. Now clustered onstage in front of the towering tumulus from which the piece takes its name, fingers began to play 12345, 12345. And a counter-clockwise procession took shape, one that would appear only to disappear and continue to evolve in subtly shifting shapes for the next hour and a half.

Are they lost pilgrims?

Voices emerge from the bodies misshaped by fat fabric, ancient sounding melancholy melody thrummed. The a-cappella voices both disturbed and reassured, as in a requiem (I could only check the program afterwards, it was one! What had seemed vaguely familiar were beautiful live renditions of not only Byrd and Desprez, but even more obscure Renaissance composers).

The dancer-singers disappeared one by one behind the mound, only to re-emerge, their costumes reconfigured into what can only be described as Renaissance space suits.  And the roundelay continued.

Is this going to be dance of death about global warming?

Rounding the hill, they re-emerge one by one, – their costumes now dismantled to reveal calves ensconced in ragged “greaves” (ankle-to-knee knightly leggings) – they proceed onwards. Often leaning forward in parallel on bent knees, low developée heel first, hands stretched forwards as if advancing in the dark. Hands describe small shapes.

Are these peasants fleeing the Swedes during the Thirty Years War?

You are now sucked in – or absolutely not — by the soundscape produced by these bodies, in light or shadow, which grew bigger with little clicks of sticks on metal or wood, with the sound of thirteen silhouettes breathing and panting, murmuring, whispering and threading to their own lulling liturgical chants. And their basse dance/baixa continues in triple or double time, with some plies in seconde, round and round the earthen mound.

Are these elves in exile?

A soprano ascended the hillside and suddenly the energy shifted from horizontal to vertical. Three others of the group re-appear wielding three gigantic straw hats, vaguely Mexican and start to climb.

Are these people supposed to be from Chichen Itza?


Tumulus. François Chaignaud et Geoffroy Jourdain. Photographie ©Olivier_Houeix

No, the hat thing goes nowhere.

 But the alternation between sound and silence, thwacks and squawks and chant gets more pronounced. Bodies push and pull and gain sharper angles with elbows spiking out and delicate hands.

Suddenly they all begin to stamp their feet: 1 2 3 4, 1  2, 1 2, and hop as if their ankles are tied. They clump together, they go tiptoe. A person is lifted for the first time, only to be swooped back face down to the ground, then another. The dancer-singers strew themselves, exhausted, on the hill, then burst into wild runs as if in a game of tag, up and down and around it.

Was that a reference to The Adoration of the Earth from Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring?

First running down the hill, now sliding, now all are sprawled atop the mound, heads dangling down, utterly still.

Is it over?

No. One hand starts clapping. They all slip under the hill and disappear.

Is it over?

No. They all come out and slowly restart, walking in backbends increasingly as if pulled by invisible strings, stripped to the bust, now wearing sparkly gamboised knight’s cuisses (Medieval quilted over the knee leggings).  Aha, here come the hats again.

The roundelay seems to be dancing backwards, bent knees, arms akimbo, and then around and around and in and out of the cleft in the hill and up and down and sliding.

Sitting in a row with their backs to us, the company slowly remove their leggings and stare up at those straw hats strewn upon the side of a random hill.

Is it over?

Yes. Did I want it to end? Strangely, no. Stepping back out into the sun, I was still wondering.


Tumulus. François Chaignaud et Geoffroy Jourdain. Photographie ©Olivier_Houeix


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« Tumulus » : « Tourner en rond » [libre traduction, Cléopold]

Saviez-vous que l’origine du mot « audience » [« public » en langue anglaise] est « audio », c’est-à-dire « entendre » ? Dans cette œuvre chorale qu’est Tumulus, l’espace sonore, le paysage, le plateau de danse et le terreau potentiellement fertile qu’on appellera le public doivent fusionner.

Tout du long, vous pouviez entendre des toux, des bruissements de programmes et de petits pouffements impolis d’incompréhension. Personnellement, je ne suis pas sûre d’avoir « compris ». Et bien que je haïsse l’idée que j’ai presque tout faux, je suis heureuse que cette compagnie m’ait mis au défi de m’abandonner à son mystérieux rituel.

Tout dans ce solennel, d’un autre monde et vaguement menaçant royaume – clacs secs sur wood blocks, voix de soprano haut perchées et tintements renaissants en ostinato de mouvements et de sons – évoquait le monde des fées du Midsummer Night’s Dream de Britten, pas le plus accessible des opéras.

Au commencement, la troupe descend silencieusement les allées de la salle, arborant ce qui semble être des brigandines et des fraises élisabéthaines coupées géométriquement dans des doudounes joufflues de teintes sombres. Désormais agrégés devant l’imposant tumulus qui donne son nom à la pièce, les doigts commencent à compter 12345, 12345. Et une procession évoluant dans le sens inverse des aiguilles d’une montre se forme, n’apparaissant que pour disparaître et évoluer en subtiles variations de forme pendant l’heure et demie suivante.

Sont-ils des pèlerins égarés ?

Des voix émergent de ces corps déformés par le tissu gonflé, des mélodies mélancoliques marmonnées sonnant ancien. Les voix a capella perturbent et rassurent à la fois, comme dans un requiem (n’ayant pu consulter le programme je n’ai réalisé qu’après que c’en était un ! Ce qui avait paru vaguement familier était en fait la belle interprétation en direct non seulement de Byrd et Desprez, mais de compositeurs encore plus obscurs de la Renaissance).

Les danseurs-chanteurs disparaissent un à un derrière le monticule pour en émerger avec des costumes reconfigurés qui peuvent seulement être décrits comme des combinaisons spatiales de la Renaissance. Et le rondeau de reprendre.

Va-t-on assister à une danse de mort au sujet du réchauffement climatique ?

Tournant autour du monticule, ils ré-émergent un par un – leurs costumes maintenant déchirés révélant des mollets enserrés dans des jambières en loques –, ils avancent toujours. Penchés le plus souvent vers l’avant en parallèle sur genoux pliés, avec des développés bas partant du talon, mains tendues vers l’avant comme s’ils avançaient dans l’obscurité. Les mains dessinent de petites formes.

Sont-ils des paysans fuyant les Suédois durant la guerre de trente ans ?

On est englouti, ou pas du tout, par l’univers sonore produit par ces corps, dans la lumière ou l’ombre, qui s’enfle de petits cliquetis de baguette sur du métal, par le son de ces treize silhouettes respirant, haletant, par leurs murmures, leurs chuchotements, et des bribes de leur apaisant chant liturgique. Et leur basse danse (Baixa) continue sur des comptes de 3 ou de 2, avec quelques pliés à la seconde, tournant et tournant encore autour du monticule en terre.

Sont-ils des elfes exilés ?

Une soprano grimpe enfin la colline et soudain l’énergie bascule de l’horizontal au vertical. Trois autres comparses apparaissent brandissant trois gigantesques chapeaux de paille vaguement mexicains et commencent à escalader la colline.

Ces gens sont-ils supposés venir de Chichen Itza ?

Non, la piste des chapeaux ne mène nulle part.

Mais l’alternance entre son et silence, entre sourd, strident et scandé devient toujours plus prononcée. Les corps poussent, tirent et gagnent en angularité avec coudes en position saillantes. Les paumes de mains, frottées l’une contre l’autre, susurrent.

Soudain, ils commencent tous à taper du pied,, 1.2, 1.2, et à sauter comme si leurs pieds étaient liés. Ils s’agglutinent, marchent sur la pointe des pieds. Une personne est soulevée en l’air pour la première fois avant d’être redirigée vers le sol la tête en bas, et puis c’est le tour d’une autre. Les danseurs-chanteurs se répandent pendant un moment sur la colline, épuisés, puis éclatent en courses folles comme pour une partie de « chat » de bas en haut et autour du monticule.

Etait-ce une référence à l’Adoration de la terre du Sacre du printemps de Stravinski ?

D’abord courir en bas de la colline, maintenant glisser, et maintenant tous étalés la tête vers le bas, complètement immobiles.

C’est fini ?

Non. Une main commence à frapper. Tout le monde glisse sous la colline et disparaît.

C’est fini ?

Non. Les voilà qui réapparaissent et ils recommencent à marcher le dos toujours plus courbés, comme s’ils étaient tirés par des fils invisibles, le torse dépouillé, portant désormais de scintillantes chausses matelassées de chevalier. Oh ! Et revoilà encore les grands chapeaux de paille !

Le rondeau semble désormais se dérouler à l’envers, genoux pliés, mains sur les hanches, et puis autour et puis dans et puis hors de la faille dans la colline, et puis encore en haut puis en bas et puis on se laisse glisser…

Assis en rang, dos au public, la compagnie retire lentement ses leggings et fixe intensément les chapeaux de paille disséminés sur le flanc de la colline.

C’est fini ?

Oui. Voulais-je que cela soit fini ? Étonnamment non. Retournant au soleil, mon esprit errait encore en cercle, en quête de sens.

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“Some enchanted evening/you may see …” (My spring season at the Paris Opera)

Just who wouldn’t want to be wandering about dressed in fluffy chiffon and suddenly encounter a gorgeous man in a forest glade under the moonlight? Um, today, that seems creepy. But not in the 19th century, when you would certainly meet a gentleman on one enchanted evening…« Who can explain it, who can tell you why? Fools give you reasons, wise men never try. »

Notes about the classics that were scheduled for this spring and summer season — La Bayadère, Midsummer Night’s Dream, Giselle — on call from April through July.


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After the confinement, filmed rehearsals, and then two live runs in succession, DOES ANYONE STILL WANT TO HEAR ABOUT LA BAYADERE? But maybe you are still Dreaming or Giselling, too?

Here are my notes.


« Some enchanted evening, you may see a stranger across a crowded room. And somehow you know, you know even then, That somehow you’ll see her again and again. »

April 21

In La Bayadère, if Ould-Braham’s Nikiya was as soft and naïve and childlike as Giselle. Bleuenn Batistoni’s  Gamzatti proved as hard and sleek as a modern-day Bathilde: an oligarch’s brat. [Albeit most of those kinds of women do not lift up their core and fill out the music]. Their interactions were as clear and bright and graphic as in a silent movie (in the good sense).

OB’s mind is racing from the start, telling a story to herself and us, desperate to know how this chapter ends. Partnering with the ardent Francesco Mura was so effortless, so “there in the zone.” He’s one of those who can speak even when his back is turned to you and live when he is off to the side, out of the spotlight. Mura is aflame and in character all the time.

OB snake scene, iridescent, relives their story from a deep place  plays with the music and fills out the slow tempi. Only has eyes for Mura and keeps reaching, reaching, her arms outlining the shape of their dances at the temple (just like Giselle. She’s not Nikiya but a  Gikiya).

Indeed, Batistoni’s turn at Gamzatti in the second act became an even tougher bitch with a yacht, as cold-blooded as Bathilde can sometimes be:  a Bamzatti. There was no hope left for Ould-Braham and Francesco Mura in this cruel world of rich fat cats, and they both knew it.

April 3

Park  as Nikiya and later as Giselle will channel the same dynamic: sweet girl: finallly infusing some life into her arms in Act 1, then becoming stiff as a board when it gets to the White Act, where she exhibits control but not a drop of the former life of her character. I am a zombie now. Dry, clinical, and never builds up to any fortissimo in the music. A bit too brisk and crisp and efficient a person to incarnate someone once called Nikiya. Could the audience tell it was the same dancer when we got to Act 3?

Good at leaps into her partner’s arms, but then seems to be a dead weight in lifts. When will Park wake up?

Paul Marque broke through a wall this season and finds new freedom in acting through his body. In Act Three: febrile, as “nervosa” as an Italian racecar. Across the acts, he completes a fervent dramatic arc than is anchored in Act 1.

Bourdon’s Gamzatti very contained. The conducting was always too slow for her. Dancing dutifully. Where is her spark?


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Midsummer Night Dreams

« Some enchanted evening, someone may be laughing, You may hear her laughing across a crowded room. And night after night, as strange as it seems, The sound of her laughter will sing in your dreams. »

June 30

Very baroque-era vivid conducting.

Aurelien Gay as Puck: feather light.

Pagliero’s Titania is clearly a queen, calm and scary. But also a woman, pliant and delightful.

Jeremy Loup-Quer as Oberon has heft and presence. Dances nicely. Smooth, but his solos are kind of like watching class combinations. (Balanchine’s choreography for the role is just that, basically)

First Butterfly Sylvia Saint-Martin displayed no authority and did the steps dutifully.

Paris Opera Ballet School kiddie corps has bounce and go and delicate precision, bravo.

Bezard/Demetrius in a wig worthy of a Trocks parody. Whyyyy? Particularly off-putting in the last act wedding scene. Who would want to marry a guy disguised as Mireille Matthieu?

Bourdon/Hyppolita unmusical fouettés. I miss her warmth and panache. Gone.

Act 2 Divertissement Pas where the couple appears out of nowhere in the “story.” (see plot summary). The way Louvet extends out and gently grasps Ould-Braham’s hand feels as if he wants to hold on to the music. Both pay heed and homage to the courtly aspect of the Mendelssohn score. That delicacy that was prized by audiences after the end of the Ancien Régime can be timeless. Here the ballerina was really an abstract concept: a fully embodied idea, an ideal woman, a bit of perfect porcelain to be gently cupped into warm hands. I like Ould-Braham and Louvet’s new partnership.  They give to each other.

July 12

Laura Hequet as Helena gestures from without not from within, as is now usual the rare times she takes the stage. It’s painful to watch, as if her vision ends in the studio. Does she coach Park?

Those who catch your eye:

Hannah O’Neill as Hermia and Célia Drouy as Hyppolita. The first is radiant, the second  oh so plush! Hope Drouy will not spend her career typecast as Cupid in Don Q.

In the Act II  Divertissment, this time with Heloise Bourdon, Louvet is much less reverential and more into gallant and playful give and take. These two had complimentary energy. Here Louvet was more boyish than gentlemanly. I like how he really responds to his actresses these days.

Here the pas de deux had a 20th century energy: teenagers rather than allegories. Teenagers who just want to keep on dancing all night long.

NB Heloise Bourdon was surprisingly stiff at first, as if she hadn’t wanted to be elected prom queen, then slowly softened her way of moving. But this was never to be the legato unspooling that some dancers have naturally. I was counting along to the steps more than I like to. Bourdon is sometimes too direct in attack and maybe also simply a bit discouraged these days. She’s been  “always the bridesmaid but never the bride” — AKA not promoted to Etoile — for waaay too long now.  A promotion would let her break out and shine as she once used to.

My mind wandered. Why did the brilliant and over-venerated costume designer Karinska assign the same wreath/crown of flowers (specifically Polish in brightness) to both Bottom in Act I and then to the Act II  Female Allegory of Love? In order to cut costs by recycling a headdress ? Some kind of inside joke made for Mr. B? Or was this joke invented by Christian Lacroix?


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« Some enchanted evening, when you find your true love, When you hear her call across a crowded room, Then fly to her side and make her your own, Or all through your life you may dream all alone.. »

 July 6

 Sae Eun Park/Paul Marque

 Sae Eun Park throws all the petals of the daisy already, does not lower the “he loves me” onto her skirt. There goes one of the main elements of the mad scene.

Her authoritative variations get explosions of applause due to obvious technical facility , plus that gentle smile and calm demeanor that are always on display.

What can Paul Marque’s Albrecht do when faced with all this insipid niciness? I’ve been a bad boy? He does try during the mad scene, shows real regret.

Ninon Raux’s Berthe:  gentle and dignified and not disdainful.

Park’s mad scene was admired by those around me at the top of the house. Many neophites. They admired from afar but not one of those I surveyed at the end of Act I said they had cried when her character died. Same thing at the end of the ballet while we reconnected and loitered around on the front steps of the Palais Garnier.  I asked again. No tears. Only admiration. That’s odd.

On the upside, the Paris Opera has a real thing with bourrées (piétinées), Each night, Myrtha and Giselle gave a plethora of what seemed almost like skateboard or surfing slides. They skimmed over a liquid ground with buttery feet whether forward, backward, or to the side. I think a new standard was set.

In her variations, Hannah O’Neill’s Myrtha gave us a will o’ the wisp of lightly churning jétés. She darted about like the elusive light of a firefly. Alas, where I was sitting behind a cornice meant a blocked view of downstage left, so I missed all of this Wili Queen’s acting for the rest of Act II.

Daniel Stokes’s Hilarion was not desperate enough.

Despite the soaring sweep of the cello, I don’t feel the music in Park-Marque’s Giselle-Albrecht’s pas de deux.  Not enough flow. Marque cared, but Park so careful. No abandon. No connection. The outline of precise steps.

July 11

 Alice Renavand/Mathieu Ganio

Act I

Battistoni/Magliono peasant pas: Turns into attitude, curve of the neck, BB swooshes and swirls into her attitudes and hops. As if this all weren’t deliberate or planned but something quite normal. AM’s dance felt earthbound.

Renavand fresh, plush, youthful, beautiful, and effortlessly mastering the technique (i.e. you felt the technique was all there,  but didn’t start to analyse it). I like to think that Carlotta Grisi exhaled this same kind of naturalness.


The detail that may have been too much for Renavand’s body to stand five times in a row: instead of quick relevé passes they were breathtakingly high sissones/mini-gargoullades…as if she was trying to dance as hard as Albrecht in order to save him (Mathieu Ganio,, in top form and  manly and protective and smitten from start to stop with his Giselle. Just like all the rest of us)

Roxane Stojanov’s Myrtha? Powerful. Knows when a musical combination has its punch-line, knows how to be still yet attract the eye. She continues to be one to watch.

July 16

 Myriam Ould-Braham/Germain Louvet

Act I :

A gentle and sad and elegant Florent Melac/Hilarion, clearly in utter admiration of the local beauty. Just a nice guy without much of a back story with Giselle but a guy who dreams about what might have been.

Ould-Braham a bit rebellious in her interactions with mum. This strong-minded choice of Albrecht above all will carry into the Second Act. Myrtha will be a kind of hectoring female authority figure. A new kind of mother. So the stage is set.

Peasant pas had the same lightness as the lead couple. As if the village were filled with sprites and fairies.

Peasant pas: finally a guy with a charisma and clean tours en l’air:  who is this guy with the lovely deep plié? Axel Magliano from the 11th!  This just goes to show you, never give up on a dancer. Like all of us, we can have a day when we are either on or off. Only machines produce perfect copies at every performance.

Bluenn Battistoni light and balanced and effortless. She’s not a machine, just lively and fearless. That spark hasn’t been beaten out of her by management. yet.

O-B’s mad scene: she’s angry-sad, not abstracted, not mad. She challenges Albrecht with continued eye contact.

Both their hearts are broken.

Act II:

This Hilarion, Florent Melac, weighs his steps and thoughts to the rhythm of the church bells. Never really listened to a Hilarion’s mind  before.

Valentine Colasante is one powerful woman. And her Myrtha’s impatience with men kind of inspires me.

O-B and Germain Louvet both so very human. O-B’s “tears” mime so limpid and clear.

GL: all he wants is to catch and hold her one more time. And she also yearns to be caught and cherished.  All of their dance is about trying to hold on to their deep connection. This is no zombie Giselle. When the church bells sang the song of dawn, both of their eyes widened in awe and wonder and yearning at the same time. Both of their eyes arms reached out in perfect harmony and together traced the outline of that horizon to the east where the sun began to rise. It was the end, and they clearly both wanted to go back to the beginning of their story.


 *                                     *

What would you do, if you could change the past?

« Once you have found her, never let her go. Once you have found her, never let her go. »

The quotations are from the Rogers and Hammerstein Broadway musical called
« South Pacific » from 1949.

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Classé dans Retours de la Grande boutique

Malandain Ballet Biarritz at Chaillot : Of Birds and Men


L’Oiseau de feu. Claire Lonchampt (Claire), Hugo Layer (l’Oiseau) et Mickaël Conte (François). Photographie ©Olivier Houex

Programme Stravinski. Théâtre National de Chaillot. L’Oiseau de feu (Firebird), Thierry Malandain. Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring), Martin Harriague. 2021, 4th of november.

La traduction de l’article ce trouve ci-dessous.

With Thierry Malandain, take your time.  Always watch his ballets the first time as open and as naïve as a lamb, just take it in and try to get the big picture, do not even open the program. Malandain’s Oiseau de feu [The Firebird] is all about finding one’s soul. Or maybe not…

And at first it seems all ‘bout breathing and release and squatting and falling and running and….cassocks. As if you were trapped in one of Graham’s or Wigman’s or Limon’s dark and austere moods. Rapidly you become desperate to take a breather. But a stubborn set of a man and a woman keep kneeling and reaching, holding out their arms, opening hands, in front of a scarlet-clad apparition (an infinite imbrication of arms and legs: Hugo Layer) who has arrived to offer them salvation. Perhaps.

But I had cheated a bit and did glance at the program as I sat down. One name popped out: Saint Francis of Assisi. Ah, yes, that guy who was already talking to birds and hugging trees way back then in the 13th century.

A friend in the audience had simply bathed in the atmosphere that developed in the piece and had adored being progressively “enveloped in an ambiance that slowly but strongly moved in the direction of a deep feeling of peace.” She didn’t need a narrative all. But she did wonder, “Why do ravens chase off canaries and little sparrows? Their flighty dance was delightful.”

Back home after the performance, a phrase from Saint Francis’s Canticle of the Creatures began to haunt me. When I looked it up, the full text proved illuminating and awards the two anonymous leading dancers in the cast with beautiful names. Brother Sun, “who is beautiful and radiant with great splendour,” turns out to be Mickaël Conte, a marvellous chameleon of a dancer. He glows differently in every piece he performs to the point of seeming taller or shorter, looser or more muscled. I think I would be unable to recognize him offstage. His Sister Moon was Claire Lonchampt:  “bright, precious, and fair.” More than that: she is powerfully percussive yet always delicately nuanced.

One more phrase of Saint Francis’s text I needed to pin down in order to settle my brain around what I had just seen goes like this: “Praised be You my lord though Brother Fire, though whom You light the night and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong.” Just like this ballet.


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Le Sacre du printemps. Le Sacrifice. Photographie©Olivier Houeix

So what is Martin Harriague’s Le Sacre du printemps about?

As I had explained to my friend in the audience earlier, the original story to which Stravinsky composed his music is very simple: a primitive society believes that sacrificing one human (female) body in the spring will ensure a bountiful harvest in the fall.

My friend was perplexed. Why does she keep being forced to passively witness violence against women again and again every time she goes to the theater? We paused and stared at each other and I scrambled around my brain, looking to find a means to make this young woman look beyond “Me Too.”  But her query is indeed one that poses a valid challenge to the, once again, traditional manner in which Martin Harriague chose to frame this umpteenth version of Le Sacre du printemps [The Rite of Spring]. I said, “No we don’t. Both Maurice Béjart and Paul Taylor managed to fight back against the Virgin Sacrifice scenario that Stravinsky’s music first illustrated. But, hey, even Pina Bausch got sucked in by the trope. So in her version, too, a random girl slaps herself around until she dies.”

Here, in Harriague’s choreography, the Chosen Woman gets manhandled quite violently in a striking and airborne way: the exact opposite of the way that girl in Paul Taylor’s Esplanade runs and leaps up into the air and joyously dares a man to open his broad shoulders and welcoming arms.   Instead here Harriague’s token woman [Patricia Velásquez, to me a divine reincarnation of Taylor’s irreplaceable and eruptive Lila York] gets thrown horizontally about from man to man with that same beyond-extreme energy but with an emotionally ugly yet oddly ambiguous result. Not quite dead yet, the Female Victim is then placed upon a pedestal and ascends to the heavens draped in shiny satiny red ribbons. That was not, um, cathartic. Nor coherent.

Outside in the cold air after the performance, continuing our perplexed discussion of the aesthetic uses of female suffering, we debated about to what extent this choreography added something to an old template or to what extent this just relied upon acrobatic and theatrical tricks?

I tried to turn the questions around again. “But didn’t one situation upset you more than that? I know when I wanted to cry. Can you guess what was really the most painful thing for me to watch this evening. Honestly?” I already knew the answer. “Yeah,” she said, “it happened earlier, when that little old man lost his hold on the mob and then stood trembling center stage as dancers rushed across in front and behind him. Even if they never ran him over but only brushed by him, the whiff of violence was extraordinary. Right?” Then I asked her, “Well, what if the final sacrifice had been about throwing around, manhandling, and driving an old man to his death instead of the usual young girl?”  “I would have walked out and vomited.”

So maybe killing off grandpa could have made today’s audience howl as deeply and as loudly in anger as it once had way back in 1913. Just what does it take to shock an audience nowadays, so inured to yet another feminicide…

Avec Thierry Malandain, prenez votre temps. La première fois, regardez ses ballets aussi ouvert et naïf que l’agneau. Recevez le juste et essayez d’en comprendre le sens général ; n’ouvrez même pas le programme. L’Oiseau de feu est centré sur la découverte de l’âme. A moins que…

Car tout d’abord, tout tourne autour du respiré, du relâché, du plié et de la chute, et de la course et … des soutanes. C’est comme si vous étiez enfermé dans la sombre ambiance d’une pièce de Graham, de Wigman ou de Limón. Très vite, vous aspirez à une bouffée d’air. Mais voilà qu’un têtu duumvir masculin-féminin s’agenouille, ouvre les bras, accueille, ouvre ses mains devant une apparition vêtue de pourpre, une infinie intrication de bras et de jambes [Hugo Layer] arrivée peut-être pour leur offrir le salut. A moins que…

Bon, d’accord, j’avais un peu triché et jeté un œil sur le programme tandis que je m’asseyais. Et un nom m’avait sauté aux yeux : Saint François d’Assise. Mais oui, ce gars qui parlait déjà aux oiseaux et embrassait les arbres au 13e siècle !

Une amie dans le public a juste flotté dans l’atmosphère distillée par cette pièce et a adoré être progressivement « enveloppée dans une ambiance qui, lentement mais surement, [la] conduisait vers un profond sentiment de paix ». Elle n’avait pas du tout besoin d’argument. Elle a juste demandé, « Pourquoi les corbeaux chassaient-ils les canaris et les petits moineaux ? Cette danse voletante était délicieuse. »

De retour à la maison après la représentation, une phrase du cantique des créatures de Saint François a commencé à me hanter. Lorsque je l’ai consultée, le texte s’est avéré lumineux et a conféré aux deux danseurs anonymes de beaux noms. Frère Soleil « beau, rayonnant d’une grande splendeur », n’était autre que Mickaël Conte, un merveilleux danseur-caméléon qui rayonne différemment dans chaque pièce qu’il interprète au point d’y paraître plus grand ou plus petit, plus fin ou plus musculeux. Je serais bien incapable de le reconnaître hors de scène. Sa Soeur-Lune était Claire Lonchampt : «claire, précieuse et belle ». De surcroit, elle a une réelle force percussive quoique toujours délicatement nuancée.

J’avais besoin de cerner une autre phrase du texte de saint François afin de calmer mon esprit confronté à ce que je venais de voir. Elle disait : « Loué sois-tu, seigneur, pour Frère-Feu, par qui tu éclaires la nuit : il est beau et joyeux, indomptable et fort »… comme ce ballet.


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Et qu’en est-il du Sacre du Printemps de Martin Harriague ?

Comme je l’expliquais plus tôt à mon amie dans le public, l’histoire originale sur laquelle Stravinski a composé sa musique est très simple : une société primitive pense que le sacrifice d’un seul être humain (féminin) au printemps assurera une abondante récolte à l’automne.

Mon amie était perplexe. Pourquoi, à chaque fois qu’elle va au théâtre, est-elle forcée d’assister encore et encore à de la violence faite aux femmes ? On fit une pause et nous nous jaugeâmes tandis que j’essayais de trouver dans ma tête quelque chose à dire pour la faire penser au-delà de « Me Too ».

Mais son interrogation est en fait tout à fait valide face à cette approche une fois encore traditionnelle qu’a choisi d’embrasser Martin Harriague pour envisager le Sacre du Printemps. Je répondis « en fait, non. Maurice Béjart ou Paul Taylor ont réussi à résister au « sacrifice de la vierge » du scénario original illustré par Stravinski. Mais, eh, même Bausch a succombé à ce motif de la fille lambda qui se gifle elle-même jusqu’à ce que mort s’ensuive.

Dans la chorégraphie de Harriague, l’Élue est manipulée très violemment d’une manière à la fois frappante et aérienne ; l’exact opposé de cette fille dans Esplanade de Paul Taylor qui court et se jette joyeusement dans les airs, mettant l’homme au défi d’ouvrir ses larges épaules et de l’accueillir dans ses bras. Au lieu de quoi, l’Élue de Martin Harriague [Patricia Velasquez, à mon sens une divine réincarnation de l’irremplaçable et explosive Lila York] est jetée horizontalement d’homme en homme avec cette même énergie mais avec un résultat émotionnellement aussi peu ragoûtant qu’il est ambigu. Pas encore morte, la victime féminine est ensuite placée sur un piédestal et monte aux cieux drapée de rubans de satin rouge. Voilà qui n’était ni cathartique ni cohérent.

Sorties à l’air libre après la représentation, continuant notre discussion perplexe sur les usages esthétiques de la souffrance féminine, on débattit jusqu’à quel point cette chorégraphie ajoutait quelque chose de signifiant à cette vieille histoire maintes fois racontée ou si elle reposait seulement sur des acrobaties et astuces de théâtre.

J’essayais de retourner encore une fois la question. « Mais une situation ne t’a-t-elle pas émue plus qu’une autre ? J’en sais une où j’ai eu envie de pleurer.  […] C’est quand le petit vieillard a perdu son contrôle sur la meute et qu’il restait debout au milieu de la scène tandis que les danseurs le bousculaient de tous côtés. Même s’ils ne l’ont jamais renversé mais l’ont seulement effleuré, l’odeur même de la violence était extraordinaire. […] »

Peut-être le meurtre de pépé aurait-il pu faire mugir le public de colère aussi profondément et fort que cela était arrivé, il y a bien longtemps en 1913. Qu’est ce qui peut bien choquer le public aujourd’hui, si immunisé face à un féminicide de plus ?

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Classé dans Blog-trotters (Ailleurs), France Soirs

Romeo and Juliet, Diop and Baulac : “Who straight on kisses dream.”


Romeo & Juliet. Curtain calls. Guillaume Diop, Léonore Baulac and Company.

Paris Opera Ballet, Tuesday, June 15th 2021.

In the unexpected debut of Guillaume Diop — a youngster still only in the corps de ballet – he, along with his Léonore Beaulac, opted for a less-often used interpretation of the “star-cross’d lovers.” The sweet and tender thrum of their connection re-centered this ballet around youthful innocence rather than around the obsessive force of sexual desire. Shakespeare’s text leaves room for just how young these youngsters might be, even if he specifies that Juliet is a ripe thirteen…

Diop, de même que Léonore Baulac, a opté pour une interprétation moins usitée des amants « nés sous une mauvaise étoile ». Le doux et tendre continuo de leur connexion a recentré ce ballet autour de la juvénile innocence plutôt que de la force obsédante du désir. […]

Love goes toward love, as schoolboys from their books.”

Guillaume Diop’s way of dancing reminds me of the Hugo Marchand of maybe five years ago. Like Marchand back then, Diop has style already and everything else ready to go. Unaffectedly expansive épaulement giving you the impression that his arms actually start down there at the belly-button. Long legs performing effortless and unpretentious, but huge, leaps that end in silent and soft landings only to then extend out into high arabesques without any ostentation or exaggeration.  But, like Marchard back then, Diop just needs to concentrate a little bit more on enriching the control of his feet. Not that his are limp, not at all, he can certainly point them but…if he could just send a bit more energy down there and out from there, play more with the relevé, he could give them the same force as those of his unostentatiously powerful hands. And yes he will need to continue to burnish and polish those little details that only come from practice (holding on to turn-out when coming out of a phrase).

At the tender age of twenty (when men’s bodies only become fully mature and resilient around age twenty-three), Diop proved that he is already a reliable and attentive partner: reactive, confident and not stiff. With a few more years of experience in the spotlight, it is clear that he will make his partnering really swing.

But what matters more than these details is that Diop already holds the stage. He demonstrated that technique is meant to be a means, not an end in itself.

So now let us revisit the dramatic events.

Guillaume Diop […] comme l’Hugo Marchand d’il y a 4 ou 5 ans […] a déjà tout et même un peu plus ; des épaulements généreux sans être affectés qui vous donnent l’impression que ses bras sont connectés à son nombril, de longues jambes exécutant des sauts faciles et sans prétentions, quoique prodigieux, s’achevant dans de silencieuses réceptions pour enfin se développer en hautes arabesques sans ostentation ni exagération aucune. Mais comme Marchand alors, Diop doit se concentrer un peu plus pour enrichir le contrôle de ses pieds ; non pas qu’ils soient mous, car il les pointe tout à fait… mais on aimerait qu’il y transmette un peu plus d’énergie… […]

Au tendre âge de 21 ans, […] Diop s’est montré un partenaire solide et attentif : réactif, sûr de lui et sans raideur. […] [La pratique de la scène]  donnera à son partnering plus de « swing ».

Diop a déjà la maîtrise de la scène. […]

O! That I were a glove on that hand/That I might touch that cheek.

When Léonore Baulac’s Juliet pulled the curtain back on the Nurse having sex, her reaction was not about awakened senses but definitely about “eew that’s icky, I don’t want it.”

In the “morning after the wedding night” scene, here it was not about “I am physically-sated and I want more of this action until the end of days.” Instead, the rapport between R&J made you imagine that during all those hours in the dark, what they had been getting up to was exactly what you had once done: stayed up all night whispering more intently than you’d had ever even talked to anyone before, clinging to each other, whispering so as not to wake up the parents. While certainly a bit of exploring boobies and more kissing were probably involved, you sensed their innocence remained intact. My mind drifted back to a childish pact that was once sacred: make a tiny cut, smear pinkies together = blood brothers for life. The French have a great expression for this. You have discovered your “âme soeur,” your soul-mate.

Au lendemain de la nuit des noces […] R&J vous donnaient l’impression que, durant ces heures passées dans le noir, ce qu’ils avaient fait n’était rien d’autre que ce que nous avons tous fait jadis : veiller toute la nuit, murmurant intensément comme on ne l’avait jamais fait avec quelqu’un d’autre, restant collés et chuchotant de peur d’alerter les parents. Bien que cela ait sans doute entraîné un peu plus de frotti-frotta et de gros palots que d’habitude, on sentait que leur innocence était intacte. […]

“A word and a blow”

As Rosalind, a role where you don’t move very much and that has come to constitute an artistic ghetto unto itself for talented ballerinas (Isabelle Ciaravola was stuck in it for years), Hannah O’Neill gave this avatar a pleasing and cheery “oh well why the hell not” elegance.

Lady Capulet and Tybalt had clearly connived to protect Juliet from this mean and ugly world from the day she was born, but you saw nothing Oedipal in their interactions. Emilie Cozette’s pensive and emotionally-exhausted Lady Capulet made me wonder whether she too had once been a headstrong Giulietta with all the joy since worn out of her. Her impulsive slap at Juliet’s refusal to marry Paris, as well as her shocked reaction to her own gesture, illustrated that of a loving mother undone by her so-far-so-perfect child’s first public tantrum. Indeed, the most rough-handed and grouchy person in the room kept turning out to be Yannick Bittancourt’s heavy-spirited Paris.

Florian Magnenet’s Tybalt was in no way sadistic nor mean either. You could just imagine him as a strict but benevolent pater-familias of six clingy kids six years hence.  He, too, cared more about protecting his little cousin than about the whole big fat fuss between the Capulets and Montagues. You could sense that the whole “us vs. them” had bloomed out of provincial boredom [Verona, even today, is a very, very, small town] and that everyone involved in the feud took it only half-seriously.

In the same interpretive vein, Pablo Legassa’s shimmering and sharp-legged Mercutio was “the guy no one can really get mad at.” [Legassa is so ready to play real leading roles, his body and soul are in that “sweet spot.”] And Marc Moreau’s  “I get the joke, guys” Benvolio gave real bounce to the repartee of the boys. As Benvolio, “the nice guy,” too many dancers get too serious and fade into the background while mentally preparing to catch “the big guy’s” grand anguished backward leaps in Act III.  While the back-flips were smoothly-managed rather than frightening, this fit the rapport that had been established between this sweet-dreaming Romeo and this “I have so got your back” Benvolio.

So the duel between Tybalt and Mercutio took on a specific vibe, more school-yard fight between two people saying “don’t be such an ass-hat” than the predictable fight to the death, which made their deaths all the sadder.

Rosalinde : Hannah O’Neill plaisante et joviale

Emilie Cozette, une lady Capulet pensive et émotionnellement épuisée m’a fait me demander si elle n’avait pas été jadis une Giulietta entêtée. […] Yannick Bittancourt Pâris : grognon et la main lourde. Autoritaire.

Le Tybalt de Florian Magnenet : ni méchant ni sadique. Un père de famille strict mais bien intentionné.

Le Mercutio scintillant au jeu de jambe acéré de Pablo Legassa / Marc Moreau : Benvolio, « j’ai compris la blague, les gars ! » donnait parfaitement la répartie aux autres personnages.

Du coup le duel entre Tybalt et Mercutio prit une résonnance particulière, plus querelle de cours d’école que […] prédictible combat à mort, ce qui a rendu leur mort plus triste encore.

O! She doth teach the torches to burn bright!”

Léonore Baulac’s  Juliet  floated on this bubble of love and friendship and good humor. She was that well-brought-up girl whose biggest personal challenge so far had been always winning the dare of “who will jump off the swing at its highest and land the furthest out!”

From the ballroom scene to the balcony scene to the bedroom scene each step of the interplay between these two reminded me of the infinite possibilities that Breughel the Elder’ proffers in  his “Children’s Games” {Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna}. It’s there in the choreography, but usually highlighting “patty-cake” suffices for most dancers. Here, while watching the dancers I started to make an inventory of references and to float back to those happiest days of childhood. Oh, hop-scotch, marbles, summersaults….just like when we were all just kids.

As the gentleness of a Tony from West Side Story infused Diop’s Romeo– absolutely a dreamy kid rather than a teenager with raging hormones — his connection to Baulac [she can become so responsive to what her partner is all about] replaced the expected over-heated sensual excitement with something often more true in real life: that lower-key mutual vibe that is the secret for lasting marriages. Your adored partner is in fact your best friend. This does not mean these young people were devoid of strong emotions, quite the opposite.

“When he shall die,/Take him and cut him out in little stars,/And he will make the face of heaven so fine.”

Cute detail: just before kissing Juliet for the first time, Diop’s mouth went wow into an adorable “O” as he inhaled. It was really like that boy aiming his face at you for his first kiss ever, not quite certain where it would land. So sweet.

An oft-cited quote from Nureyev speaks of a boy evolving into a man because of a young woman who “decides everything. She is passionate, head-strong, and more mature than he is.” Here with Guillaume Diop and Léonore Baulac, it was the opposite: a young man and a young woman who are equals in naïvité, equally astonished by a fate they had not anticipated. Neither really wanted to die, but just felt too ashamed to go and talk to their parents and ask for help.

Ces deux-là m’ont évoqué les infinies possibilités que Breughel le jeune présente dans sont « Jeux d’enfant » du Kunsthistorisches Museum de Vienne.


Le Roméo de Diop est plus un enfant rêveur qu’un adolescent tourmenté par sa poussée d’hormones. Sa connexion à Baulac a remplacé l’attendue excitation des sens par quelque chose de plus réaliste dans la vraie vie : cette connexion plus modérée qui est le secret des mariages qui durent. […] Un jeune homme et une jeune femme qui sont égaux en naïveté, également stupéfiés par ce sort qu’ils n’ont pu anticiper ; aucun des deux n’a jamais vraiment voulu mourir mais ils étaient trop timides pour confronter leurs parents et leur demander de l’aide.

The next day, I began describing what I saw to James. “Ah,” he said, “At the end, then, you wanted them to live so much you were ready to send them a link to a suicide hotline?” Yes, indeed. All of these kids – from Romeo to Juliet to Tybalt to Mercutio to Paris down to the Friar’s messenger – so totally didn’t deserve to, or want to, or need to, die.


Pieter Breughel the Elder : « Children’s Games ». Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

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Classé dans Retours de la Grande boutique

Carla Fracci (1936-2021). Seen


Carla Fracci, curtain call after La Sylphide at the MET. Late 1970’s. Photography Louis Peres

L’article est traduit en français. Voir plus bas. 

One Saturday in the early 80’s in Manhattan, I ambled over to the wonderfully eccentric Ziegfield Stationary Store on 7th Avenue off 58th street to once again dig into their bins of 8×10 photographers’ prints for sale.  And there she was. That snap you can see to the side :  Carla Fracci, La Sylphide, bowing in front of the gilded weight of the curtain at the Met. And the print was by Louis Peres! He had always been the kindest person hanging around in standing room. Years before that shot, he once lifted tiny me up to see better in Orchestra standing room while pushing aside a larger dance fan, losing the chance at a perfect shot. When we would find each other in the viciously contested Grand Tier standing zones, all I had to do was put my chin on the red velvet hand rest and lean into him in order not to be squashed. Louis Peres was a real gentleman with an impeccably reactive eye for dancers.

Reactive eyes, yes. Fracci had them, too. And the best of arms, which always seemed to be touching and curling around something inside or just beyond the air. Whether as Giselle or as Swanhilda or as La Sylphide, she would unfold and extend them out with unaffected purpose, like a master sailor putting out two sails and letting them be aloft, trusting them to waft in tune with the soft breeze.

I am sure that Paolo Bortoluzzi, Michaël Denard, Ivan Nagy, or Erik Bruhn, along with thousands of spectators, would say she was the best of partners. Those eyes that saw. And then the way that torso would lift up and out. Those long arms always gently billowing out as if unwilling to hurt the air. Her lovely heart-shaped face and heart-shaped feet.


Playbill : Carla Fracci’s last performance with ABT. Early 1990’s.

The last time I saw Carla Fracci dance was at her farewell performance for ABT in Antony Tudor’s Jardin aux Lilas.  The reluctant Edwardian-era damsel has finally resigned herself to being married against her will to an older man she does not and cannot love. I don’t remember how old she was that night — fifty-five maybe?  — yet she remained the very image of a young dark-eyed heiress straight out of Henry James, passionate and innocent in equal degrees. But something more happened, as it always did with Fracci… .The music was normal tempo — Fracci had never been one to hold up a conductor –but time slowed down as in the best-edited Hollywood movies. The way that Fracci inclined her head to the cast one by one during those last measures insinuated itself to Chausson’s. The way I saw the despairing violin softly weep will always remain seared into my mind’s eye. Music made visible.

As she slowly addressed each member of the wedding party exactly and as simply as Tudor’s choreography dictates – to one politely with a tip of the head,  to another yearningly from the bottom of the neck, then rigid from fear from deeper down the spine, the chest sucked in  — time seemed to stop. Because we in the audience were the ones who had stopped breathing, all desperate to hold out a comforting hand to this young woman who seemed so real. It wasn’t the first time I’d seen her have that effect on a full house  — the mad scene of Giselle with that one strand of hair! — but as I knew this was the last time that I would ever be able to feel her grace extending out to me from a stage…

Did I actually see what I thought I saw? Any photograph by Louis Peres must have the answer.

Un samedi du début des années 80, à Manhattan, je déambulais en direction du merveilleusement excentrique Ziegfeld Stationary Store au croisement de la 7eme avenue et de la 58e rue pour, une fois encore, farfouiller dans leurs bacs de soldes de tirages de professionnel au format 8 par 10. Et elle était là, cette photo ci-contre : Carla Fracci, La Sylphide, saluant devant le rideau lesté d’or du Met. Et le cliché était de Louis Peres! Louis avait toujours été le plus attentionné des habitués qui hantaient les standing rooms. Des années avant cette photographie, il avait soulevé la petite fille que j’étais alors pour me permettre de voir depuis les places debout de l’orchestre, poussant même un imposant membre du public et ratant par là-même l’occasion d’un clic parfait. Lorsque nous nous retrouvions dans l’aire impitoyablement disputée des places debout du Grand Tier, tout ce que j’avais à faire était de mettre mon menton sur le rebord en velours rouge et me coller à lui afin de ne pas finir écrasée. Louis Peres était un vrai gentleman ET un œil impeccablement réactif aux danseurs.

Des yeux réactifs, oui, Fracci en avait elle aussi. Et les plus jolis des bras, qui paraissaient effleurer et s’enrouler à l’intérieur et même au-delà de l’air. Que ce soit en Giselle, en Swanilda ou en Sylphide, elle les déplierait et les étendrait avec une attention sans affectation, comme un marin déploierait sa voile et la laisserait prendre le vent, confiant dans sa capacité à se mettre à l’unisson de la brise légère.

Je suis certaine que Paolo Bortoluzzi, Michaël Denard, Ivan Nagy ou Erik Bruhn, comme les milliers de spectateurs qui l’ont vue, diraient qu’elle était la meilleure des partenaires.

Ces yeux qui voyaient… et puis la façon dont son torse s’élevait puis se déployait ; ces longs bras flottant toujours comme s’ils voulaient éviter de blesser l’air; son joli visage et ses jolis pieds en forme de cœur.

La dernière fois que je vis Fracci danser fut pour ses adieux à ABT dans Jardin aux Lilas d’Antony Tudor. La réticente demoiselle de la période édouardienne s’est finalement résignée à un mariage, en dépit de son inclination, avec un homme plus âgé qu’elle n’aime et ne pourra aimer.

Je ne me souviens plus de l’âge qu’elle avait ce soir là – 55 ans, peut-être? – cependant, elle demeurait l’image même d’une jeune héritière à l’œil noir tout droit sortie de Henry James, à la fois passionnée et innocente. Mais quelque chose de plus arriva, comme souvent avec Fracci… La musique était au tempo normal – Fracci n’a jamais été du genre à diriger un chef d’orchestre – mais le temps lui-même s’est ralenti comme dans ces films hollywoodiens au montage impeccable. La manière dont Fracci inclinait sa tête en direction de chacun des membres de la distribution s’insinuait dans les dernières mesures de la partition de Chausson. La façon qu’avait le violon désespéré de doucement sangloter restera toujours scellée dans mon esprit. La musique rendue visible.

Tandis qu’elle s’adressait à chacun des membres de la noce aussi exactement et simplement que la chorégraphie de Tudor le requiert – à l’un poliment avec un signe de tête, à un autre tendrement depuis la naissance du cou, puis rigide de peur plus bas dans la colonne vertébrale, la poitrine rentrée, le temps semblait arrêté, parce que nous, dans le public avions retenu notre souffle, voulant tous désespérément tendre une main réconfortante à cette jeune femme si réelle. Ce n’était pas la première fois que je l’avais vu avoir cet effet sur une salle entière – cette scène de la folie avec juste une mèche de cheveux lâchée! – mais comme je savais que c’était la dernière fois que je serais en mesure de ressentir sa grâce se propager de la scène jusqu’à moi …

Ai-je vraiment vu ce que j’ai cru voir ? Toute photographie de Louis Peres contiendra la réponse.

Libre traduction de Cléopold

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Classé dans Hier pour aujourd'hui, Vénérables archives

Pas de deux at the Paris Opera Ballet : Baby Can YOU drive my car?

The extended apron thrust forward across where the orchestra should have been gave many seats at the Palais Garnier – already not renowned for visibility — scant sightlines unless you were in a last row and could stand up and tilt forward. Were these two “it’s a gala/not a gala” programs worth attending? Yes and/or no.

Evening  Number One: “Nureyev” on Thursday, October 8, at the Palais Garnier.

Nureyev’s re-thinkings of the relationship between male and female dancers always seek to tweak the format of the male partner up and out from glorified crane operator into that of race car driver. But that foot on the gas was always revved up by a strong narrative context.

Nutcracker pas de deux Acts One and Two

Gilbert generously offers everything to a partner and the audience, from her agile eyes through her ever-in-motion and vibrantly tensile body. A street dancer would say “the girlfriend just kills it.” Her boyfriend for this series, Paul Marque, first needs to learn how to live.

At the apex of the Act II pas of Nuts, Nureyev inserts a fiendishly complex and accelerating airborne figure that twice ends in a fish dive, of course timed to heighten a typically overboard Tchaikovsky crescendo. Try to imagine this: the stunt driver is basically trying to keep hold of the wheel of a Lamborghini with a mind of its own that suddenly goes from 0 to 100, has decided to flip while doing a U-turn, and expects to land safe and sound and camera-ready in the branches of that tree just dangling over the cliff.  This must, of course, be meticulously rehearsed even more than usual, as it can become a real hot mess with arms, legs, necks, and tutu all in getting in the way.  But it’s so worth the risk and, even when a couple messes up, this thing can give you “wow” shivers of delight and relief. After “a-one-a-two-a-three,” Marque twice parked Gilbert’s race car as if she were a vintage Trabant. Seriously: the combination became unwieldy and dull.

Marque continues to present everything so carefully and so nicely: he just hasn’t shaken off that “I was the best student in the class “ vibe. But where is the urge to rev up?  Smiling nicely just doesn’t do it, nor does merely getting a partner around from left to right. He needs to work on developing a more authoritative stage presence, or at least a less impersonal one.



A ballerina radiating just as much oomph and chic and and warmth as Dorothée Gilbert, Alice Renavand grooved and spun wheelies just like the glowing Hollywood starlet of Nureyev’s cinematic imagination.  If Renavand “owned” the stage, it was also because she was perfectly in synch with a carefree and confident Florian Magnenet, so in the moment that he managed to make you forget those horrible gold lamé pants.


Swan Lake, Act 1

Gently furling his ductile fingers in order to clasp the wrists of the rare bird that continued to astonish him, Audric Bezard also (once again) demonstrated that partnering can be so much more than “just stand around and be ready to lift the ballerina into position, OK?” Here we had what a pas is supposed to be about: a dialogue so intense that it transcends metaphor.

You always feel the synergy between Bezard and Amandine Albisson. Twice she threw herself into the overhead lift that resembles a back-flip caught mid-flight. Bezard knows that this partner never “strikes a pose” but instead fills out the legato, always continuing to extend some part her movements beyond the last drop of a phrase. His choice to keep her in movement up there, her front leg dangerously tilting further and further over by miniscule degrees, transformed this lift – too often a “hoist and hold” more suited to pairs skating – into a poetic and sincere image of utter abandon and trust. The audience held its breath for the right reason.

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Bewildered, the audience nevertheless applauded wildly at the end of this agonized and out of context solo. Pretending to themselves they had understood, the audience just went with the flow of the seasoned dancer-actor. Mathias Heymann gave the moment its full dose of “ah me” angst and defied the limits of the little apron stage [these are people used to eating up space the size of a football field].

Pas de deux can mostly easily be pulled out of context and presented as is, since the theme generally gravitates from “we two are now falling in love,” and “yes, we are still in love,” to “hey, guys, welcome to our wedding!” But I have doubts about the point of plunging both actor and audience into an excerpt that lacks a shared back-story. Maybe you could ask Juliet to do the death scene a capella. Who doesn’t know the “why” of that one? But have most of us ever actually read Lord Byron, much less ever heard of this Manfred? The program notes that the hero is about to be reunited by Death [spelled with a capital “D”] with his beloved Astarté. Good to know.

Don Q

Francesco Mura somehow manages to bounce and spring from a tiny unforced plié, as if he just changed his mind about where to go. But sometimes the small preparation serves him less well. Valentine Colasante is now in a happy and confident mind-set, having learned to trust her body. She now relaxes into all the curves with unforced charm and easy wit.

R & J versus Sleeping Beauty’s Act III

In the Balcony Scene with Miriam Ould-Braham, Germain Louvet’s still boyish persona perfectly suited his Juliet’s relaxed and radiant girlishness. But then, when confronted by Léonore Baulac’s  Beauty, Louvet once again began to seem too young and coltish. It must hard make a connection with a ballerina who persists in exteriorizing, in offering up sharply-outlined girliness. You can grin hard, or you can simply smile.  Nothing is at all wrong with Baulac’s steely technique. If she could just trust herself enough to let a little bit of the air out of her tires…She drives fast but never stops to take a look at the landscape.

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As the Beatles once sang a very, very, long time ago:

 « Baby, you can drive my car
Yes, I’m gonna be a star
Baby you can drive my car
And maybe I’ll love you »

Evening Two: “Etoiles.”  Tuesday, October 13, 2020.

We were enticed back to the Palais Garnier for a thing called “Etoiles {Stars] de l’Opera,” where the program consisted of…anything and everything in a very random way.  (Plus a bit of live music!)

Clair de lune by Alistair Marriott (2017) was announced in the program as a nice new thing. Nice live Debussy happened, because the house pianist Elena Bonnay, just like the best of dancers, makes all music fill out an otherwise empty space.

Mathieu Ganio, sporting a very pretty maxi-skort, opened his arms sculpturally, did a few perfect plies à la seconde, and proffered up a few light contractions. At the end, all I could think of was Greta Garbo’s reaction to her first kiss in the film Ninochka: “That was…restful.”  Therefore:

Trois Gnossiennes, by Hans van Manen and way back from 1982, seemed less dated by comparison.  The same plié à la seconde, a few innie contractions, a flexed foot timed to a piano chord for no reason whatever, again. Same old, eh? Oddly, though, van Manen’s pure and pensive duet suited  Ludmila Paglerio and Hugo Marchand as  prettily as Marriott’s had for Ganio. While Satie’s music breathes at the same spaced-out rhythm as Debussy’s, it remains more ticklish. Noodling around in an  absinth-colored but lucid haze, this oddball composer also knew where he was going. I thought of this restrained little pas de deux as perhaps “Balanchine’s Apollo checks out a fourth muse.”  Euterpe would be my choice. But why not Urania?

And why wasn’t a bit of Kylian included in this program? After all, Kylain has historically been vastly more represented in the Paris Opera Ballet’s repertoire than van Manen will ever be.

The last time I saw Martha Graham’s Lamentation, Miriam Kamionka — parked into a side corridor of the Palais Garnier — was really doing it deep and then doing it over and over again unto exhaustion during  yet another one of those Boris Charmatz events. Before that stunt, maybe I had seen the solo performed here by Fanny Gaida during the ‘90’s. When Sae-Un Park, utterly lacking any connection to her solar plexus, had finished demonstrating how hard it is to pull just one tissue out of a Kleenex box while pretending it matters, the audience around me couldn’t even tell when it was over and waited politely for the lights to go off  and hence applaud. This took 3.5 minutes from start to end, according to the program.

Then came the duet from William Forsythe’s Herman Schmerman, another thingy that maybe also had entered into the repertoire around 2017. Again: why this one, when so many juicy Forsythes already belong to us in Paris? At first I did not remember that this particular Forsythe invention was in fact a delicious parody of “Agon.” It took time for Hannah O’Neill to get revved up and to finally start pushing back against Vincent Chaillet. Ah, Vincent Chaillet, forceful, weightier, and much more cheerfully nasty and all-out than I’d seen him for quite a while, relaxed into every combination with wry humor and real groundedness. He kept teasing O’Neill: who is leading, eh? Eh?! Yo! Yow! Get on up, girl!

I think that for many of us, the brilliant Ida Nevasayneva of the Trocks (or another Trock! Peace be with you, gals) kinda killed being ever to watch La Mort du cygne/Dying Swan without desperately wanting to giggle at even the idea of a costume decked with feathers or that inevitable flappy arm stuff. Despite my firm desire to resist, Ludmila Pagliero’s soft, distilled, un-hysterical and deeply dignified interpretation reconciled me to this usually overcooked solo.  No gymnastic rippling arms à la Plisetskaya, no tedious Russian soul à la Ulanova.  Here we finally saw a really quietly sad, therefore gut-wrenching, Lamentation. Pagliero’s approach helped me understand just how carefully Michael Fokine had listened to our human need for the aching sound of a cello [Ophélie Gaillard, yes!] or a viola, or a harp  — a penchant that Saint-Saens had shared with Tchaikovsky. How perfectly – if done simply and wisely by just trusting the steps and the Petipa vibe, as Pagliero did – this mini-epic could offer a much less bombastic ending to Swan Lake.

Suite of Dances brought Ophélie Gaillard’s cello back up downstage for a face to face with Hugo Marchand in one of those “just you and me and the music” escapades that Jerome Robbins had imagined a long time before a “platform” meant anything less than a stage’s wooden floor.  I admit I had preferred the mysterious longing Mathias Heymann had brought to the solo back in 2018 — especially to the largo movement. Tonight, this honestly jolly interpretation, infused with a burst of “why not?” energy, pulled me into Marchand’s space and mindset. Here was a guy up there on stage daring to tease you, me, and oh yes the cellist with equally wry amusement, just as Baryshnikov once had dared.  All those little jaunty summersaults turn out to look even cuter and sillier on a tall guy. The cocky Fancy Free sailor struts in part four were tossed off in just the right way: I am and am so not your alpha male, but if you believe anything I’m sayin’, we’re good to go.

The evening wound down with a homeopathic dose of Romantic frou-frou, as we were forced to watch one of those “We are so in love. Yes, we are still in love” out of context pas de deux, This one was extracted from John Neumeier’s La Dame aux Camélias.

An ardent Mathieu Ganio found himself facing a Laura Hecquet devoted to smoothing down her fluffy costume and stiff hair. When Neumeier’s pas was going all horizontal and swoony, Ganio gamely kept replacing her gently onto her pointes as if she deserved valet parking.  But unlike, say, Anna Karina leaning dangerously out of her car to kiss Belmondo full throttle in Pierrot le Fou, Hecquet simply refused to hoist herself even one millimeter out of her seat for the really big lifts. She was dead weight, and I wanted to scream. Unlike almost any dancer I have ever seen, Hecquet still persists in not helping her co-driver. She insists on being hoisted and hauled around like a barrel. Partnering should never be about driving the wrong way down a one-way street.

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Classé dans Retours de la Grande boutique

Giselle in Paris : Ut Pictura Poesis

Dorothée Gilbert/Mathieu Ganio (February 11th) and Amandine Albisson/Hugo Marchand (February 15th matinée)

Act One(s)

Gilbert/Ganio.Caelum non animum mutant qui trans mare currunt. Their skies may change, but not the souls of those who chase across the sea. Ceux qui traversent la mer changent de ciel, non d’esprit (Horace, Epistles)

Gilbert’s Giselle, a more fragile and melancholy version of her naïve and loving Lise of La Fille mal gardée, was doomed from the start, like the Flying Dutchman. In those joyous “catch me if you can” jétés and arabesques with Ganio’s equally interiorized and gentle and devoted Albrecht, Gilbert’s suspended phrasing and softened lines started to make me shiver. What I was seeing was the first act as remembered by the ghost of the second. Gestures were quiet, subtle, distilled for both protagonists as in a 19th century sepia print: the couple was already not of this world. I have rarely been so well prepared to enter into the otherworld of Act II. Those on the stage and in the audience were as one soul, drawn into reminiscing together about daisies in tears and about “what might have been.”

La Giselle de Gilbert, une plus fragile et mélancolique version de sa naïve Lise de La Fille mal gardée, était condamnée dès le départ, comme le Hollandais volant. Avec ces joyeux jetés « Attrape-moi si tu peux » et ses arabesques avec l’Albrecht également doux, intériorisé et dévoué de Ganio, Gilbert suspendait le phrasé et adoucissait les lignes […] Et si on assistait au premier acte vu par les yeux du fantôme du deuxième ?

Albisson/Marchand. Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero. Seize the day, and care not to trust in the morrow. Cueille le jour présent, en te fiant le moins possible au lendemain (Horace, Epodes)

At the matinee on the 15th, we enter another world, this time fully in the present, with a joyous and self-assured pair blissfully unaware of what lies in store. Down to earth, they make no secret of their mutual attraction, neither to each other nor before the village. When Albisson’s daisy predicts “he loves me not,” clearly this is the first time a cloud has passed before the sun in her sky. Gilbert’s Giselle seemed to withdraw into a dark place upon her mother’s cautionary tale about the Wilis (the supremely dignified Ninon Raux at both performances). Albisson’s Giselle seemed more bewildered by the brief sensation of being possessed by a force she could not control. “How can such awful things even be possible? Why am I shivering when there is sunlight?” Most often, the Albrechts stand back, turn their backs on mama, and let the heroine have her moment. But here Marchand’s intense concentration on what the mother was describing – as if he, in turn, was experiencing his first glimpse of the shadows to come, possessed by a force he could not control either –made the moment even richer. Aurora and Desiré had just been told that, in the end, they would not live happily ever after. Marchand, as with the daisy, kept on trying to make everything work out. There are some Albrecht’s who try to shush Bathilde over Giselle’s shoulder [“Let me explain later”], and those who don’t. Marchand tried.

Pour la matinée du 15, on entre dans un autre monde, cette fois pleinement dans le présent, avec un duo béatement ignorant de ce que l’avenir leur prépare. […]

La Giselle de Gilbert semblait s’enfoncer dans les ténèbres au moment des avertissements de sa mère sur les Willis (la suprêmement digne Ninon Raux lors des deux représentations). La Giselle d’Albisson semblait plus déconcertée par la brève sensation d’être possédée par une force qu’elle ne pouvait contrôler. « Comment de si horribles choses seraient-elles seulement possibles ? Pourquoi tremblé-je sous le soleil ?»

To Bathilde – rendered unusually attentive, warm, and reactive by Sara Kora Dayanova – Gilbert mimed winding thread (another Lise reference), twirling her fingers delicately downward. Her mad scene had the quality of a skein of silk becoming unravelled and increasingly hopelessly knotted and pulled in all directions. Albisson mimed sewing in big healthy stitches instead. Her physically terrifying mad scene – just how can you fling yourself about and fall down splat like that without injury? — reminded me of the person just served divorce papers who grabs a knife and shreds all her partner’s clothes and smashes all she can get her hands on, and then jumps out the window.

À l’intention de Bathilde – rendue exceptionnellement attentive, chaleureuse et réactive par Sara Kora Dayanova – Gilbert mimait le filage de la laine (une autre référence à Lise), tortillant délicatement ses doigts vers le bas. Sa scène de la folie avait cette qualité de l’écheveau de soie devenant désespérément dénoué et emmêlé à force d’être tiré dans toutes les directions. Albisson mimait plutôt la couture à points larges et décidés. Sa scène de la folie, physiquement terrifiante, – jusqu’où peut-on se démener violemment et s’effondrer à plat sans se blesser ? – m’a rappelé ces personnes recevant les papiers du divorce qui saisissent un couteau, déchiquètent les vêtements de leur partenaire et brisent tout ce qui leur tombe sous la main avant de sauter par la fenêtre.

Second Act(s)

Permitis divis cetera. Leave the rest to the gods. Remettez-vous en aux dieux (Horace, Epodes)

Gilbert’s Act II lived in the realm of tears. The vine-like way she would enfold Ganio in her arms – and I was smitten by the way he interlaced himself into all her gestures and thoughts – defined their couple. They reached for each other. Here, at the same moments, Albisson was less about tears than about how insistently she stretched her arms up towards the heavens just before re-connecting to Marchard’s avid hands. “I remember you swore to love me forever. And now I am certain you were true. The skies know this.”

L’acte II de Gilbert se situait dans une vallée de larmes. Sa façon d’enlacer Ganio de ses bras telle une vigne vierge – et j’ai été touchée de la manière dont Ganio s’entrelaçait lui-même dans ses gestes et dans ses pensées – définissait leur couple. […] Ici, aux mêmes moments, Albisson était moins dans les larmes que dans l’intensité de l’étirement des bras vers les cieux juste avant de reconnecter avec ceux avides de Marchand : « Je me souviens que tu as juré de m’aimer pour toujours et maintenant je suis certaine que tu disais vrai » […]

In Act II, Marchand doesn’t need to run around searching for Giselle’s grave. He knows where it stands and just can’t bear to deal with how real it is. He also knows how useless bouquets of flowers are to the dead. He has come to this spot in the hope that the vengeful Wilis of her mother’s horrifying tale will come to take him. But his un-hoped for encounter with Giselle in the “flesh” changes his mind. As in Act I, they cannot stop trying to touch each other. This pair risked those big overhead lifts with breathtaking simplicity, in the spirit of how, for their couple, love had been wrapped around their need to touch. The final caress bestowed by this Albrecht upon all he had left of the woman he would indeed love forever – the heavy stone cross looming above Giselle’s tomb — made perfect sense.

À l’acte II, Marchand […] sait combien les bouquets de fleurs sont inutiles aux morts. Il est venu là dans l’espoir que les Willis vengeresses […] le prennent. Mais sa rencontre inespérée avec Giselle en « chair » et en os le fait changer d’avis. Ces deux-là ne peuvent s’empêcher de se toucher. Ils ont osé le grand porté par-dessus la tête avec une simplicité époustouflante. […] La caresse finale que donne Marchand à tout ce qui lui reste de cette femme qu’il aimera toujours – la lourde croix de pierre surplombant la tombe de Giselle – avait tout son sens.

Hilarion (one and only).

Pallida Mors aequo pulsat pede pauperum tabernas/Regumque turris. Pale Death knocks with impartial foot at poor men’s hovels as at rich men’s palaces. La pâle mort frappe d’un pied indifférent les masures des pauvres et les palais des rois. (Horace, Epodes)

Audric Bezard, both times. Both times elegant, forceful, and technically on top as usual, but different and creative in his approach to this essential – but often crudely crafted — character. With Gilbert, Bezard reacted in a more melancholy and deeply worried manner. Some neophytes in the audience might have even mistaken him for a protective older brother. Hilarion opens the ballet with his mimed “she loves me not” and the way he nuanced it then and thereafter built up a backstory for Gilbert: « I grew up with the girl, everyone – even me – assumed we would live happily ever after. Why is this happening? » But, alas, “that nice boy next door” can sometimes be the last thing a girl wants, even if he be soulful and cute. Bezard’s rhythm in mime is magnificent in the way it takes its time inside and along the lines of the music. You see thoughts shaping themselves into gesture. With Albisson, one saw less of that long-term story. I appreciated his alternate approach, more reminiscent of the impetuous in-the-moment passion Bezard had already demonstrated as a leading partner to this same ballerina in other dramatic ballets…

Audric Bézard les deux fois. Chaque fois […] créatif dans son approche de ce personnage essentiel – mais si souvent interprété trop crûment.

Avec Gilbert, Bezard réagissait d’une manière plus mélancolique et soucieuse. […] Hilarion ouvre le ballet avec sa scène mimée « Elle ne m’aime pas » et la façon dont il la nuançait ici et plus tard fabriquait un passé à Gilbert : « J’ai grandi avec cette fille, et tout le monde – moi y compris – était persuadé que nous serions heureux pour toujours. Pourquoi cela arrive-t-il ? » […] La façon qu’à Bezard de rythmer sa pantomime est magnifique en ce qu’il prend son temps à l’intérieur et aux côtés de la musique. […] Avec Albisson, on voyait moins une histoire au long cours. J’ai apprécié cette approche alternative réminiscence de l’impétuosité de l’instant que Bezard avait déjà développé dans un rôle principal aux côtés de la même ballerine.


Nunc pede libero pulsanda tellus. Now is the time to beat the earth with unfettered foot. Il est temps maintenant de battre le sol avec des pieds sans entraves. (Horace, Odes).

If Valentine Colasante’s Queen of the Wilis on the 11th proved the very vision of a triumphant and eerie ectoplasm so beloved by 19th century Victorians, Hannah O’Neill’s on the 15th seemed instead to have risen out of an assemblage of twigs and bones (which is not potentially a bad thing). Let me explain.

As a dancer, Colasante’s elongated neck now connects to eased shoulders that send the word down her spine, releasing pulsating energy. The result? Probably among the most perfectly fluid series of bourrées I have ever seen. The feet or legs should start from the head, from the brain, but most often they do not. These tiny tippy-toe steps – pietinées in French — often seem to have been designed to make dancers look like scuttling crabs. Colasante’s bourrées, so fluid and expressive and instantly in character, were those of someone who has really evolved as an artist. Control and release extended out from a really intelligent core informing her big, juicy, regal jumps and expressive back [Myrtha spends a lot of her time downstage facing away from House Right]. Mind-body intelligence infused even the tiniest of Colasante’s calm and unhurried gestures. Each of the umpteen times she had to mime “thanks for your thoughts and prayers, but now you must die ” — raise arms, clench fists, bring them down across the wrists– Colasante gave that gesture variety, reactivity, and lived in the moment.

[Le 11] Le cou de [Valentine] Colasante désormais allongé se connecte à des épaules déliées qui transmet le mouvement dans toute sa colonne vertébrale, libérant et pulsant de l’énergie. Le résultat ? Probablement parmi les plus fluides séries de piétinés qu’il m’ait été donné de voir. Car les pieds ou les jambes doivent commencer de la tête, du cerveau même ; et cela arrive si peu souvent. […] Ce contrôlé -relâché se diffusait depuis un centre très « intelligent » et infusait de larges, de savoureux et souverains sauts ainsi qu’un dos intelligent.

For the moment, O’Neill is on a learning curve and her stage presence has retrograded to more serious and studious than I would like for her to be doing at this point in her career. It’s if she’s lost that something so fresh and lively she used to have. Yes, you might say, “who do you think you are to expect fresh and lively from a Queen of the Zombies?” O’Neill did the job with full-out dedication, but seemed so…dry, despite perfectly executed steps. She needs to add some more mental flesh to the twigs and bones of her overly reserved phantom. My mind drifted way too often in the direction of impressive technical details. I couldn’t believe that this was really Myrtha, not the dancer named Hannah O’Neill. Until then, during both performances, I had completely been swept into the zone by all of the dancers described above as well as by the delicious demi-soloists and corps de ballet

Pour l’instant, [Hannah] O’Neill semble en phase d’apprentissage et sa présence scénique a rétrogradé vers quelque chose de plus sérieux et studieux qu’il ne le faudrait à ce stade de sa carrière. […] O’Neill a « fait le travail » avec une totale implication mais semblait tellement … aride, en dépit des pas parfaitement exécutés. Il lui faudrait ajouter de la chair émotionnelle sur les os de son trop réservé fantôme.

Hannah ONeill

Cléopold saw a distinct delicacy in her version of Myrtha from where he was sitting, and I do not wish to be harsh. But in a poetic story-ballet, technique must learn to serve the story above all else.

Ut pictora poesis. As in painting, so in poetry. Telle la peinture est la poésie (Horace, Ars Poetica).

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Malandain’s Ballet Biarritz. La Pastorale. The Taste Of What You See.

La Pastorale. Hugo Layer. Photograph by Olivier Houeix

« La Pastorale ». Théâtre National de Chaillot. Malandain Ballet Biarritz.  Choreography, Thierry Malandain. Music by Beethoven. December 13th 2019.

When the charming little rat from the film Ratatouille bites into a piece of tomme de chêvre de pays! and a ripe strawberry at the same time, he starts to feel pulsating energy and a multitude of colors begin to swirl around his head. He can even taste the flavor of fireworks. Whenever I get lucky enough to attend a ballet by Thierry Malandain, the tasty dance he weaves out of layering the infinite possibilites of flavorful steps always makes me feel like a Rémy at his happiest: some unexpectedly new and perfect combinations will certainly enliven my palate.

During his newest ballet, La Pastorale, twenty of the Malandain Ballet Biarritz’s magnificent dancers (first clad in slate-grey overdresses, then white shifts, then flesh-colored body-stockings) offered the audience a rainbow of imagery. Whether they swirled about with the same determination as the gods and goddesses of Greek myth or evoked creatures from the sea, the air, and the earth, what struck me was their iridescence.

In the first section, danced – sung by the body? – to Beethoven’s The Ruins of Athens, the dancers must negotiate a child’s flattened out and only horizontal jungle gym. Twenty-five spaces enclosed by metal barres are their playground. A recurrent motif: a full spine roll keeps being used to get under or over the waist-high barriers in order to embark into the next cube of defined space. Suddenly, the colors and the flavors hit me. I saw bluish and glistening dolphins at play, curving their backs and cresting the waves. But I also saw tawny cats and green caterpillars and black bats and long-tailed brown sloths as agile as birds on a wire, all of them caring little about the rules of gravity as is their wont, slinking and swinging themselves around their natural domain. Even if the staging is by definition frontal, the dance feels very “in the round.”

The second section, which took on Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony (#6, in F major/Opus 68/1808), lifted the jungle gym up off the ground and let the dancers inhabit all the space of the stage. One travelling lift where a dancer’s legs are splayed across the shoulders of another swept my mind back to a childhood memory, a time when starfish had once been easy to find on the beach and were always gently placed back into the ocean. While watching Malandain’s groups roll in and roll out on the stage, I began to feel I could almost taste the sea: orange-red coral waving at me, purple and green sea-anemonies scrolling their tendrils in and out, and even a pair of prickly sea urchins (or stingrays? You decide).

La Pastorale. Thierry Malandain. Photograph by Olivier Houeix

As always with Malandain’s poetic humor, echos (not “quotes”) pay homage to the ecosystem of ballet. Here you will enjoy all of his references to the manner in which classic ballets took inspiration from how ancient mythology viewed our world, now paid forward: the Faun’s amphoric nymphs, Apollo’s overloaded chariot, the shape of the attitude as inspired by Mercury…indeed, Alexander Benois’s sets for Daphnis and Chloe could have served here.

Upon returning home, I dived back into my ancient copy of Grove’s Dictionary and found the following description about why Beethoven’s music works for us:

Beethoven’s ground pattern was first-movement form, an elaborate and by this time an advanced plan of procedure that made special demands upon its melodic material; to meet its purposes he chose subjects or themes that were apt for processes (repetition, dissection, dissertation, allusion and all the rest) by which fragmentary ideas could be worked into a continuous texture or argument. Beethoven brought into the type a variety, a significance and (for the craftsman) an expediency far beyond the inventive range that had served the needs of the previous generation […] Beethoven at his most reiterative is developing a line of symphonic thought, sometimes with great intensity.

If this description of what Beethoven wrought back then doesn’t describe what Thierry Malandain does today, I will now eat my hat. Along with a strawberry.

La Pastorale. Photographer, Olivier Houeix

You can still catch La Pastorale at the Théâtre de Chaillot until Thursday the 19th.

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