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.

Swan Lake in Paris: Cotton, Velvet, Silk

Le Lac des Cygnes, Paris Opera Ballet, March 11, 2019

[des extraits de l’article sont traduits en français]

Never in my life have I attended a Swan Lake where, instead of scrabbling noisily in my bag for a Kleenex, I actually dug in deeper to grab pen and bit of paper in order to start ticking off how many times the Odette and Odile did “perfect ten” developés à la seconde. Every single one was identically high and proud, utterly uninflected and indifferent to context, without the slightest nuance or nod to dramatic development. I noted around twenty-two from the time I started counting. This is horrifying. The infinite possibilities of these developés lie at the core of how the dancer will develop the narrative of the character’s transformation.

Riches have wings, and grandeur is a dream.
Sae Eun Park, this Odette-Odile, has all the skills a body would ever need, but where is the personal artistry, the phrasing, the sound of the music? I keep hoping that one day something will happen to this beautiful girl and that her line and energy will not just keep stopping predictably at the mere ends of her fingers and toes. Flapping your arms faster or slower just does not a Swan Queen make.

 

 

Made poetry a mere mechanic art.
Park’s lines and positions and balances are always camera-ready and as faultless as images reprinted on cotton fabric…but I prefer a moving picture: one where unblocked energy radiates beyond the limits of the dancer’s actual body especially when, ironically, the position is a still one. Bending back into Matthieu Ganio’s warmly proffered arms, Park’s own arms – while precisely placed –never radiated out from that place deep down in the spine. Technical maestria should be a means, not an end.

I want a lyre with other strings.
Even Park’s fouettés bothered me. All doubles at first = O.K. that’s impressive = who cares about the music? Whether in black or white, this swan just never let me hear the music at all.

Coton

Jamais je n’avais assisté à un Lac des cygnes où, au lieu de farfouiller bruyamment dans mon sac à la recherche d’un Kleenex, j’ai farfouillé  pour trouverbloc-notes et stylo afin de comptabiliser combien de fois Odette et Odile effectuaient un développé à la seconde 10.0/10.0. Chacun d’entre eux était identiquement et crânement haut placé, manquant totalement d’inflexions et indifférent au contexte […] J’en ai dénombré vingt-deux à partir du moment où j’ai commencé à compter. […]

Les lignes, les positions et les équilibres de Park sont toujours prêts pour le clic-photo et l’impression sur coton. Mais […] se cambrant dans les bras chaleureusement offerts de Mathieu Ganio, les bras de Park – bien que parfaitement placés – n’irradiaient pas cette énergie qui doit partir du plus profond de la colonne vertébrale. […]

Même les fouettés de Park m’ont gêné.

Tous double au début = Ok, c’est impressionnant = Au diable la musique !

En blanc comme en noir, ce cygne ne m’a jamais laissé entendre la musique.

Silently as a dream the fabric rose: -/No sound of hammer or of saw was there.
Mathieu Ganio’s Siegfried started out as an easy-going youth, mildly troubled by strange dreams, at ease with his privileged status, never having suffered nor even been forced to think about life in any large sense. A youth of today, albeit with delicate hands that reached out to those surrounding him.

As if the world and he were hand and glove.
Ganio’s manner of gently under-reacting reminded me – as when the Queen strode in to announce that he must now take a wife – of a young friend who once assured me that “all you have to do when your mother walks into your head is to say ‘yes, mom,’ and then just go off to do whatever you want.” Yet his solo at the end of Act I delicately unfolded just how he’d been considering that perhaps this velvet cocoon he’d been raised in may not be what he wants after all. Ganio is a master of soft and beautifully-placed landings, of arabesques where every part of his body extends off and beyond the limits of a pose, of mere line. He makes all those fussy Nureyevian rond-de-jambes and raccourcis breathe – they fill time and space — and thus seem unforced and utterly natural. When I watch him, that cliché about how “your body is your instrument” comes fully to life.

Alas, no matter how he tried, his character would develop more through interaction with his frenemy than with his supposed beloved.

Velours

Le Siegfried de Mathieu Ganio se présente d’abord comme un jeune homme sans problèmes à peine troublé par des rêves étranges, satisfait de son statut privilégié, n’ayant jamais souffert et n’ayant jamais été contraint de penser au sens de la vie. […]

Néanmoins, son solo de l’acte 1 révélait combien il commençait à considérer que, peut-être, le cocon de  velours dans lequel il avait été élevé n’était peut-être pas ce qu’il voulait, après tout. Ganio est passé maître dans le domaine des réceptions aussi silencieuses que bien placées, et des arabesques où toutes les parties du corps s’étendent au-delà des limites de la simple pose. Il rend respirés tous ces rond-de-jambe et raccourcis tarabiscotés de Noureev – ils remplissent le temps et l’espace – et les fait paraître naturels et sans contrainte.

Hélas, quoi qu’il ait essayé, son personnage s’est plus développé dans ses interactions avec son frère-ennemi qu’avec sa supposée bien aimée. […]

Great princes have great playthings.

 

Jérémy-Loup Quer used the stage as a canvas upon which to paint a most elegant Tutor/von Rothbart. Less loose and jazzy with the music than François Alu on the 26th, more mysterious and silken, Quer’s characterization thoughtfully pulled at the strings of this role. Is he two people? Two-in-one? A figment of Siegfried’s imagination? Of the Queen’s? A jealous Duc d’Orleans playing nice to the young Louis XV? By the accumulation of subtle brushstrokes that were gentle and soundless on the floor, and of masterfully scumbled layers of deceptively simple acting – here less violent at first vis-à-vis Siegfried during the dueling duets– Quer commanded the viewer’s attention and really connected with Ganio. His high and whiplash tours en l’air and feather-light manège during his Act III variation served to hint at just how badly this mysterious character wanted to wind Siegfried’s mind deep into the grip of the voluminous folds of his cape.

Grief is itself a med’cine.
When this von Rothbart finally lashed out in the last act – and clearly he was definitely yet another incarnation of the Tutor from Act I — both Siegfried and the audience simultaneously came to the sickening conclusion that we had all been admiring a highly intelligent and murderous sociopath.

Soie

Jérémy-Loup Quer, […] moins jazzy musicalement que François Alu le 26, est plus mystérieux et soyeux. […] Par une accumulation de subtiles touches, […], et par l’usage souverain d’une quantité d’artifices de jeu dont la simplicité n’est qu’apparente, […] Quer captait l’attention du spectateur et interagissait réellement avec Ganio. Ses hauts tours en l’air « coup de cravache » et son manège léger comme une plume durant sa variation de l’acte 3 laissaient deviner combien ce mystérieux personnage voulait aspirer la raison de Siegfried dans les volumineux replis de sa cape […] tel un sociopathe hautement intelligent et criminel.

Quotes are from the pre-Romantic poet William Cowper’s (1731-1800) Table Talk, The Taste, and his Sonnet to Mrs. Unwin.

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Swan Lake in Paris: a chalice half empty or half full?

Le Lac des Cygnes, February 26, 2019, Paris Opera Ballet.

[Nb : des passages de l’article sont traduits en français]

Swan Lake confronts the dancers and audience with musical leitmotifs, archetypes, story elements (down to the prince’s name), and dramatic conundrums that all seem to have been lifted willy-nilly from Richard Wagner.

Today, for those who worship ballet, including dancers, a perfect performance of Swan Lake ranks right up there with the Holy Grail. Yet the first full-length performances in the West only happened only a little over a half-century ago. Each version you see picks and choses from a plethora of conflicting Russian memories. The multiple adaptations of this fairy tale so Manicheaen that it’s downright biblical – good vs. evil, white vs. black, angelic vs. satanic – most often defy us to believe in it. The basic story kind of remains the same but “God is in the details,” as Mies van der Rohe once pronounced. The details and overall look of some or other productions, just as the projection and nuance of some or other dancers, either works for you or does not despite the inebriating seductiveness of Tchaikovsky’s thundering score.

Siegfried

Boast not thyself of to-morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth. Proverbs 27:1

Just as the Templars and others obsessed with the Grail did, many ballet dancers can   succumb to wounds. The re-re-re-castings for this series due to injuries have engendered a kind of “hesitation waltz” on stage.

As he settled in to his mini-throne downstage right on February 26th, Florian Magnenet (originally only an understudy) was clearly exhausted already, probably due to doing double-duty in a punishingly hyperkinetic modern ballet across town on other nights. Once it was clear he had to do this ballet, why hadn’t the director released him and used an understudy for the Goeke? While the company prides itself on versatility, it is also big enough that another could have taken over that chore.

Perhaps Magnenet was using his eyes and face to dramatize the prince, looking soulful or something (the stuff that comped critics can see easily from their seats). But raised eyebrows do not read into outer space. From the cheap seats you only see if the body acts through how it phrases the movement, through the way an extension is carried down to the finish, through the way a spine arches. Nothing happened, Magnenet’s body didn’t yearn. I saw a nice young man, not particularly aching with questions, tiredly polite throughout Act I. While at first I had hoped he was under-dancing on purpose for some narrative reason, the Nureyev adagio variation confirmed that the music was indeed more melancholy than this prince. Was one foot aching instead?

« Florian Magnenet […] était clairement déjà épuisé par son double-emploi dans une purge moderne et inutilement hyperkinétique exécutée de l’autre côté de la ville les autres soirs.

Peut-être Magnenet utilisait-il ses yeux ou son visage pour rendre son prince dramatique, éloquent ou quelque chose du genre […]. Mais un froncement de sourcils ne se lit pas sur longue distance. […] Rien ne se passait ; le corps de Magnenet n’aspirait à rien. J’ai vu un gentil garçon, qui ne souffrait pas particulièrement de questionnement existentiel […]. Souffrait-il plutôt d’un pied ? »

Odette

Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies. Proverbs 31:10

And…Odile

The spider taketh hold with her hands, and is in kings’ palaces. Proverbs 30:28

While for some viewers, the three hours of Swan Lake boil down to the thirty seconds of Odile’s 32 fouetté turns, for me the alchemy of partnering matters more than anything else. As it should. This is a love story, not a circus act.

Due to the casting shuffles, our Elsa/Odette and Kundry/Odile seemed as surprised as the Siegfried to have landed up on the same stage. While this potentially could create mutual fireworks, alas, the end result was indeed as if each one of the pair was singing in a different opera.

For all of Act II on February 26th, Amandine Albisson unleashed a powerful bird with a magnetic wingspan and passion and thickly contoured and flowing lines. Yet she seemed to be beating her wings against the pane of glass that was Florian Magnenet. I had last seen her in December in complete dramatic syncronicity with the brazenly woke and gorgeously expressive body of Audric Bezard in La Dame aux camelias. There they called out, and responded to, all of the emotions embodied by Shakepeare’s Sonnet 88 [The one that begins with “If thou should be disposed to set me light.”] I’d put my draft of a review aside, utterly certain that Bezard and Albisson would be reunited in Swan Lake. Therefore I knew that coming off of that high, seeing her with another guy, was going to be hard to take no matter what. But not this hard. Here Albisson’s Odette was ready to release herself into the moment. But while she tried to engage the cautious and self-effacing Magnenet, synchronicity just didn’t happen. Indeed their rapport once got so confused they lost the counts and ended up elegantly walking around each other at one moment during the grand adagio.

« Durant tout l’acte II, le 26 février, Amandine Albisson a déployé un puissant oiseau doté de magnétiques battements d’ailes, de passion et de lignes à la fois vigoureusement dessinées et fluides. Et pourtant, elle semblait abîmer ses ailes contre la paroi vitrée qu’était Florian Magnenet. »

« A un moment, leur rapport devint si confus qu’ils perdirent les comptes et se retrouvèrent à se tourner autour pendant le grand adage. » […]

This is such a pity. Albisson put all kinds of imagination into variations on the duality of femininity. I particularly appreciated how her Odette’s and Odile’s neck and spine moved in completely differently ways and kept sending new and different energies all the way out to her fingertips and down through her toes. I didn’t need binoculars in Act IV in order to be hit by the physicality of the pure despair of her Odette. Magnenet’s Siegfried had warmed up a little by the end. His back came alive. That was nice.

« Quel dommage, Albisson met toutes sortes d’intentions dans ses variations sur le thème de la dualité féminine. J’ai particulièrement apprécié la façon dont le cou et le dos de son Odette et son Odile se mouvaient de manière complètement différente » […]

Rothbart

The way of an eagle in the air; the way of a serpent upon the rock; the way of a ship in the midst of the sea; and the way of a man with a maid. Proverbs 30:19

François Alu knows how to connect with the audience as well as with everyone on stage. His Tutor/von Rothbart villain, a role puffed up into a really danced one by Nureyev, pretty much took over the narrative. Even before his Act III variation – as startlingly accelerated and decelerated as the flicker of the tongue of a venomous snake – Alu carved out his space with fiery intelligence and chutzpah.

« François Alu a le don d’aimanter les spectateurs. Son tuteur/von Rothbart a peu ou prou volé la vedette au couple principal. Même avant sa variation de l’acte III – aux accélérations et décélérations aussi imprévisibles que les oscillations d’une langue de serpent – Alu a fait sa place avec intelligence et culot. » […]

As the Tutor in Act I, Alu concentrated on insinuating himself as a suave enabler, a lithe opportunist. Throughout the evening, he offered more eye-contact to both Albisson and Magnenet than they seemed to be offering to each other (and yes you can see it from far away: it impels the head and the neck and the spine in a small way that reads large). In the Black Pas, Albisson not only leaned over to catch this von Rothbart’s hints of how to vamp, she then leaned in to him, whispering gleeful reports of her triumph into the ear of this superb partner in crime.

« A l’acte I, en tuteur, Alu s’appliquait à apparaître comme un suave entremetteur, un agile opportuniste. Durant toute la soirée, il a échangé plus de regards aussi bien avec Albisson qu’avec Magnenet que les deux danseurs n’en ont échangé entre eux.

Dans le pas de deux du cygne noir, Albisson ne basculait pas seulement sur ce von Rothbart pour recevoir des conseils de séduction, elle se penchait aussi vers lui pour murmurer à l’oreille de son partenaire en méfaits l’état d’avancée de son triomphe. »

And kudos.

To Francesco Mura, as sharp as a knife in the pas de trois and the Neapolitan. To Marine Ganio’s gentle grace and feathery footwork in the Neapolitan, too. To Bianca Scudamore and Alice Catonnet in the pas de trois. All four of them have the ballon and presence and charisma that make watching dancers dance so addictive. While I may not have found the Holy Grail during this performance of Swan Lake, the lesser Knights of the Round Table – in particular the magnificently precise and plush members of the corps de ballet! – did not let me down.

* The quotes are from the King James version of The Bible.

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La Dame aux camélias in Paris. Love: better find it late than never.

La Dame aux camélias, Chopin-Neumeier, Paris Opera Ballet, Palais Garnier, December 7th and 14th, 2018.

In Alexander Dumas Jr’s tale, two kinds of texts are paramount: a leather-bound copy of Manon Lescaut that gets passed from hand to hand, and then the so many other words that a young, loving, desperate, and dying courtesan scribbles down in defense of her right to love and be loved. John Neumeier’s ballet seeks to bring the unspoken to life.

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In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire/That on the ashes of […] youth doth lie […] Consumed with that which it was nourished by./ This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,/To love that well which thou must leave ere long.”
Shakepeare, Sonnet 73

Léonore Baulac, Mathieu Ganio, La Dame au camélias, December 7, 2018.

On December 7th, Léonore Baulac’s youthful and playful and feisty Marguerite evoked those posthumous stories on YouTube that memorialize a dead young person’s upbeat videos about living with cancer.

Normally, the bent-in elbows and wafting forearms are played as a social construct: “My hands say ‘blah, blah, blah.’ Isn’t that what you expect to hear?” Baulac used the repeated elbows-in gestures to release her forearms: the shapes that ensued made one think the extremities were the first part of her frame that had started to die, hands cupped in as if no longer able to resist the heavy weight of the air. Yet she kept seeking joy and freedom, a Traviata indeed.

The febrile energy of Baulac’s Marguerite responded quickly to Mathieu Ganio’s delicacy and fiery gentility, almost instantly finding calm whenever she could brush against the beauty of his body and soul. She could breathe in his arms and surrender to his masterful partnering. The spirit of Dumas Jr’s original novel about seize-the-day young people came to life. Any and every lift seemed controlled, dangerous, free, and freshly invented, as if these kids were destined to break into a playground at night.

From Bernhardt to Garbo to Fonteyn, we’ve seen an awful lot of actresses pretending that forty is the new twenty-four. Here that was not the case. Sometimes young’uns can act up a storm, too!

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Tired with all these, from these would I be gone,/Save that, to die, I leave my love alone.
Sonnet 66

Laura Hecquet, Florian Magnenet, La Dame aux camélias, December 14, 2018

On December 14th, Laura Hecquet indeed played older and wiser and more fragile and infinitely more melancholy and acceptant of her doom from the beginning than the rebellious Baulac. Even Hecquet’s first coughs seemed more like sneezes, as if she were allergic to her social destiny. I was touched by the way she often played at slow-mo ralentis that she could stitch in against the music as if she were reviewing the story of her life from the great beyond. For most of Act One Hecquet seemed too studied and poised. I wanted to shake her by the shoulders. I wondered if she would ever, ever just let go during the rest of the ballet. Maybe that was just her way of thinking Marguerite out loud? I would later realize that the way she kept delicately tracing micro-moods within moods defined the signature of her interpretation of Marguerite.

Only a Florian Magnenet – who has finally taken detailed control of all the lines of his body, especially his feet, yet who has held on to all of his his youthful energy and power – could awaken this sleeping beauty. At first he almost mauled the object of his desires in an eager need to shake her out of her clearly-defined torpor. Something began to click.

The horizontal swoops of the choreography suited this couple. Swirling mid-height lifts communicated to the audience exactly what swirling mid-height lifts embody: you’ve swept me off my feet. But Hecquet got too careful around the many vertical lifts that are supposed to mean even more. When you don’t just take a big gulp of air while saying to yourself “I feel light as a feather/hare krishna/you make me feel like dancin’!” and hurl your weight up to the rafters, you weigh down on your partner, no matter how strong he is. Nothing disastrous, nevertheless: unless the carefully-executed — rather than the ecstatic — disappoints you.

Something I noticed that I wish I hadn’t: Baulac took infinite care to tenderly sweep her fluffy skirts out of Ganio’s face during lifts and made it seem part of their play. Hecquet let her fluffy skirts go where they would to the point of twice rendering Magnenet effectively blind. Instead of taking care of him, Hecquet repeatedly concentrated on keeping her own hair off her face. I leave it to you as to the dramatic impact, but there is something called “telling your hairdresser what you want.” Should that fail, there is also a most useful object called “bobby-pin,” which many ballerinas have used before and has often proved less distracting to most of the audience.

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When thou reviewest this, thou dost review/ The very part was consecrate to thee./The earth can have but earth, which is his due;/My spirit is thine, the better part of me.
Sonnet 74

Of Manons and about That Father
Alexandre Dumas Jr. enfolded texts within texts in “La Dame aux camélias:” Marguerite’s diary, sundry letters, and a volume of l’Abbé Prévost’s both scandalous albeit moralizing novel about a young woman gone astray, “Manon Lescaut.” John Neumeier decided to make the downhill trajectory of Manon and her lover Des Grieux a leitmotif — an intermittent momento mori – that will literally haunt the tragedy of Marguerite and Armand. Manon is at first presented as an onstage character observed and applauded by the others on a night out,  but then she slowly insinuates herself into Marguerite’s subconscious. As in: you’ve become a whore, I am here to remind you that there is no way out.

On the 14th, Ludmila Pagliero was gorgeous. The only problem was that until the last act she seemed to think she was doing the MacMillan version of Manon. On the 7th, a more sensual and subtle Eve Grinsztajn gave the role more delicacy, but then provided real-time trouble. Something started to give out, and she never showed up on stage for the final pas de trois where Manon and des Grieux are supposed to ease Marguerite into accepting the inevitable. Bravo to Marc Moreau’s and Léonore Baulac’s stage smarts, their deep knowledge of the choreography, their acting chops, and their talent for improvisation. The audience suspected nothing. Most only imagined that Marguerite, in her terribly lonely last moments, found more comfort in fiction than in life.

Neumeier – rather cruelly – confines Armand’s father to sitting utterly still on the downstage right lip of the stage for too much of the action. Some of those cast in this role do appear to be thinking, or breathing at the very least. But on December 7th, even when called upon to move, the recently retired soloist Yann Saïz seemed made of marble, his eyes dead. Mr. Duval may be an uptight bourgeois, but he is also an honest provincial who has journeyed up from the South and is unused to Parisian ways. Saïz’s monolithic interpretation did indeed make Baulac seem even more vulnerable in the confrontation scene, much like a moth trying to break away by beating its wings against a pane of glass. But his stolid interpretation made me wonder whether those in the audience who were new to this ballet didn’t just think her opponent was yet another duke.

On December 14th, Andrey Klemm, who also teaches company class, found a way to embody a lifetime of regret by gently calibrating those small flutters of hands, the stuttering movements where you start in one direction then stop, sit down, pop up, look here, look there, don’t know what to do with your hands. Klemm’s interpretation of Mr. Duval radiated a back-story: that of a man who once, too, may have fallen inappropriately in love and been forced to obey society’s rules. As gentle and rueful as a character from Edith Wharton, you could understand that he recognized his younger self in his son.

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Zurich, The Nutcracker : Princess

« Vous me faîtes danser, très cher! ». Dessin « Lesperluette »

Nussknacker und Mausekönig, Tchaikovsky-Spuck, Ballett Zurich, December 26, 2018.

In his Nussknacker und Mausekönig for Ballett Zürich, Christian Spuck demonstrates how deeply he understands your greatest regret about having had to grow up: not that ability to consume enormous amounts of candied nuts without getting sick, but your having lost that once unforced openness to magical thinking. It’s been too long since that time when you knew how to look beyond the obvious, when wonder seemed natural and “sliding doors” normal, when your dolls were not “toys” but snarky and sassy and opinionated and utterly real living beings.

Spuck also demonstrates how well he understands our second greatest regret about having had to grow up: realizing that now it’s your turn to take the kids to see The Nutcracker. Most versions of this holiday staple have this in common: cloying sweetness and one hell of a loose and dramatically limp plot. Act 1: girl gets a toy on Christmas Eve, duh, big surprise. People in ill-fitting mouse costumes try to launch a rebellion that gets squashed in three minutes and twenty seconds flat [if you listen to the version by Fedoseyev and the USSR Radio-TV Symphony Orchestra]. Unh-huh. It snows. Well, that can happen in December. Act Two: she dreams of random dances that have something to do with sugar or flowers. Like, wow. Why did anyone think this drivel would ever be of interest to children? When I was small, I came out of this – my first ballet — sorely offended by this insult to my intelligence…and to my imagination.

Spuck’s exhilarating rethinking of this old chestnut returns to the original story by E.T.A. Hoffmann in order to scrape off thick layers of saccharine thinking. Newly told, a real narrative takes us back to a surreal and fantastical realm that is both familiar yet often unsettling and keeps you guessing right up to the end.

But first I must confess that the desire to see one of the Paris Opera Ballet’s many talented dancers “on leave” this season originally inspired my pilgrimage to Zurich. Eléonore Guérineau is alive and well and lived it up as Princess Pirlipat. She has taken to Spuck’s style like a duck to water [or, given the nuts, like a squirrel to a tree]. Her fairy-tale princess read as if her Lise from the Palais Garnier had spent the interim closely observing the velvety perversity of cats rather than the scratchy innocence of chickens. – The way Guérineau adjusted the bow of her dress differently each time added layer upon layer to her character, including a soupçon of Bette Davis’s Baby Jane, totally in keeping with Hoffmann’s sense of how the beautiful and the bizarre intersect. Our Parisian ballerina’s chiseled lines and plush push remain intact, and the two kids in front of me immediately got that she was Marie’s sassier alter-ego (and were disappointed every time she left the stage).

Pirlipat? Are you confused? Good!

Ballett Zürich – Nussknacker und Mausekönig – La princesse Pirlipat(Eléonore Guérineau), sa cour et le roi des souris.
© Gregory Batardon

A central part of the original story was lost when Alexandre Dumas [he of The Three Musketeers] translated – and severely bowdlerized — Hoffmann’s tale into French. As Petipa and Tchaikovsky used Dumas’s version, one can begin to understand why the classic scenario falls so flat and leaves so much dramatic potential just beyond reach. Just why is Marie so obsessed with this really ugly toy? Just because she is a nice, kind-hearted girl en route motherhood? Bo-ring. You see, in the original tale Marie already knows that the wooden toy is not an ersatz baby.

The missing link of most Nutcrackers resides within a tale within the tale, one that Drosselmeier dangles before Marie across three bedtimes, “The Tale of Princess Pirlipat.” As brought to the stage by Spuck, this Princess is Aurora as spoiled 13-year-old Valley Girl. Already grossed-out by four over-eager and foppish suitors who chase her around with their lips puckered and going “mwah-mwah,” Pirlipat’s troubles only worsen when her father takes out a mouse. The Mouse Queen’s curse turns the girl into a nutcrackeress rabidly hungry for nuts, not roses. [As the queen, Elizabeth Wisenberg offers a pitch-perfect distillation of what is so scary about Carabosse] A handsome surfer dude/nerd prince [Alexander Jones, geeky, tender, masterful, as you desire] comes to Pirlipat’s rescue, only to be slimed in turn. Not passive at all, Marie will plunge this parallel universe in a quest to save him.

Ballett Zürich – Nussknacker und Mausekönig – La reine des souris (ici Melissa Ligurgo)
© Gregory Batardon

Everything in Nussknacker und Mausekönig has been has been reexamined and reconsidered by Christian Spuck. The score – jumbled up and judiciously reassigned – emerges completely refreshed and unpredictable: when was the last time you did NOT cringe at what was going on to the music for the “Chinese” dance? More than that (and many times more), Spuck will address the fact that many people can’t get enough of Tchaikovsky’s celesta&harp-driven “Sugarplum” variation [One minute 48 seconds, if you go by Fedoseyev]. Here, before we even get to the overture – placed way further down the line and, oh heaven, that music will be danced to for once — the action starts when a lonely automaton with a bad case of dropsy plays the Sugarplum theme on an…accordion. The same melody will return to haunt the action intermittently, refracted into a leitmotif, rather than sticking out as a sole “number.” By thoughtfully reassigning other parts of the score, the ballet loses some of what now seems offensive: grandma and grandpa use their canes for a slightly-off vaudeville number to the music of Marie’s solo, which makes them seem jaunty and spry rather than creaky old fools [the determined yet airborne Mélanie Borel and Filipe Portugal manage to suggest a whole lifetime in the theater. This sly duo would deserve to have their story told in a ballet all to themselves]; the “Arabian/Coffee” music is scooped up by a whirling Sugarplum fairy replete with tempting cupcake-dotted tutu [Elena Vostrotina, a tad ill at ease] ; instead of that embarrassing Turk with moustache and scimitar you get a horde of mice with whiskers all a-quiver…I think I’ve already blabbed too much. The whole evening feels like munching through a box of Cracker Jacks. Each caramelized kernel tastes so good you lose sight of hunting for the “surprise.”

Spuck takes infinite care to adapt the movement to each specific type of doll or creature. Indeed, at first only Marie (a.k.a. Clara in some versions) could be said to be the one person who dances…normally [the radiant and silken Meiri Maeda, whose face and body act without calling attention to the fact that she is acting]. Mechanical ones, in the vein of Hoffmann’s Olympia or Coppelia, use the beloved straight leg with flexed foot walk and stiff bust that follows, complete with those elbows bent up like pitchforks. That is, until Marie assumes they are real and the sharp edges soften. Raggedy dolls – such as the sarcastic and powder-wigged Columbine (Yen Han, as sly and ironic as the M.C. in Cabaret, but infinitely more elegant) – flop to the ground and then get swept up, crisply bent in two. Fritz’s army of timid tin soldiers wobble dangerously (and hilariously) as if fresh from the forge. Wheels of all varieties will be worn to shape and typify certain characters. (Sorry, I’m not going to spoil any more of these delightful surprises).

Ballett Zürich – Nussknacker und Mausekönig – Clowns (Ina Callejas, Daniel Muligan et Yen Han)
© Gregory Batardon

And Zurich’s Drosselmeier ain’t no harmlessly doting godfather. He is a moody and masterful manipulator. In Hoffmann’s tale, his hold over Marie stems from sitting rather eerily on the edge of her bed every night and enthralling her with fantastical bedtime stories until she can no longer tell the real from the unreal. To translate this, the set design involves a tiny stage within a stage on the stage where all – even Marie’s parents – fall under his spell. His costume evokes some of the more lunatic figures in children’s literature: Willy Wonka, The Mad Hatter, The Cat in the Hat. And so will his movement. Have you ever watched marionettists at work? Their bodies dart and swoop and wiggle without pause. Their fingers are the scariest: flickering as rapidly as bats’ tongues. And Drosselmeier’s fingers are all over the place. As they delicately creep all over the feisty Marie, children and adults alike will judge him in their own ways. He swoops, he scuttles, he drops into second plié and sways it, his legs shoot out in high dévelopé kicks and flash-fast raccourcis. When the “Rat” theme devolves to not only Jan Casier’s hypnotic Drosselmeier but also to the coven of his twitchy doubles, the musical switch makes perfect sense.

 

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The cozy auditorium of the Zurich opera house resembles a neo-Rococo jewel box. Spuck’s sparkling and multi-faceted Nutcracker nestles perfectly inside it.

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Un argument pour « Cendrillon » de Rudolf Noureev

A Paris, à l’Opéra Bastille, du 26 novembre 2018 au 2 janvier 2019. 

Musique de Serge Prokofiev. Chorégraphie de Rudolf Noureev.

Serge Prokofiev a composé Cendrillon durant la Deuxième guerre mondiale pour Galina Oulanova, alors au Bolshoï de Moscou. La partition parvient à faire ressortir toute la douceur, l’ironie, et même les aspects les plus violents du conte de fée classique transcrit à l’origine par Charles Perrault dans son chef-d’œuvre de 1697, Histoires du temps passé.

En 1986, le directeur de la danse du ballet de l’opéra de Paris, Rudolf Noureev à l’époque, décida de créer un véhicule pour la plus jeune étoile de la compagnie, la si talentueuse Sylvie Guillem. Inspiré par leur mutuelle adoration des grands classiques du cinéma hollywoodien, le résultat est une Cendrillon décalée. Actualisant le « jadis, dans un pays lointain », le ballet rend hommage à l’ère des films muets et des premières comédies musicales du grand écran : le monde de Charlie Chaplin et de Fred Astaire.

ACTE UN (45 minutes)

Scène 1 : dans la maison de Cendrillon, Los Angeles, quelque part durant l’âge d’Or hollywoodien.

La belle mère et les deux sœurs par alliance de Cendrillon, méchantes et dépourvues de talent, se disputent, cousent et se disputent encore sous le regard de la pauvre fille. Lorsqu’elle se retrouve seule pour un moment, Cendrillon se permet des rêves d’étoile… ou, au moins, que son père cesse d’abuser de la bouteille. Sorti de nulle part, un mystérieux inconnu qui semble avoir été victime d’un accident routier s’effondre dans leur living room. Cendrillon est la seule qui tente de l’aider.

Contre toute attente, les demi-sœurs ont décoché de petits rôles dans un film musical dans la veine Busby Berkeley : des costumes sont livrés et le chorégraphe vient essayer de mettre les filles au point. Quand tous sont partis pour les studios, Cendrillon cesse d’astiquer le sol et s’amuse à imiter les nombreuses stars qu’elle a vues au cinéma.

À son grand étonnement, le mystérieux inconnu revient et lui révèle qu’il est un célèbre producteur de cinéma. L’emportant dans sa cape comme une fée-marraine, il l’emmène jusque dans ses studios.

Scène 2 : les studios d’Hollywood

Parce que Cendrillon doit choisir une robe pour ses débuts filmés, une flopée de danseurs virevolte dans les costumes de mode d’une collection printemps-été-automne-hiver (par la désormais légendaire Hanae Mori). Tandis que Cendrillon et le producteur regardent, ce passage se développe en un interlude dansé dans la veine des premiers films musicaux des années 30. Incorrigible, le producteur ne peut s’empêcher de s’y inviter pour une imitation de Groucho Marx (notez que Noureev a créé ce rôle sur lui-même). Mais avant qu’elle puisse prendre la route au coucher du soleil, le producteur avertit Cendrillon à propos de Minuit (douze danseurs dans d’affreux costumes qui titubent comme des créatures de Frankenstein). Quand l’horloge aura sonné son douzième coup, elle ne perdra pas que sa robe de bal et toute sa carrosserie. Les danseurs tic-taqueurs appuient sur un message bien plus amer : si notre héroïne ne se prend pas en main pour utiliser pleinement sa jeunesse, sa beauté et son talent dans les prochaines heures, elle ne vaudra pas mieux qu’une morte.

 

ENTRACTE (20 minutes)

ACTE DEUX (45 minutes)

Scène 1 : salles de tournage

Tandis que le chef de plateau et son assistant se querellent, trois films muets sont frénétiquement tournés, pour le meilleur comme pour le pire.

Scène 2 : le grand plateau

L’acteur vedette (le prince charmant), empaqueté dans du satin lamé-doré, fait sa grande entrée. Mais quand la répétition débute, il est consterné de se retrouver constamment tripoté par trois femmes absolument bizarres : les demi-sœurs et la belle-mère de Cendrillon. Bien que découragé, le chorégraphe ordonne le début des répétitions. C’est alors que, sous le regard attentif du producteur, Cendrillon fait sa grande entrée en grand ralenti cinématographique, et se révèle, dans ses screen-tests, être Ginger Rogers, Rita Hayworth et Cyd Charisse incarnées dans la même femme.

Durant la pause, un groupe d’aspirantes actrices « serveuse pour le moment » – et parées de coquets costumes de bonne – chaloupent et servent des oranges [Plaisanterie musicale : on entend une reprise de la célèbre marche de Prokofiev pour son opéra de 1919, « L’Amour des trois oranges »]. Les deux sœurs maquignonnent dans leur coin avec un des fruits afin d’attirer l’attention de la star. Mais la vedette n’a d’yeux que pour Cendrillon, et rien ne pourrait troubler le bonheur de cet adorable couple n’était le tic tac de l’horloge sonnant les douze coups de minuit.

 

ENTRACTE (20 minutes)

ACTE TROIS (40 minutes)

Scène 1 : Los Angeles

L’acteur vedette, au désespoir de retrouver Cendrillon, entraîne toute la distribution masculine et l’équipe technique dans une battue. Tels des cowboys, les gars galopent dans tous les sens pour retrouver la fille à son pied. Ils échouent dans une série de bars-clichés hollywoodiens. a) Un palais du tango/fandango/flamenco (La sœur moche #1). b) Un bar à opium chinois (la sœur moche #2). c) Un cabaret russe (la très énergique belle-mère). Mais leurs efforts ne sont pas couronnés de succès.

 

Scène 2 : retour à la maison

Cendrillon, désespérée, effrayée par la célébrité mais en même temps lasse de sa vie actuelle, se demande si le jour passé n’a pas juste été qu’un rêve. Mais son cauchemar éveillé s’achève quand la star de cinéma arrive. Bien entendu, la chaussure est à son pied. Mais avant de pouvoir danser avec son prince, elle doit signer le contrat d’exclusivité avec le studio que le producteur agite sous ses yeux. Mais peut-être la servitude à un studio vaut-elle mieux que la servitude à une belle famille ? À la fin, ce qui importe vraiment c’est que le prince charmant danse divinement. Non ?

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A plot summary for Cendrillon (a.k.a. The ballet about Cinderella)

In Paris at the Opéra Bastille from November 26th, 2018, through January 2nd, 2019.
Music by Sergei Prokofiev
Choreography by Rudolf Nureyev

Sergei Prokofiev composed Cinderella during the Second World War for Galina Ulanova, then at Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet. The musical score manages to bring out all the sweet, ironic, and even quite violent aspects of the classic fairy tale as originally transcribed by Charles Perrault in his 1697 masterpiece The Mother Goose Tales.
In 1986, the Paris Opera Ballet’s then director, Rudolf Nureyev, decided to create a vehicle for the company’s youngest and so talented ballerina, Sylvie Guillem. Inspired by their mutual adoration of classic Hollywood movies, the result is Cinderella with a twist. Updated from “long ago and far away,” the ballet pays homage to the era of silents and early Silver Screen musicals: the world of Charlie Chaplin and Fred Astaire.

ACT ONE (45 minutes)

Scene one: at Cinderella’s house, Los Angeles, sometime during Hollywood’s golden age.

Cinderella’s Stepmother and the two evil and untalented stepsisters argue, sew away furiously, and argue again as the poor girl looks on. When she finds herself alone for a moment, Cinderella allows herself to dream of stardom…or at least that her father stop drinking. Out of the blue, a mysterious stranger — who seems to have crashed some kind of vehicle outside — plops down in their living room. Cinderella is the only one who tries to help him.
Amazingly, the stepsisters have finally won bit parts in a Busby Berkeley-ish musical: costumes are delivered and the Choreographer shows up to try to put the girls through their paces. Once all are off to the studio, Cinderella stops scrubbing the floor and plays at being the many stars she’s seen at the cinema. To her astonishment, the stranger returns and reveals that he is in fact a famous Hollywood Producer. Sweeping her up into his cape like a fairy godfather, he whisks her off to his studio.

Scene two: at a Hollywood studio

Because Cinderella must chose a gown for her screen debut, a bevy of dancers swirl about in a display of couture outfits designed for spring, summer, fall, and winter by the now legendary Japanese designer Hanae Mori. As Cinderella and the Producer look on, this interlude develops into a full-scale number in the spirit of the RKO musicals. Irrepressible, the Producer butts in to the proceedings with a Groucho Marx impersonation. (Note: Nureyev created this role for himself). But before she can ride off into the sunset, the producer warns Cinderella about Midnight (twelve dancers in awful costumes who lurch around like Frankenstein’s monster). Once the clock strikes twelve, she will lose not only her gown and carriage. The tick-tocking dancers insist upon a much more bitter message through their movement: if our heroine does not take charge and use her youth, beauty, and talent to their fullest during the next few hours, she would be better off dead.

INTERMISSION (20 minutes)

ACT TWO (45 minutes)

Scene one: On the sound stages

As the unit director and his assistant quarrel, three silent films are being frantically made to better or worse effect.

Scene two: The Main Soundstage

The Movie Star (Prince Charming), carefully packaged in gold lamé, makes his grand entrance. But when rehearsals begin, he is appalled to find himself repeatedly pawed at by three deeply weird women: Cinderella’s stepsisters and that Stepmother. Nevertheless, the discouraged choreographer insists that rehearsals must begin. Then, under the Producer’s watchful eye, Cinderella makes an even grander entrance in slo-mo and proves, in her screen test, to be Ginger Rogers, Rita Hayworth, and Cyd Charisse all rolled into one.
During a break, a bevy of wannabe actresses “only waitressing for the moment” – and decked out in “sexy French maid” costumes — slink around and serve up oranges [musical joke: we hear the a reprise of the famous march from Prokofiev’s 1919 opera, “A Love for Three Oranges.”] The two sisters fiddle around with their fruit, hoping to redirect the star’s attention. But The Movie Star only has eyes for Cinderella, and nothing would mar the adorable couple’s happiness, were it not for the tick-tock of the chimes of midnight…

INTERMISSION (20 minutes)

ACT THREE (40 minutes)

Scene one: Los Angeles

The Movie Star, desperate to find his Cinderella, enlists all the male cast and crew in a search party. Like cowboys, the boys gallop off and try to find the girl who fits the shoe. They end up checking out the women at a series of Hollywood cliché locales: a) a tango/fandango/flamenco palace [Ugly Sister #1] b) a Chinese opium den [Ugly Sister #2] c) a Russian cabaret [the very perked-up Stepmother]. But their efforts are to no avail.

Scene two: back at the house

Cinderella, miserable, afraid of stardom yet so wearied of her present life, wonders if the last day had not been just a dream. But her living nightmare ends when the Movie Star arrives. Of course the shoe fits. But before she can dance off with her prince, she must sign the studio contract that the Producer waves before her eyes. Perhaps servitude to a studio is better than servitude to a stepfamily? In the end, all that really matters is that a prince charming loves you and dances divinely. Right?

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Robbins in Paris. Elegance : innate, mysterious, and sometimes out of place

John Kriza, creator of the « romantic guy » in Fancy Free in 1944. Press photo.

Paris, Palais Garnier, November 6 and 13, 2018

FANCY FREE

Would the “too elegant dancers of Paris” – as American critics decry them – be able to “get down” and frolic their way through the so ‘merican Fancy Free? Would they know how to chew gum like da guys and play like wise-asses? Just who should be blamed for the cost of leasing this genre ballet from the Robbins Trust? If Robbins, who had delighted in staging so many of his ballets on the Paris company, had left this one to other companies for all these years…did he have a good reason?

On November 6th, the dancing, the acting, was not even “too elegant.” Everyone danced small. The ensemble’s focus was so low key that the ballet became lugubrious, weightless, charmless, an accumulation of pre-fab schtick. I have never paid more attention to what the steps are called, never spent the span of Fancy Free analyzing the phrases (oh yeah, this one ends with more double tours to the right) and groaning inwardly at all the “business.” First chewing gum scene? Invisible. Chomp the gum, guys! For the reprise, please don’t make it so ridiculously obvious that another three sticks were also hidden behind the lamppost by the stagehands. I have never said to myself: aha, let’s repeat “now we put our arms around each others’ shoulders and try hard to look like pals while not getting armpit sweat on each others’ costumes.” Never been so bored by unvaryingly slow double pirouettes and by the fake beers being so sloppily lifted that they clearly looked fake. The bar brawl? Lethargic and well nigh invisible (and I was in a place with good visibility).

Then the women. That scene where the girl with the red purse gets teased – an oddly wooden Alice Renavand — utterly lacked sass and became rather creepy and belligerent. As the dream girl in purple, Eleonora Abbagnato wafted a perfume of stiff poise. Ms. Purple proved inappropriately condescending and un-pliant: “I will now demonstrate the steps while wearing the costume of the second girl.“ She acted like a mildly amused tourist stuck in some random country. Karl Paquette had already been stranded by his male partners before he even tried to hit on this female: an over-interiorized Stéphane Bullion (who would nevertheless manage to hint at tiny little twinkles of humor in his tightly-wound rumba) and a François Alu emphatically devoted to defending his space. Face to face with the glacial Abbagnato, Paquette even gave up trying to make their duet sexy. This usually bright and alive dancing guy resigned himself to trying to salvage a limp turn around the floor by two very boring white people.

Then Aurelia Bellet sauntered in as the third girl –clearly amused that her wig was possessed by a character all on its own – and owned the joint. This girl would know how to snap her gum. I wanted the ballet to begin afresh.

A week later, on the 13th, the troops came ashore. Alessio Carbone (as the sailor who practically wants to split his pants in half), Paul Marque (really interesting as the dreamer: beautiful pliés anchored a legato unspooling of never predictable movement), and Alexandre Gasse (as a gleeful and carefree rumba guy) hit those buddy poses without leaving room for gusts of air to pass between them. Bounce and energy and humor came back into the streets of New York when they just tossed off those very tight Popeye flexes as little jokes, not poses, which is what they are supposed to be. The tap dancing riffs came off as natural, and you could practically hear them sayin’ “I wanna beer, I wanna girl.” Valentine Colasante radiated cool amusement and the infinite ways she reacted to every challenge in the “hand-off the big red purse” sequence established her alpha womanly dominance. Because of her subtle and reactive acting, there was not a creep in sight. Dorothée Gilbert, as the dame in purple, held on to the dreamy sweetness of the ballerina she’d already given in Robbins’s The Concert some years ago, and then took it forward. During the duet, she seemed to lead Marque, as acutely in tune with how to control a man’s reactions, as Colasante had just a few moments before. Sitting at the little table, watching the men peacock around, Gilbert’s body and face remained vivid and alive.

A SUITE OF DANCES

Sonia Wieder-Atherton concentrated deeply on her score and on her cello, emitting lovely sounds and offering a challenge to the dancing soloists. They were not going to get any of the kind of gimlet eye contact a Ma or a Rostropovich – or a rehearsal pianist – might have provided. On November 6th Matthias Heymann and on November 13th Hugo Marchand reacted to this absent but vibrating onstage presence in their own distinctive ways.

Heymann infused the falsely improvised aspect of the choreography with a sense of reminiscence. Sitting on the ground upstage and leaning back to look at her at the outset, you could feel he’d already just danced the thing one way. And we’d never see it. He’d dance it now differently, maybe in a more diffused manner. And, as he settled downstage at her feet once again at the end, you imagined how he would continue on and on, always the gentleman caller. Deeply rooted movement had spiraled out in an unending flow of elegant and deep inspiration, in spite of the musician who had ignored him. Strangely, this gave the audience the sense of being allowed to peek through a half-open studio door. We were witnessing a brilliant dancer whose body will never stop if music is around. Robbins should have called this piece “Isadora,” for it embodies all the principles the mother of modern dance called for: spontaneous and joyous movement engendered by opening up your ears and soul to how the music sings within you.

Heymann’s body is a pliant rectangle; Marchand’s a broad-shouldered triangle. Both types, I should point out, would fit perfectly into Leonardo’s outline of the Vitruvian Man. Where your center of gravity lies makes you move differently. The art is in learning how to use what nature has given you. If these two had been born in another time and place, I could see Merce Cunningham latching on to Heymann’s purity of motion and Paul Taylor eyeing the catch-me-if-you-dare quality of Marchand.

Marchard’s Suite proved as playful, as in and out and around the music while seeking how to fill this big empty stage as Heymann’s had, but with a bit more of the sense of a seagull wooing his reluctant cellist hen. Marchand seemed more intent upon wooing us as well, whereas Heymann had kept his eye riven on his private muse.

Both made me listen to Bach as if the music had just been composed for them, afresh.

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AFTERNOON OF A FAUN

It’s a hot sweaty day in a New York studio. A guy is stretching out all those ligaments, waiting for the next rehearsal or class. A freshly showered girl passes by the classroom door and pushes herself through that half-open studio door. Both – and this is such a dancer thing – are obsessed with how they look in the mirror…for better, for worse? When you are a young dancer, boy do you read into that studio mirror: who am I? Maybe I can like what I see? How can I make myself look better?

On the 6th, there was Marchand and here came Amandine Albisson. Albisson almost hissed “look at my shiny, shiny, new pointe shoes!” This may sound weird to say, but that little Joseph Cornell box of a set seemed too small for two such vibrant personas and for the potential of such shiny shoes. Both dancers aimed their movements out of and beyond that box in a never-ending flow of movement that kept catching the waves of Debussy’s sea of sound. The way that Marchand communicated that he could smell her fragrance. The way that fantastically taut and pliant horizontal lift seemed to surf. The way Albisson crisped up her fingers and wiggled them up through his almost embrace as if her arms were sails ready to catch the wind. The way he looked at her – “what, you don’t just exist in the mirror?” – right before he kissed her. It was a dream.

Unfortunately, Léonore Baulac and Germain Louvet do not necessarily a couple make, and the pair delivered a most awkward interpretation on the night of the 13th, complete with wobbly feet and wobbly hands in the partnering and the lifts were mostly so-so sort-of. Baulac danced dry and sharp and overemphatic – almost kicking her extensions – and Louvet just didn’t happen. Rapture and the way that time can stop when you are simply dancing for yourself, not for an audience quite yet, just didn’t happen either. I hope they were both just having an off night?

Afternoon of a Faun : Amandine Albisson et Hugo Marchand

GLASS PIECES

I had the same cast both nights, and I am furious. Who the hell told people – especially the atomic couples – to grin like sailors during the first movement? Believe me, if you smiled on New York’s streets back in 1983, you were either an idiot or a tourist.

But what really fuels my anger: the utter waste of Florian Magnenet in the central duet, dancing magnificently, and pushing his body as if his arms were thrusting through the thick hot humidity of Manhattan summer air. He reached out from deep down in his solar plexus and branched out his arms towards his partner as if to rescue her from an onrushing subway train and…Sae Eun Park placed her hand airlessly in the proper position, as she has for years now. Would some American company please whisk her out of here? She’s cookie-cutter efficient, but I’ll be damned if I would call her elegant. Elegance comes from a deep place. It’s thoughtful and weighty and imparts a rich sense of history and identity. It’s not about just hitting the marks. Elegance comes from the inside out. It cannot be faked from the outside in.

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Onegin : I Can Dream, Can’t I ?

John Cranko’s Onéguine by the Paris Opera Ballet at the Palais Garnier, Feb 14, 2018

For years now, the tall and dark Audric Bezard, with his high cheekbones and furrowed brow, has been typecast as “the other guy,” “the tall guy,” “the bad guy.” It’s time to put a stop to this. This has been going on for so long that I, like everyone else, came into the Palais Garnier on February 14th expecting a spine-chillingly vulpine and vampiristic Onegin along the lines of Rex Harrington. Nyet!

Instead, I witnessed the very incarnation of a complex human being constructed in such a manner that you only finally “get it” at the end: Bezard’s interpretation suggests that the whole story might have been fabricated from his own dreams and nightmares, or even that dream and reality were reversed.

So I must start with Act Three.

In this haunted and haunting portrayal, Onegin appears back in Saint Petersburg still in shock. His clear alarm when he looks up and sees Tatiana is clearly tied to the last time they saw each other. You wonder whether the pistol he used to kill Lensky isn’t lurking in the cloakroom, impatient to finish the job.

As he hallucinates that all the women in the ballroom are the ghosts of former conquests, now completely indifferent to him, Bezard really gave in to letting himself be pushed and pulled in a manner that made it clear that the women were leading the dance. He accepted their punishment in a manner that reminded me of his unusually subtle and sympathetic Hilarion from a while back .

This time, when he lifted hand to brow, slowly walking toward stage left as in Act One, he was clearly no longer posing (if he ever had). Not “ah, poor me” but “oh god I can’t stand this.” He was broken, desperate to find even a single person to forgive him for all the mistakes he has made.

His biggest mistake? Not listening to the little voice in Act One that said “this girl has something. She’s docile, good-humored, maidenly, a very pretty and graceful young woman. Every teenager reads romantic novels. But this one actually seems to be intelligent. She’ll grow out of it.”

Bezard’s approach to the young Tatiana during their walk in the garden almost made you feel as if she were a figment of his imagination. Dorothée Gilbert’s pensive and subdued portrayal furthered this vision. She always seemed lighter than a feather, ready slip out of his arms and float away. Bezard partnered her with utmost care. Each time he lifted her he so carefully returned her to the ground that the movement seemed to be in slow-motion. They were both, then, as if caught up in their own daydreams.

When Bezard’s Onegin solemnly entered Tatiana’s bedroom in Scene 2 of Act I, he seemed not only to be in a dream, but perhaps having one of himself as a tender Romeo. A  “what could be” that will later torture him as a “what might have been” dream.

That you are not quite sure whose dream is happening here will be reinforced at the end, as Bezard in particular makes the echoes of steps, combinations, and images of the first « dream pas de deux » stand out sharply. This Onegin clearly recalls every single detail of what had gone on in her bedroom three years ago. This leads to another surprising thought: not only could Tatiana’s dream have been his, but…maybe he had really been there in the flesh after all? I find this improbability quite tantalizing.

As Prince Gremin, the husband Tatiana has finally settled for, Florian Magnenet calibrated his interpretation in light of this very pensive and poised Tatania, whose thoughts always seemed to be elsewhere. As opposed to his rapport with Pagliero’s Tatania on the 13th, something about the way he was too careful in embracing and partnering Gilbert, made you realize that this wife of his had not told him everything and remains a bit of a mystery. But what man wants to be told to his face that his wife has felt passion only once in her life, and not with him? Better let sleeping dogs lie.

Gilbert shyly kept her eyes almost completely on the ground during her pas de deux with Gremin. She only lifted them to gaze at her husband and smile dutifully during that sequence where their arms interlace as she is on one knee before him. She submits, rather than loves. Wears the dresses, but doesn’t quite believe in her role as “queen of society.” You therefore understand Gremin’s genuine surprise and confusion when later Tatiana abruptly kisses him with passion in an attempt to make him stay. With Pagliero, Magnenet’s body language said “I trust you, I’m proud of you. You will be fine. Don’t despair, my love.” With Gilbert, “I am sorry to see you are not quite well, my dear, but I must go now. We’ll talk later, perhaps?”

As the ballet hurtles towards its end, Bezard rushed in, only to stop dead in his tracks. Gilbert seemed to have been turned into marble by the letter on her desk. Her frozen stillness made you wonder whether she was still breathing. She, too, was in as much pain as Onegin. She is still that good girl. Writing one love letter three years ago had been her first and last moment of élan, of independent action, of breaking the rules. Both seemed to be thinking of the main result of her one moment of spontaneity: not the broken dreams of the living, but the lost future of her sister’s fiancé, dead.

This Onegin had not returned in order to take a mistress, or ask Tatiana to do an Anna Karenina. Reduced to crawling and crumpling, Bezard radiated a desire for something deeper and more elusive: absolution. He also made it clear that he knew how this dream would end.  I have rarely felt so sorry for an Onegin.

For years, Bezard has been in splendid shape as far as ballet technique goes and has repeatedly demonstrated he knows how to act, not merely let his features brood. It’s time to move him out of Manon’s brother and into the skin of Des Grieux, to let him trade in Hilarion for Albrecht, to let him die like Romeo instead of Tybalt, most of all,  finally release him from the endless purgatory of Petipa’s Spanish dances.

“I Can Dream, Can’t I” by the Andrews Sisters in 1949
I can see, no matter how near you’ll be
You’ll never belong to me
But I can dream, can’t I?
Can’t I pretend that I’m locked in the bend of your embrace
For dreams are just like wine and I am drunk with mine

I’m aware my heart is a sad affair
There’s much dis-illusion there
But I can dream, can’t I?
Can I adore you although we are oceans apart?
I can’t make you open your heart
But I can dream, can’t I?

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Onegin in Paris: love as it folds and unfolds

Onéguine danced by the Paris Opera Ballet. Palais Garnier, February 13, 2018

As I walked out into the Paris rain, I realized I had started humming George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” from 1968. Blame it on Mathieu Ganio’s unusual Onegin. This one, tall/dark/handsome for sure, but melancholy and fundamentally decent rather than arrogant and manipulative, gave a refreshing and redemptive twist to the anti-hero we usually expect.

If at first he seemed a bit tight in his arabesques in the “ah is me” solo, undecided as whether to take the center of his weight forward or back, one could argue Ganio was already using his body to express how this man was complety bottled up. Ganio’s Onegin is not a bored snob, he is a young man struggling against a severe case of depression. This surprisingly gentle interpretation of Onegin increasingly grew on me.

This guy seemed to be trying to figure out

why-ay-ay-ay nobody told you, How to unfold your love.”

The “you” he’s talking to is…himself. Or, to be more French about it, he also made me think of Jean-Louis Barrault’s persona in the film “Les Enfants du Paradis:” equally gloomy, frustrated, passive. A man capable of losing his temper, but who will imagine for just too long that he is incapable of getting happiness out of love.

Ludmila Pagliero’s equally diffident and inward Tatiana gave truth to the Russian superstition that one day you will look into a mirror and see your soulmate, for better or for worse. The first act dream scene turned out to be – given the scary lifts and landings — a tad tamer than can happen. Yet it made perfect dramatic sense. A young girl’s dream of romance is always of a considerate lover. Someone who sweeps her off her feet, not someone who flings her down as if she were a mop. To return to George Harrison, I prefer his elegy’s “I look at you and see love there that is sleeping” to his line “I look at the floor and I see it needs sweeping.” [I know. Pop lyrics can be inane.] There will always be time for reality later on in life.

This was one of the rare times, since the era of Susanne Hanke and Egon Madsen, that Olga and Lensky’s story clearly warranted equal, not second, billing. Myriam Ould-Braham and Mathias Heymann stretched/learned/arched to and from and towards each other as if they had magnets implanted in their respective limbs. Their free, utterly weightless, partnering made for a powerful example of what Tatiana and Onegin were unable to experience. So when Onegin danced with Olga to Lensky’s annoyance, Ould-Braham’s focus, her tilts of the head, her sheer and guileless joy in dancing… were all directed to her Heymann. She could not doubt for a second that Lensky wasn’t in on the joke. For a moment, I forgot where the plot is destined to go, as this duo’s performance had already made me think they had been very happily married for months.

All the sadder then, when it came to the duel. In his farewell solo, Heymann’s Lensky took those backbends of despair and, by acceleration or deceleration, made them each speak Pushkin and Tchaikovsky. The normal rustles of the opera house went totally silent as we all held our breath.

In the meantime, during Act 2, Scene 1, at Tatiana’s birthday party, for once you probably noticed a broad shouldered and elegant man in uniform. You often don’t pay attention to this guest, unless the dancer who will marry Tatiana during the coming intermission [it lasts three years] puts something extra into it. From the start, Florian Magnenet gave his Prince Gremin a kind of gravitas and slowed down military parade strut. In Act 3, then, as he lovingly folds and unfolds Pagliero in his arms, you can’t help thinking Tatiana is one lucky girl. Now that I think about it, Eric Clapton found the right words for Gremin and for Magnenet way back in 1977:

We go to a party and everyone turns to see/This beautiful lady that’s walking around with me/And then she asks me, « Do you feel all right? »/And I say, « Yes, I feel wonderful tonight. »

Later, as Magnenet’s Gremin so warmly takes his leave in Tatiana’s boudoir – you get the feeling she has told him eeeverything – you start to feel as if you are peeking into the room along with Pushkin’s narrator. You feel as sorry and helpless as both Onegin and Tatiana while this poem hurtles towards its inevitable end. Magnenet’s attractive persona remains powerfully on everyone’s mind, and no one can shake the image of how Tatiana had trustingly nestled into his bosom. You, like she, remember too much.

There’s that one long and repeated phrase set to agonized music where Onegin crawls on his knees behind the swooning Tatiana, desperate to pull her back into his orbit. Usually, your focus is on the crawl, on him. Here you focus on the vehemence with which she rips her hands –so tightly balled into fists – from Onegin’s grasp, and on the way she seems to lose her balance – rather than surrender — during their calvary. These two are indeed soul-mates, in that they are doomed to never find the cure for their sorrow and regrets. Neither’s heart shall ever be healed.

« I look at the world and I notice it’s turning, Still my guitar gently weeps. With every mistake we must surely be learning, Still my… »

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Les trois faces d’Onéguine : Réflexions et argument

Au Palais Garnier, Paris du 10 février au 7 mars 2018.
Chorégraphie de John Cranko (1967)
Musique de Piotr Ilyich Tchaïkovski (différente de celle de l’opéra Eugène Onéguine), orchestration de Karl-Heinz Stolze.
English version? C’est ici

C’est l’éternelle histoire : le premier amour d’une jeune fille s’avère être un homme égoïste et égocentrique qui ne mérite l’amour de qui que ce soit. Onéguine réalisera son erreur un jour, trop tard pour espérer un quelconque dénouement heureux.

Les critiques ont immédiatement prédit un double sacrilège lorsque John Cranko décida de créer une version dansée de cette histoire. Le roman en vers d’Alexandre Pouchkine « Eugène Onéguine » (1831) est encore considéré aujourd’hui en Russie comme le plus bel exemple de langue nationale et de style. En outre, le grand Tchaïkovski a adapté l’histoire en opéra en 1879. Même si l’acte de lèse-majesté a d’abord fait ricaner aussi bien Tolstoï que Tourgueniev, son opéra peut tout aussi bien être considéré aujourd’hui comme la Voix de la Nation. Murmurez ou fredonnez Kuda, vi udalilis [L’appel désespéré de Lenski aux beaux jours d’autrefois] au moment de l’atterrissage et tout le personnel de l’aéroport de Novosibirsk se disputera l’honneur de vous inviter à dîner.

Considérant cette merveille de perspicacité et de désabusement qu’est le poème de Pouchkine ou le lyrisme profondément émotionnel de Tchaïkovski… que restait-il à dire ?

Ah mais c’est que John Cranko – Sud-Africain de naissance, Anglais par sa formation de danseur, et la personne qui fit du ballet de Stuttgart en Allemagne une compagnie mondialement reconnue juste avant de succomber à une crise cardiaque dans un avion en 1973, à l’âge de 46 ans  – pensait que traduire ces mots ou cette musique dans un autre médium pourrait fournir à sa troupe de danseurs-acteurs inspirés une incroyable opportunité.

Interdit d’utilisation d’aucune page de la musique de l’opéra, Cranko demanda au compositeur-orchestrateur Kurt-Heinz Stolze de déterrer toutes sortes d’autres jolies pépites de Tchaïkovski. Ce faisant, ils ont concocté une riche partition – le plus souvent moins sombre que l’originale – et un vocabulaire extensif et envoûtant de mouvements aussi expressifs qu’inventifs que Pouchkine comme Tchaïkovski, j’en suis sûre, n’auraient pas désavoué.

Donc… Un jour, au début du XIXe siècle, dans une jolie et confortable propriété quelque part en Russie, baignée dans l’ère romantique, débute l’histoire …

ACTE UN : (35 minutes)

Scène 1 : dans les jardins d’une propriété à la campagne

Tatiana, en train de lire un énième roman français, ne veut pas qu’on la dérange. C’est une curieuse créature, totalement indifférente aux habituels colifichets qui occupent les autres femmes, telles sa maman 1) Madame Larina (monsieur Larine est décédé) 2) Olga, la sœur de Tatiana, joyeuse, mousseuse et inconséquente –du coup la plupart jouée par une blonde- ou encore 3) La fidèle nounou-gouvernante-baba de la famille, privée de nom. L’anniversaire de Tatiana a lieu le lendemain, et elle semble la moins concernée de toutes par la toilette qu’elle portera. Vous serez peut être tenté, irrité par la trop emphatique et carillonnante musique, d’imiter la rêveuse retraite de l’héroïne.

Les filles du village, complètement excitées à l’idée d’une fête, font irruption sur scène. Sa couture achevée, maman, elle-même une incurable romantique, rappelle la croyance populaire qui dit que lorsque on regarde dans un miroir, l’autre visage qui apparait à l’arrière de son reflet EST l’âme-sœur. Les vigoureux campagnards aiment cette idée. Lenski, riche propriétaire et poète prometteur, fiancé d’Olga, aime cette idée.

Tatiana, regardant sans trop y croire dans ce miroir, contrariée qu’elle est d’avoir été séparée de son bouquin, est effarouchée à la vue du reflet d’un grand ténébreux, le plus beau des inconnus ; Eugène Onéguine, tout frais débarqué de l’ultra sophistiquée Saint Petersbourg avec son ami Lenski. Voilà l’homme de ses rêves, comme échappé d’un de ses livres.

Mais d’emblée, il est clair qu’Onéguine n’éprouve que dédain pour Tatiana et son goût pour les romans sentimentaux et qu’il commence d’ailleurs à trouver que ces habitants de la campagne pourraient bien s’avérer aussi rasoirs que ceux qui peuplent les salons de la grande ville. Il ne peut se résoudre à montrer plus que de la politesse envers cette petite adolescente qui le couve du regard, car il s’ennuiiiiiiiie de tout et de tous, de la vie même, et tout spécialement de ces joyeux autochtones qui semblent avoir appris à danser avec Zorba le Grec.

Scène 2 : la chambre de Tatiana

Incapable de dormir, Tatiana – qui a appris des romans que les hommes vraiment amoureux sont trop timides pour faire le premier pas – commet ce genre d’erreur qui change une vie. Au lieu de demander à sa nourrice de sages conseils, elle se lance dans l’écriture d’une lettre passionnée à l’homme qui, elle en est persuadée, chérira et respectera l’offre de son cœur et de son âme inexpérimentés.

C’est « la scène de la lettre ». Dans Pouchkine, Tatiana jette aux orties le riche russe classique pour écrire une lettre en français : le langage raffiné des romans, celui des amoureux transis de la sophistication. Dans l’opéra de Tchaïkovski, une sublime aria, retraduite en russe, chantée seule sur scène, transcrit cette reconnaissance d’Onéguine en âme sœur. Alors dans un ballet… Comment ? Dix minutes à regarder une fille gratter en mesure du papier avec de l’encre et une plume ? Dix minutes à mimer le texte de l’opéra ? Non. Si la couleur locale un tantinet cucul commençait à vous sortir par les yeux depuis vingt minutes, voilà le moment où vous allez faire « Ohhhh ! ». Au XIXe siècle, les sentiments d’une désespérément naïve Tatiana ne pouvaient être décemment exprimés que par des mots. Aujourd’hui par la danse et la magie d’un miroir, le mouvement seul convoiera ses émotions contradictoires –à la fois craintives et extatiques.

Pensez à toutes ces expressions qu’on utilise habituellement : « Je suis toute retournée », « Je ne touchais plus terre », « j’ai sauté de joie ». Ce ne sont que des phrases produites par l’hémisphère droit du cerveau. Et voilà pourquoi cette version de l’histoire a son importance : c’est celle de  l’hémisphère gauche qui aurait pris le contrôle. Pas de mots, pas de raison, la Danse nous fait relier la terre à tout ce que les cieux permettent. La Danse nous fait redécouvrir l’expérience de l’émotion non-verbale pure et dure.

ENTRACTE (20 minutes)

ACTE DEUX : (25 minutes)

Scène 1 : à la fête d’anniversaire de Tatiana, dans le manoir familial, le jour suivant.

Tout le monde sur son trente-et-un, visiteurs venu de la grande ville. Le grand jour de Tatiana. Que pourrait-il arriver de mal ? Tout.

Onéguine se ridiculise malgré lui, d’une manière qui ne peut arriver que lorsqu’on se croit tellement supérieur qu’on n’a pas la moindre idée qu’on est juste un insipide snob de plus. Il blesse inutilement la petite noblesse locale, fait tout un théâtre de jouer au Solitaire, parce que c’est tellement plus intéressant que de danser avec eux. Cela serait déjà suffisant.

Mais voilà qu’Onéguine commet deux erreurs irréparables, de celles qui changent une vie. S’imaginant assez important sur cette terre, il décide de « sauver » Tatiana de ses illusions. Il déchire sa lettre – si indiscrète et si stupide ! – et lui remet les débris en main pour qu’elle les brûle. Dans le texte d’origine, Onéguine pense faire preuve de gentillesse, une attitude difficile à faire passer par le seul mouvement, mais la conséquence de son geste comme de ses actions, la douleur de Tatiana, reste la même. Ceci était fait en privé. Tatiana, brisée, ne peut résister à l’urgence de s’afficher au beau milieu du parquet de danse.

Une personne remarque et est peiné par ce qu’il voit [Mais vous ne remarquerez cela que si le danseur dans le rôle crée d’emblée un riche personnage]. C’est le prince Grémine, un cousin éloigné des deux familles, qui depuis longtemps admire Tatiana à distance respectueuse. On se demande si madame Larina n’a pas imaginé toute cette fête pour arranger des fiançailles.

Mais voilà qu’Onéguine veut  bien enfoncer le clou en montrant qu’il peut avoir n’importe quelle fille au monde et qu’il s’ennuiiiiiiiie ; il commence – sa seconde irréparable erreur – à flirter avec la sœur de Tatiana. Olga répond à toutes ces démonstrations tapageuses avec son habituel bon naturel. Elle ne comprend pas pourquoi son fiancé Lenski prend ombrage des attentions que lui porte son meilleur ami : «  Mais tout le monde sait qui tu es, que tu seras celui que j’épouserai. Laisse-moi donc danser sous les feux de la rampe ce-soir ! Après tout, mon cher, tu as choisi une fille que les autres hommes trouvent gironde ! Non ? »

Le prince Grémine trouve tout cela fort détestable. Lenski trouve cela carrément intolérable.

Scène 2 : À l’aube, dans un parc non loin de la propriété.

Lenski danse une aria qu’il tend désespérément – par de longues arabesques et des cambrés- vers les beaux jours heureux, vers la plénitude de la vie, de la femme idéale, des mots poétiques qu’il aime tant… Et il leur dit adieu. Car, dans sa fureur de la veille, il a provoqué son meilleur ami en duel (Pouckine sera lui-même tué en duel pour défendre vainement l’honneur de sa femme. Ainsi, le texte du roman, l’aria de l’opéra et cette variation convoient chacun le même ironique écho).

Les deux sœurs font irruption dans la clairière et se ruent sur Onéguine et Lenki, cherchant désespérément à leur faire entendre raison. Écoutez comme la musique des deux sœurs semble tourner en rond et échouer à changer de clé ou de mélodie. Tout ce bruit renforce l’impression d’impuissance chez tous les personnages à trouver une issue à cet horrible dilemme. Seul Onéguine, qui commence à sentir l’absurdité de tout cela, flanche. Mais Lenski, prisonnier de ses chimères chevaleresques, refuse de s’apaiser. Piqué au vif, Onéguine, cette fois, ne commet pas d’erreur.

ENTRACTE (20 minutes)

ACTE TROIS : (30 minutes)

Scène 1 : un grand bal dans un palais à Saint Petersbourg, des années plus tard.

Tatiana a épousé  le Prince Grémine, et leur affection mutuelle a forgée de solides liens que tous les invités de la soirée admirent. Regardez comme Grémine – tellement dévoué à son épouse qu’il n’aura pas même besoin de danser un solo sur une splendide aria comme dans l’opéra – enlace Tatiana, la plaçant délicatement en vue. Soupirez de concert avec elle alors qu’elle cède à cette inattendue et réconfortante forme d’amour posé; ce genre d’amour auquel ne l’avaient pas préparée – ou enseigné à désirer – tous ses romans à l’eau de rose d’autrefois…

Une femme étincelante, épanouie et sûre d’elle-même a remplacé la maladroite et naïve adolescente provinciale à la tresse. Personne n’est plus impressionné qu’un hésitant Onéguine, tout juste de retour de longs voyages, qui furent autant d’exils auto-infligés.

Dans la salle de bal désertée, Onéguine voit en hallucination toutes les femmes qu’il a séduites sans les aimer réunies pour le railler. Tatiana pourrait-elle être après tout celle qui le sauverait de lui-même ?

Scène 2 : au palais, dans l’appartement privée de Tatiana.

Cette fois c’est Onéguine qui a écrit la lettre passionnée et Tatiana qui ne sait pas trop quoi en faire. Tripotant nerveusement les pages qui semblent lui brûler la paume des mains, elle supplie son mari (appelé pour mission d’État) de rester près d’elle. Quoique toujours touché, Grémine, tendre et plein de tact, fait passer le devoir avant les sentiments, comme tout mari qui se respecte.

Cette fois, Onéguine n’est plus un hologramme surgi d’un miroir, mais un homme de chair et de sang qui rampe à deux genoux dans les affres de l’amour. Plus âgé, plus sage – ou du moins s’étant laissé pousser la moustache – recherchant à la fois pardon et assomption, il imagine que Tatiana doit le reprendre et le sauver de ces longues années d’obscurantisme de l’âme. Il quémande ce genre d’amour dont il comprend enfin la réalité et la véracité, quand bien même la passion qu’il suscitera risque de les détruire tous deux.

Alors, si vous étiez Tatiana, que feriez-vous ?

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