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.

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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Sylvia in London: Genuine Fake

The Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House, London, December 16th matinée, 2017

I hate being a bitch – even when required — but as this matinee wore on and wore me down, all I could think of were bad musicals (especially parodies of them). Sir Fred, who adored the golden years of the silver screen, would have been appalled at the eye I was casting on “his” work. I hope what I write here about my experience of “Sir Frederick Ashton’s” three-act Sylvia will pass under your radar and end up little read. Just as I hope you won’t have the misfortune of seeing the production live.

Remember that scene in The Bandwagon, where “a modern version of Faust” lays a great big egg? This retelling of the Renaissance tale by Tasso, um, doesn’t even add at least some mayonnaise to said egg. Act One proved somewhat bearable and with a bit of charm at first: as with a stuffed bird in an antiques shop, at first you don’t quite notice how it’s about to fall apart in your hands. There’s always Yuhui Choe’s limpid line to follow around with your eye, as she glimmers out from anywhere she is placed in a crowd. Why is she still too often limited to roles such as “one of Sylvia’s eight attendants?”

Christopher Newton’s revisited and re-imagined staging from 2004 seems to have been a labor of love. He threw himself into reviving a ballet of which anybody who had been around in 1952, including Ashton (whose centenary of birth was to be celebrated) — couldn’t quite remember much. But Newton’s disingenuous statements in the program sound like those of a disingenuous shopkeeper: “I have not re-choreographed it, simply embellished what was there. I’d hate anybody to think I’ve got pretensions of being a choreographer. Where there are extra steps they are typical Ashton steps.” Remember the last time you bought an over-restored Leonardo, convinced by the expert certificate?

But before we get to the dance, what was scoured up from the archives of the work of the original designers, Christopher and Robin Ironside, fell flat. “My stars,” as Bugs Bunny would say, the helmets for Diana’s nymphs in Act One are straight out of Bugs on Mars. Orion’s paltry two manservants are dressed like, and given worse steps to do than, the two gangsters in Kiss Me Kate. The best part is the mobile set of the Second Act. It turns out that its de Chirico surrealist charm has nothing to do with the Ironsides at all: the set is a de post facto pastiche « in the style of. »

Sylvia : only for Vadim

At least the costume for Vadim Muntagirov’s shepherd Aminta, madly in love with a vestal servant of Diana/Artemis — the titular Sylvia — caused no harm. His softly expansive and expressive body, gentle demeanor, and the light touch of his feet on the floor made all the jolly elderly ladies in the Amphitheatre sigh. Alas, he wasn’t given nearly enough dancing to do. He made yearning gestures, and then progressively got to lift Sylvia up/right/center/hoist her onto his shoulder and sometimes pose her upside down. He got to twirl himself around a bit, did some cabrioles. But while Muntagirov looked lovely and strong, all the steps he had been given simply could not arouse interest. Perhaps intentionally, as the motive for creating this ballet was about highlighting Fonteyn. Yes, her again.

I have my own deeply felt convictions about the role of Sylvia, as gleaned from literature and from the Neumeier version that I got to know in Paris. She must combine unselfconscious charm and femininity with a joyously unconscious killer instinct. For her the hunt is about liberty, the freedom to run through the forest with her virgin sisters. Chickens not allowed, this squad flies higher than that. Girls so fleet of foot and heart that even if they ran carelessly over a nest the eggs wouldn’t crack.

Alas, Natalia Osipova made me think more of a G.I. than of a nymph. And more of a schizophrenic than of a young woman slowly discovering what it feels like to fall in love. The mood shifts are abrupt in the choreography, I’ll grant you that, but this merely led to a lot of grimaces of various shades, visible even when you put down the binoculars. She was originally scheduled to dance with Federico Bonelli, a more macho presence than Muntagirov, and maybe Bonelli might have balanced the heavy earthbound force she kept applying to everything, in spite of ferocious ballon. But as I saw it, only a masochist could have been fascinated by such a creature in the first place. And that makes the story sillier and rather off-putting instead of romantic.

V&A Museum

Don’t even talk to me about the meagre leavings of Act Two. Sylvia has been kidnapped by the lascivious Orion and taken to his lair. Orion can only afford to keep two female and two male servants (the Cole Porter gangsters mentioned above) when he owns an entire Mediterranean island? For added value, Orion and his minions get to dance and mime crude sub-Nutcracker “Chine-easy” and Arabic stereotypes. Even a dealer in real antiquities hides the most blatant of his orientalist stash nowadays. The choreography for Act Two was apparently totally lost. I just cannot imagine that even in 1952, Sir Fred would have gone for such a leaden level of stingy (the number of dancers) and tacky (the dances).

And so on to Act Three, where we are served more scrambled eggs instead of a chocolate soufflé. Could this possibly have been intended as an homage to oh so many of the last acts of the Petipa blockbusters? I felt as if I were being forced to stare and – and ooh at — a fake Fabergé egg. In any case, it was exhausting, as the memories fly at you from right and left. Anna Rose O’Sullivan made for a surefooted goat in fussily irritating choreography, and I bet she’s the one who gets typecast as Puss in Boots’s main squeeze every time Sleeping Beauty comes around. Persephone and Pluto were stuck channeling Little Red and the Wolf, etc. (I hate “etcetera” both as a term and as a fact). Sylvia and Aminta get a bit Swan Lake-y. And yada-yada-yada.

Just when you think/hope/pray that this is finally over 1) Orion shows up and his confrontation with Aminta looks like a brief sketch from the early days of World Wide Wrestling . 2) Diana/Artemis makes a so-what fist-shaking cameo, adding about ten minutes to the proceedings. Only then was I finally allowed to leave the premises.

There was an old man of Thermopylae/Who never did anything properly:/But they said, “If you Choose/to boil eggs in your shoes,/You shall never remain in Thermopylae.” Edward Lear (1812-1888), One Hundred Nonsense Pictures

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Don Quichotte : Unfaithfully yours

Nureyev’s Don Quichotte at the Bastille Opera, December 14th, 2017

Even though I had heard rumors, actually seeing the two exchange conniving glances made me instantly go all soap opera: “My God, Mathias really IS cheating on Myriam with Ludmila! Where’s my damn phone? Brenda won’t believe this!”

But seriously, the alchemy of partnering is so elusive and that of casting here so labyrinthine that it’s been a very long time since the Paris Opera Ballet has let a couple blossom undisturbed. Each time I find out that my cast for a ticket bought blind would pair Mathias Heymann with Myriam Ould-Braham, I let out a little whoop. The way they fit together in every sense makes me hope they – and some others – will bring back the glory days when one said: “Thesmarnard” or “Loudilegris.”

(P.S. The POB has just got to do something about their arrogant assumption that when you buy tickets you’re just buying into a brand name. No company does this anymore, and the POB itself didn’t used to. During one run a while back, I wound up with all of one cast’s performances…and no tickets for the other four casts. Exchanging tickets with friends this time around resulted in a similar lulu).

« She’s as headstrong as an allegory on the banks of the Nile. »*

Our rival Kitri, Ludmila Pagliero, is not the kind of woman to sweep up a floor with her fan. She prefers to float above it and play with her phrasing, full of infectious good cheer. Like the rest of the cast, she elegantly avoided any florid “hispanic” flourishes. However, if controlling your fan is considered something Spanish, Pagliero nailed it, as she nailed every other technical challenge with the same unassuming grace and aplomb. She took the fan as extension of her body to the point of — during the coda of the final pas de deux — doing the fouettés with one: opening it as if it were the most natural thing to do during the doubles, shutting it down with equal ease for the singles.

« No caparisons, miss, if you please. Caparisons don’t become a young woman.”*

So, to get back to the affair, I liked/appreciated/oohed and laughed along with this couple throughout the entire evening. They were superb in their slapstick. Heymann channeled Charlie Chaplin at all the right moments with gorgeously flexed feet; Pagliero’s unerring precision – a key to comedy – made the house guffaw. As when she danced Paquita, she just has a way of making small gestures read all the way up to the top of the house.

But, even if I grinned throughout, I didn’t fall in love. Why? Is it simply that their proportions don’t reflect each other in the da Vinci way as Heymann’s limbs and timing almost eerily echo Ould-Braham’s? There is no question that Heymann-Pagliero were a couple in their own way. But no elusive mystery here, no catch-me-if-you-can. Heymann and Ould-Braham push the air away with their développés; and Pagliero is all about a teasingly lush raccourci. She’s more Michelangelo, as it were. But sometimes an outie and an innie can indeed work together. These two gave us the pleasure of watching a lovely and healthy adult relationship (the way she just abruptly, albeit super sensuously, plopped down on the big scarf on the floor in Act II and he equally abruptly, albeit super sensuously, fell upon her confirmed the  manner in which they had been dancing/interacting with each other so far. These kids had been sleeping together for a good while now, grinning while taking turns stealing the covers).

“There’s a little intricate hussy for you!*

From Mrs. Malaprop’s lips to your ears.
Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s “The Rivals,” 1775.

 

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Alone together (Balanchine/Teshigawara/Bausch)

Agon/Grand Miroir/Le Sacre du printemps.
November 3 & 4, 2017, at the Palais Garnier.

I’ve always hated it when the people around me peer in the dark at their programs, searching for the dancers’ names. Why not just look up and out at the dancers dancing? That was, alas, going on all around me during the entirety of Saburo Teshigarawa’s Big Mirror. The program could have easily listed: “the dancer daubed in pale green/in turquoise/in yellow… » That’s done for Robbins, no? Then the audience would at least have carried one name out the door with them: the one in drab grey shmeared all over with burgundy body-paint and – thankfully – allowed to keep her short brown hair un-dyed, is a dancer in the corps named Juliette Hilaire. She was all force, possessed with a ripe and percussive energy and strong sense of direction and intention that bounced back against a tepidly decorative score by Esa-Pekka Salonen (O.K. he wasn’t conducting this time).

The Teshigarawa, a new commission for the Paris Opera Ballet, is pretentious eye-candy. Nine dancers swirl around like droplets of paint, triplet-ing or quadruplet-ing or whatever, windmilling their arms non-stop like trees trying to shake off their last dead leaves for… exactly thirty minutes. Think Trisha Brown takes a small tab of speed. Some of the painted few get to mime conniptions from time to time, for whatever reason. Apparently, the choreographer read a bit of Baudelaire: a poem where music=sea=mirror=despair. I’m so glad the program book informed me as to this fact.

Then in the last minute to go, oh joy, some dancers actually touch, even catch at, each other. I guess some point was being made. I adore Jackson Pollock, but do not make me stand and stare for thirty minutes at one corner of a drip painting.

I was equally perplexed by the current incarnation of Pina Bausch’s normally devastating Rite of Spring. Nine containers of dirt dragged and spread across the stage during intermission – with the curtain raised – already sucks you into a strange canvas.

Yet, and I feel weird saying this: the casting wasn’t gendered enough. The women were great: lofty, loamy, each one a sharply drawn individual. Your eye would follow one in the massed group and then another and then another. Trying to choose between Léonore Baulac, Caroline Bance, and a stunningly vibrant Valentine Colasante got really hard. I found Alice Renavand’s richly drawn Chosen One (self-flagellating yet rebellious to the very end) more convincing than Eleanora Abbagnato’s extremely interiorized one.

But the men? Meh. If it’s Bausch, then the men should be as complex and fearsome as the heads on Easter Island. But here the men didn’t feel like a dangerous pack of wolves, not much of a pack/force/mob at all. They weren’t meaty, weighty, massively grounded.

One big point Bausch was making when she created this ballet way back in 1975 was that a group of men will congeal into a massive blob of testosterone when they decide to commit violence against any random woman. This is why the program never tells you which of the women will ultimately become the “Chosen One.” (Alas the Opera de Paris website does). The point is not who she is, but what she is: a female. Any of these women could die, all the men know it. That needs to be played out. The conductor, Benjamin Shwartz, can take part of the blame. The score of Rite has rarely sounded so pretty.

 

So in the end, I should have left the theater after each of the two enchanting renditions of Balanchine’s Agon that started the evenings. Oh, the men in this one! Audric Bezard eating through space with his glorious lunges, the feline force of his movements, and his hugely open chest. Mathieu Ganio bringing wry classic elegance to the fore one night; Germain Louvet connecting Baroque to jazz throughout each of his phrases the next. Florian Magnenet gave clarity and force to just a strut, for starters…

Dorothée Gilbert has a deliciously self-aware way with the ralenti, and infuses a slightly brittle lightness into her every balance. Her meticulous timing made you really hear the castanets. Her trio with Bezard and Magnenet had the right degree of coltishness. In the girl/girl/boy trio, Aubane Philbert brought a bounce and go that her replacement the next night utterly lacked.

And Karl Paquette, looking good, proves to be in marvelous shape as dancer and partner. In “the” pas de deux – the one created for Arthur Mitchell and Diana Adams — he made his ballerinas shine. He let a melting but powerful Myriam Ould-Braham unwrap herself all over him (that little supported pirouette into a fearless-looking roll out of the hip that whips that leg around into an attitude penchée, ooh, I want to keep rewinding it in my mind until I die). They gave a good teasing edge to their encounter, all healthy strength and energy, their attack within each phrase completely in synch.

With the luminous Amadine Albisson, he got sharper edges, more deliberation. Instead of teasing this partner, Paquette seemed to be testing the limits with a woman who will give nothing away. Here the image I won’t forget is when he kneels and she stretchingly, almost reluctantly, balances on his back and shoulder. No symbiosis here, no play, but fiercely well-mannered combat.

Diana Adams et Arthur Mitchell créateurs du Pas de deux en 1957

My Dear One is mine as mirrors are lonely. W.H. Auden « The Sea and the Mirror »

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En Sol/In G Major: Robbins’s inspired and limpid adagio goes perfect at the Paris Opera.

Gérald and Sarah Murphy, East Hampton 1915.

Two nights at the opera, or were they on the Riviera?

May 20th, 2017.

Myriam Ould-Braham, who owned her chipper loose run –the feet didn’t drag behind her, they traced tiny semi-circles in the sand, and the hips swayed less than Marilyn but more than yours should — called all of us (onstage and in the audience) to attention during the first movement. She was that girl in high school so beautiful but so damned sweet that you couldn’t bring yourself to hate her. Mathias Heymann was the guy so gorgeous and popular in theory that no one ever dared try to get close to him, so he ended up being kind of lonely. Both cast a spell. But you sensed that while She was utterly a self, He yearned for that something more: a kindred spirit.

The second movement went off like a gunshot. Ould-Braham popped out of the wings upstage and stared — her body both still and expectant, both open and closed – at Heymann. From house left, Heymann’s back gave my eyes the illusion of his being both arrow-straight and deeply Graham contracted, hit. You know that feeling: “at last we are alone…uh oh, oh man oh man, am I up to it?”

Like two panthers released from the cage that only a crowd at a party can create, they paced about and slinked around each other. At first as formal and poised as expensive porcelain figurines, they so quickly melted and melded: as if transported by the music into the safety of a potter’s warm hand. Even when the eyes of Ould-Braham and Heymann were not locked, you could feel that this couple even breathed in synch. During the sequence of bourrées where she slips upstage, blindly and backwards towards her parner, each time Ould-Braham nuanced these tiny fussy steps. Her hands grew looser and freer – they surrendered themselves. What better metaphor does there exist for giving in to love?

Look down at your hands. Are they clenched, curled, extended, flat…or are they simply resting on your lover’s arm?

May 23rd

During the first and third movements of the 20th, the corps shaped the easy joy of just a bunch of pals playing around. On the 23rd that I was watching two sharp teams who wanted to win. I even thought about beach volleyball, for the first time in decades, for god’s sake.

Here the energy turned itself around and proved equally satisfying. Amadine Albisson is womanly in a very different way. She’s taller, her center of gravity inevitably less quicksilver than Ould-Braham’s, but her fluid movements no less graceful. Her interpretation proved more reserved, less flirtatious, a bit tomboyish. Leading the pack of boys, her dance made you sense that she subdues those of the male persuasion by not only by knowing the stats of every pitcher in Yankee history but also by being able to slide into home better than most of them. All the while, she radiates being clearly happy to have been born a girl.

As the main boy, Josua Hoffalt’s élan concentrated on letting us in on to all of those little bits of movement Robbins liked to lift from real life: during the slow-motion swim and surf section – and the “Simon says” parts — every detail rang clear and true. When Hoffalt took a deep sniff of dusty stage air I swear I, too, felt I could smell a whiff of the  sand and sea as it only does on the Long Island shore.

Then everyone runs off to go get ice cream, and the adagio begins. Stranded onstage, he turns around, and, whoops, um, uh oh: there She is. Albisson’s expression was quizzical, her attitude held back. In Hoffalt’s case, his back seemed to bristle. The pas de deux started out a bit cold. At first their bodies seemed to back away from each other even when up close, as if testing the other. Wasn’t very romantic. Suddenly their approach to the steps made all kind of sense. “Last summer, we slept together once, and then you never called.” “Oh, now I remember! I never called. What was I thinking? You’re so gorgeous and cool now, how could I have forgotten all about you?”

Both wrestled with their pride, and questioned the other throughout each combination. They were performing to each other. But then Albisson began to progressively thaw to Hoffalt’s attentions and slowly began to unleash the deep warmth of her lower back and neck as only she can do. Her pliancy increased by degrees until at the end it had evolved into a fully sensual swan queen melt of surrender.

She won us both over.

A tiny and fleeting gesture sets off the final full-penchée overhead lift that carries her backwards off-stage in splendor. All that she must do is gently touch his forehead before she plants both hands on his shoulders and pushes up. It can be done as lightly as if brushing away a wisp of hair or as solemnly as a benediction, but neither is something you could never have imagined Albisson’s character even thinking of doing at the start of this duet. Here that small gesture, suffused with awe at the potential of tenderness, turned out to be as thrilling as the lift itself.

Both casts evoked the spirit of a passage in the gorgeous English of the Saint James’s translation of the Bible: If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. (Psalm 139). I dare to say that’s also one way to define partnering in general, when it really works.

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“Can we ever have too much of a good thing?” The Ballet du Capitole’s Don Q

Théâtre du Capitole – salle. Crédit : Patrice Nin

Way down south in a place called Toulouse you will find a Don Q that – as rethought by Kader Belarbi – avoids cliché and vulgarity both in story telling and in movement. The dancing bullfighters, the gypsy maidens, and even the “locals” inhabit their personae with force and finesse, with not an ounce of self-conscious irony, and never look like they feel silly. Liberated from the usual “olé-olé” tourist trinket aesthetic of what “Spanish” Petipa has become, the ballet became authentically engaging. By the end, I yearned to go back to that time when I struggled to learn how to do a proper Hota.

Production:

The key to Belarbi’s compact and coherent rethinking of this old chestnut is that he gave himself license to get rid of redundant characters thus giving those remaining more to do. Who needs a third suitor for Kitri’s hand – Gamache – when you can build up a more explicit rivalry just between the Don and Basilio? Who needs a “gypsy queen” in Act II, when Kitri’s girlfriend Mercedes could step in and gain a hot boyfriend on the way? Why not just get rid of the generic toreador and give his steps and profession to Basilio?

This version is not “streamlined” in the sense of starved: this smallish company looked big because all tore into new meat. Even the radiant individuals in the corps convinced me that each one of them thought of themselves as not “second row, third from left” but as “Frasquita” or “Antonio.” Their eyes were always on.

Economy and invention

The biggest shock is the transformation of the role of Don Quixote into a truly physical part. The role is traditionally reduced to such minimal mime you sometimes wonder why not get rid of him entirely? Yet the ballet IS called “Don Quichotte,” after all. Here the titular lead is given to someone who could actually dance Basilio himself, rather than to a beloved but now creaky veteran. This Don is given a ton to act upon including rough pratfalls and serious, repeated, partnering duties…while wearing Frankenstein boots, no less. (Don’t try this at home unless your ankles are really in shape.)

Taking it dead-seriously from the outset, Jackson Carroll’s tendril fingers and broken wrists could have gone camp but the very fit dancer hiding under those crusty layers of Gustave Doré #5 pancake foundation infused his clearly strong arms with equal measures of grace and nuance. His every pantomimed gesture seemed to float on top of the sound – even when trilling harshly through the pages of a tome — as if he were de facto conducting the orchestra. Carroll’s determined tilt of the head and firm jut of chin invited us to join him on his chivalric adventure. His minuet with Kitri, redesigned as an octet with the main characters, shook off the creepy and listless aspect it usually has.

Imagine what the dashing Douglas Fairbanks could have brought to Gloria Swanson’s role in Sunset Boulevard. That’s Carroll’s Don Q. Next imagine Oliver Hardy officiating as the butler instead of von Stroheim, and you’ve got Nicolas Rombaut or Amaury Barreras Lapinet as Sancho Panza.

Kitri:

At my first performance (April 23rd, evening), Natalia de Froberville’s Kitri became a study in how to give steps different inflections and punch. I don’t know why, but I felt as if an ice cream stand had let me taste every flavor in the vats. The dancers Belarbi picks all seem to have a thing for nuance: they are in tune with their bodies they know how to repeat a phrase without resorting to the Xerox machine. So de Froberville could be sharp, she could be slinky, she could be a wisp o’ th’ wind, or a force of nature when releasing full-blown “ballon.” Widely wide échappés à la seconde during the “fanning” variation whirled into perfect and unpretentious passés, confirming her parallel mastery of force and speed.

The Sunday matinée on April 24th brought the farewell of María Gutiérrez, a charming local ballerina who has been breathing life with sweet discretion into every role I’ve seen in since discovering the company four years ago (that means I missed at least another twelve, damn). She’s leaving while she is still in that “sweet spot” where your technique can’t fail but your sense of stagecraft has matured to the point that everything you do just works. The body and the mind are still in such harmony that everything Gutiérrez does feels pure, distilled, opalescent. The elevation is still there, the light uplift of her lines, the strong and meltingly almost boneless footwork. Her quicksilver shoulders and arms remain equally alive to every kind of turn or twist. And all of this physicality serves to delineate a character that continued organically into the grand pas.

Typical of this company: during the fouettés, why do fancy-schmancy doubles while changing direction, flailing about, and wobbling downstage when you can just do a perfect extended set of whiplash singles in place? That’s what tricks are all about in the first place, aren’t they: to serve the character? Both these women remained in character, simply using the steps to say “I’m good, I’m still me, just having even more fun than you could ever imagine.”

Maria Gutiérrez reçoit la médaille de la ville de Toulouse des mains de Marie Déqué, Conseillère municipale déléguée en charge des Musiques et Déléguée métropolitaine en charge du Théâtre et de l’Orchestre national du Capitole.
Crédit photo : Ville de Toulouse

Basilio:

Maybe my only quibble with this re-thought scenario: in order to keep in the stage business of Kitri’s father objecting to her marrying a man with no money, Basilio – so the program says – is only a poor apprentice toreador. Given that Belarbi could well anticipate which dancers he was grooming for the role, this is odd. Um, no way could I tell that either the manly, assured, and richly costumed Norton Fantinel (April 22nd, evening) or equally manly etc. Davit Galstyan (April 23rd, matinée) were supposed to be baby bullfighters. From their very entrances, each clearly demonstrated the self-assurance of a star. Both ardent partners, amusingly and dismissively at ease with the ooh-wow Soviet-style one-handed lifts that dauntingly pepper the choreography, they not only put their partners at ease: they aided and abetted them, making partnership a kind of great heist that should get them both arrested.

Stalking about on velvet paws like a young lion ready to start his own pride, Davit Galstyan – he, too, still in that “sweet spot” — took his time to flesh out every big step clearly, paused before gliding into calm and lush endings to each just-so phrase. Galstyan’s dancing remains as polished and powerful as ever. In his bemused mimes of jealousy with Gutiérrez, he made it clear he could not possibly really need to be jealous of anyone else on the planet. Even in turns his face remains infused with alert warmth.

Norton Fantinel, like many trained in the Cuban style, can be eagerly uneven and just-this-side of mucho-macho. But he’s working hard on putting a polish on it, trying to stretch out the knees and the thighs and the torso without losing that bounce. His cabrioles to the front were almost too much: legs opening so wide between beats that a bird might be tempted to fly through, and then in a flash his thighs snapped shut like crocodile jaws. He played, like Galstyan, at pausing mid-air or mid-turn. But most of all, he played at being his own Basilio. The audience always applauds tricks, never perfectly timed mime. I hope both the couples heard my little involuntary hees-hees.

Mercedes

Best friend, free spirit, out there dancing away through all three acts. Finally, in Belarbi’s production, Mercedes becomes a character in her own right. Both of her incarnations proved very different indeed. I refuse to choose between Scilla Cattafesta’s warmly sensual, luxuriant – that pliant back! — and kittenish interpretation of the role and that of Lauren Kennedy, who gave a teasingly fierce touch straight out of Argentine tango to her temptress. Both approaches fit the spirit of the thing. As their Gypsy King, the chiseled pure and powerful lines of Philippe Solano and the rounded élan of Minoru Kaneko brought out the best in each girlfriend.

Belarbi’s eye for partnerships is as impressive as his eye for dancers alone: in the awfully difficult duets of the Second-Best-Friends – where you have to do the same steps at the same time side by side or in cannon – Ichika Maruyama and Tiphaine Prévost made it look easy and right. On the music together, arms in synch, even breathing in synch. There is probably nothing more excruciatingly difficult. So much harder than fouéttés!

Dryad/Nayad/Schmayad

Love the long skirts for the Dream Scene, the idea that Don Q’s Dulcinea fantasy takes place in a swamp rather than in the uptight forest of Sleeping Beauty. The main characters remain easily recognizable. Didn’t miss Little Miss Cupid at all. Did love Juliette Thélin’s take on the sissonne racourci developé à la seconde (sideways jump over an invisible obstacle, land on one foot on bended knee and then try to get back up on that foot and stick the other one out and up. A nightmare if you want to make it graceful). Thélin opted to just follow the rubato of the music: a smallish sissone, a soft plié, a gentle foot that lead to the controlled unrolling of her leg and I just said to myself: finally, it really looks elegant, not like a chore. Lauren Kennedy, in the same role the previous day, got underdone in the later fouéttés à l’italienne at the only time the conductor Koen Kessels wasn’t reactive. He played all her music way too slowly. Not that it was a disaster, no, but little things got harder to do. Lauren Kennedy is fleet of foot and temperament. The company is full of individuals who deserve to be spoiled by the music all the time, which they serve so well.

The Ballet du Capitole continues to surprise and delight me in its fifth year under Kader Belarbi direction. He has taken today’s typical ballet company melting pot of dancers – some are French, a few even born and trained in Toulouse, but more are not –and forged them into a luminously French-inflected troupe. The dancers reflect each other in highly-developed épaulement, tricks delivered with restrained and controlled finishes, a pliant use of relevé, a certain chic. I love it when a company gives off the vibe of being an extended family: distinct individuals who make it clear they belong to the same artistic clan.

The company never stopped projecting a joyful solidarity as it took on the serious fun of this new reading of an old classic. The Orchestre national du Capitole — with its rich woody sound and raucously crisp attack – aided and abetted the dancers’ unified approach to the music. In Toulouse, both the eye and the ear get pampered.

The title is, of course, taken from Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote, Part I, Book I, Chapter 6.

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Balanchine’s « Songe » : Energy is Eternal Delight

Balanchine’s Dream remains an oddly-told tale. When I was young and picky in New York, and even as I grew older, I was never fully enchanted, never transported from start to finish. Nor have I been this time around in Paris. Does this ballet ever work? Who cares about Hippolyta or that guy in the shapka? (I will write about neither, you won’t notice). What I’ve been told for way too many years is that what I’ve been missing is a cast with the right kind of energy…which the ballet’s very structure seems to want to render impossible.

“Man has no body distinct from his soul”

And yet I found some of that elusive energy. With Marion Barbeau one night and with Hugo Marchard the other. In both cases: an almost carnivorous joy in eating the air of the stage with their bodies, indeed letting us in on their glee at how they could use their flesh to enliven Titania’s or Oberon’s story. Their energy – not to mention the beautiful lines that both dancers richly carved into thin air – proved contagious.

Eleonora Abbagnato appears so seldom with the company anymore that to me she is an alien. Paired with a technically sharp but emotionally green Paul Marque, she faded into doing the right stuff of a guest artist. Marchand, mischievous and very manly, woke Abbagnato up and inspired her to be the ballerina we have missed: instead of doing just the steps with assurance, she gave those steps and mime that little lilt of more.

“Those who restrain Desire, do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained”

Even if the audience applauds her, Sae Eun Park continues to dance like a generic drug. Yes, she has lovely Taglioni limbs, but no energy flows up to her legs from the floor (don’t even think about any life in her torso or back) nor does any radiate into her unconnected arms or super-high arabesque. You get served, each time, the same-old-same-old perfect grand jeté split reproduced with the same precision and « effortlessness » [i.e. lack of connection to a core] that is required to win competitions. Watching a gymnast with excellent manners always perform completely from the outside just…depresses me. She’s been promoted way too fast and needs to learn so much more. After today, I swear I will never mention her again until she stops being a Little Miss Bunhead.

Act II’s only interesting thing, the “pas de deux” via Park, then, was very worked out and dutiful and as utterly predictable and repetitive as a smoothie. Dorothée Gilbert in the same duet left me cold as well: precise, poised, she presented the steps to the audience.  Gilbert freezes into being too self-consciously elegant every time she’s cast in anything Balanchine. The women’s cavaliers (Karl Paquette for Park: Alessio Carbone for Gilbert) tried really, really, hard. I warmed to Carbone’s tilts of the head and the way he sought to welcome his ballerina into his space. Alas, for me, the pas died each time.

“Life delights in life”

If Park as Helena hit the marks and did the steps very prettily, Fanny Gorse gave the same role more juice and had already extended the expressivity of her limbs the second time I saw her. As Hermia, Laëtitia Pujol tried so hard to bring some kind of dramatic coherence to the proceedings that she seemed to have been coached by Agnes de Mille. This could have worked if Pujol’s pair, a reserved Carbone and an unusually stiff Audric Bezard, had offered high foolishness in counterpoint. For my third cast, Fabien Révillion and Axel Ibot – eager and talented men who could both easily dance and bring life to bigger roles — booted up the panache and gave Mélanie Hurel’s Hermia something worth fighting for.

As Oberon’s minion, “Butterfly,” both the darting and ever demure Muriel Zusperreguy and the all-out and determined Letizia Galloni (one many are watching these days) made hard times fly by despite being stuffed into hideous 1960’s “baby-doll” outfits that made all the bugs look fat. (Apparently there was some Balanchine Trust/Karinska stuff going on. Normally, Christian Lacroix makes all his dancers look better).

I am ready to go to the ASPCA and adopt either Pierre Rétif or Francesco Vantaggio. Both of their Bottoms would make adorable and tender pets. And Hugo Vigliotti’s Puck wouldn’t make a bad addition to my garden either: a masterful bumblebee on powerful legs, this man’s arms would make my flowers stand up and salute.

« If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite »

I am so disappointed that Emmanuel Thibault – and maybe he is too – has spent his entire career in Paris cast as the “go-to” elf or jester. Maybe like Valery Panov or Mikhael Baryshnikov, he should have fled his company and country long ago “in search of artistic freedom.” He never got the parts he deserved because he jumped too high and too well to be a “danseur noble?” What?! Will that cliché from the 19th century ever die? As Puck the night I saw him, Thibault did nice and extraordinarily musical stuff but wasn’t super “on,” as I’ve seen him consistently do for decades. Maybe he was bored, perhaps injured, perhaps messed up by the idea of having hit the age where you are forced to retire? [42 1/2, don’t ask me where the 1/2 came from]. I will desperately miss getting to see this infinitely talented artist continue to craft characters with his dance, as will the:

An Ancient Lady, as thin and chiseled as her cane, lurched haughtily into the elevator during intermission. She nodded, acknowledging that we were old-timers who knew where to find the secret women’s toilets with no line. So the normal longish chat would never happen. But I got an earful before she slammed shut her cubicle’s door: “Where is Neumeier’s version? That one makes sense! Thibault was gorgeous then and well served by the choreography. This one just makes me feel tired. I’m too old for nonsense dipped in sugar-coated costumes.” On the way back, the lady didn’t wait for me, but shot out a last comment as the elevator doors were closing in my face: “Emmanuel Thibault as Oberon! This Hugo Marchand as Puck! Nureyev would have thought of that kind of casting!”

The quotes are random bits pinched from William Blake (1757-1827). The photo is from 1921, « proceedings near a lake in America »

Commentaires fermés sur Balanchine’s « Songe » : Energy is Eternal Delight

Classé dans Retours de la Grande boutique

Un argument pour « Le Songe d’une nuit d’été » de Balanchine.

Grandville : L’Amour fait danser les ânes

Dans l’original de Shakespeare vertigineusement déroutant, une palette de personnages divers et variés s’entrecroisent, se déchirent et se rabibochent sous un clair de lune.

Un roy des fées et sa noble dame se querellent pour savoir lequel des deux aura la garde d’un joli petit page de compagnie. Chacun d’entre eux considère qu’il le vaut bien. Pauvre chéri !

Deux jeunes damoiselles et deux jeunes damoiseaux, aristocratiques mais terre-à-terre, considèrent qu’ils sont / ne sont pas amoureux. Qu’ils se détrompent !

Un duc (d’Athènes, rien que ça) et sa guerrière de fiancée considèrent qu’une toute nouvelle pièce de théâtre serait la plus digne des additions à leur festivités de noces. Mauvaise idée.

Une horde calamiteuse d’artisans mal dégrossis qui considèrent qu’ils peuvent écrire cette pièce – et même apprendre à la jouer- tout ça en un jour. Mais en fait, non…

Et puis il y a Puck, qui considère qu’il sait ce qu’il fait mais qui en fait ne distingue pas sa droite de sa gauche.

Aucun d’entre eux ne capte vraiment  «qu’à trop considérer, on sidère surtout par son ânerie ».

Mais  voilà que le vrai âne entre en scène. C’est le sot enchanté et enchantant, Bottom le tisserand, que Puck a transformé en bourricot. Gentil et naïf, Bottom considère qu’il n’a pas besoin de magie pour mettre en chaleur une reine des fées…

Mais voyons ce que donne l’adaptation par Balanchine de ce classique sans queue ni tête.

Acte 1 (à peu près une heure)

Ouverture et scène 1

De grands papillons et de mignonnes petites lucioles  sautillant aux côtés de Puck le lutin, voient leur clairière traversée par une grande variété de personnages ; une jeune fille au désespoir sémaphorique, une titubante troupe d’artisans avinés ; le roi des fées Obéron et sa reine Titania.

Titania et Obéron semblent être au milieu d’un véritable incident diplomatique – elle dit « non » à foison. Voyez-vous, Obéron veut que sa femme lui cède son jeune page (en général costumé en petit indien d’Inde à turban). Il est tellement  condescendant que vous pourriez bien confondre et le prendre pour son papa. Il ne remporte pas cette manche.

Et voilà qu’un nouveau type paraît. C’est Thésée, le duc d’Athènes. Il aimerait bien se consacrer à sa fiancée, une autre reine, Hyppolyte. Elle est du genre infatigable avec un arc greffé à son poing. C’est une guerrière amazone.

Mais tout d’abord, Thésée doit gérer la jeune désespérée – son nom est Héléna – et ses trois comparses tout aussi désespérés. : Hermia, Démétrius et Lysandre… Mais qui est qui ? Sans plaisanter, qui s’appelle quoi a toujours été l’aspect le plus ardu de cette pièce pour le spectateur. Juste pour information, Hermia est celle qui est adorée par les deux garçons au début puis rejetée tandis qu’Héléna est la mal aimée qui sera ensuite adorée par eux contre son gré. Seule la magie, et certainement pas les lois athéniennes, sera en mesure de démêler tout cela.

Scène 2

Titania et ses papillons font leur aérobic avant  d’aller au dodo, interrompues par des représentants du sexe fort, d’abord Puck et puis… non ! Pas Obéron. L’un des petits caprices assumés de la version Balanchine, qui déborde de duos, est que Titania ne danse jamais avec son légitime. Néanmoins, une ballerine peut avoir besoin  d’une présence masculine occasionnelle pour la soutenir. La solution choisie, que je trouve un peu bizarre, est de la coupler avec un gars sorti de nulle part. Le pas de deux est savoureux, mais vous ne recroiserez jamais le monsieur. Si ça peut vous aider de penser que Titania est tellement furieuse qu’elle s’est lancée dans une aventure extraconjugale, allez-y.

Scène 3

Entouré d’une nuée d’insectes dansants, Obéron boude. Un papillon danse énormément (son nom est « Papillon »). Mais voilà qu’il a une idée de génie : il est temps d’utiliser son arme secrète, la fleur au nectar si puissant qu’elle vous fait tomber violemment amoureux de la première créature que vous croisez. Il l’utilisera pour humilier sa femme cabocharde. Mais d’abord, il ordonne à Puck de l’utiliser pour mettre un peu d’ordre dans l’esprit de Démetrius, le garçon désiré ardemment par Héléna.

Mais voila, parce que Puck confond dans le programme lequel est Démetrius et lequel est Lysandre, le chaos s’ensuit, avec tous les quatre jeunes gens courant après ou fuyant l’autre. Désormais, Héléna est encore et toujours désespérée parce qu’elle a DEUX soupirants pour la tripoter et Hermia est en larmes.

Scène 4

Grandville : âne et chardon

Titania – je suppose qu’elle ne pouvait plus s’endormir après tout cet exercice – traîne avec ses copines et entame un solo. C’est ensuite le tour de Hermia. Et les artisans qui apparaissaient brièvement lors de l’ouverture y trébuchent de nouveau. Alors que la petite troupe traverse la scène, Puck en arrache le tisserand Bottom, et le transforme en âne. Ça c’est méchant, d’autant qu’à l’époque élisabéthaine, les ânes étaient réputés très libidineux !

Scène 5

Obéron surprend finalement Titania endormie, saupoudre la potion d’amour sur ses yeux et positionne stratégiquement Bottom. Le résultat est des plus charmants. Les mouvements de Titania et son mime sont remplis d’une immense tendresse, tandis que l’âne bâté se concentre sur les gratouilles et la tambouille. Leurs « amours » croisant les espèces sont bien innocentes. Elle le caresse comme s’il était son greffier et on pourrait presque l’entendre ronronner.

Scène 6

Vous vous souvenez d’Hippolyte, la fille à l’arc ? Eh bien, la voilà qui revient, dégainant les grands jetés et les fouettés dans tous les sens, accompagnée dans le petit matin glacé par une meute de chiens qui ondoie par-dessus les fumigènes. Thésée se retrouve nez à nez avec les quatre jeunes gens en colère. Obéron décide alors qu’il est temps de régler tout ça. Bottom perd son ânitude, Titania se réveille sous le regard interrogatif de son mari, prête à céder le petit page. Lysandre se relève amoureux de Hermia ; Démetrius ne cessera jamais d’aimer Héléna  (j’espère que j’ai bien tout compris). Thésée et Hippolyte décident d’organiser un mariage de groupe.

Entracte

Acte 2 (à peu près 30 minutes)

On entend la marche nuptiale (oui, celle-là même). Tout le monde est maintenant sur son trente-et-un classique (c.à.d les tutus). Et voilà pour l’argument. La scène est livrée à un flot de «divertissements ».

Dans le courant de l’action, votre cœur stoppera peut-être à la vue d’un pas de deux complètement infusé de lyrisme qui semble encapsuler tout la signification de l’amour véritable. C’est une démonstration magistrale de la manière dont l’âme et le corps peuvent trouver la paix et l’harmonie. Mais, bizarrement, il n’est dansé par aucun des danseurs que vous viendriez à reconnaître. Un nouveau couple est apparu, sorti de nulle part, et a commencé à danser. Pouf, comme ça ! Et ils n’ont même pas de nom. Ils sont identifiés dans le programme comme : « pas de deux ». Dans une histoire qui a déjà trop de personnages, je reste toujours perplexe face à ce choix d’ajouter un monsieur souteneur à l’acte 1 et un monsieur et madame allégorie de l’Amour à l’acte deux.

Cet interlude, je suppose, a permis à Balanchine de penser qu’il pouvait se dispenser de faire connaître la fin de l’histoire de Bottom et de ses amis. Ils disparaissent purement et simplement. Je pense que si vous avez jamais vu la pièce sur scène – ou toute autre de ses adaptations filmées, chantées ou dansées – vous conviendrez que la représentation par les artisans de la « courte et fastidieuse histoire du jeune Pyrame et de son amante Thisbé ; farce très tragique » pendant les célébrations de mariage est la chose la plus drôle que vous ayez jamais vu. Son absence me gène cruellement ici. S’il a été possible de trouver un moyen de faire entrer le chat botté par effraction dans le mariage de La Belle au bois dormant, alors pourquoi le maître de ballet n’a-t-il pas laissé ces gars revenir tituber sur scène ?

Grandville. La vie d’un papillon

Commentaires fermés sur Un argument pour « Le Songe d’une nuit d’été » de Balanchine.

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