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.

Giselle in Paris : Ut Pictura Poesis

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

Act One(s)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Second Act(s)

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

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

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

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

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

Hilarion (one and only).

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

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

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

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

Myrtha(s):

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hannah ONeill

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

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

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Classé dans Retours de la Grande boutique

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

La Pastorale. Hugo Layer. Photograph by Olivier Houeix

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

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

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

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

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

La Pastorale. Thierry Malandain. Photograph by Olivier Houeix

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

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

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

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

La Pastorale. Photographer, Olivier Houeix

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

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

Classé dans Blog-trotters (Ailleurs), Ici Paris

Le Parc. Paris. Un argument.

La Carte du Tendre. Illustration pour la « Clélie » de Madeleine de Scudéry (1654)

Chorégraphie Angelin Preljocaj (1994, créé pour le Ballet de l’Opéra de Paris). Musiques : Mozart et Goran Vejdova. Palais Garnier.

Vous voilà à Paris, une dangereuse mais passionnante destination. Sûrement espérez-vous y trouver l’amour. Peut-être dans un parc, à l’ombre d’un arbre. Mais que voulez-vous vraiment ? L’amour ou le sexe ? La raison ou l’émotion ? S’excluent-ils l’un l’autre ? Deux esprits se rencontrent ou… Et puis quelle part de vous veut baisser les armes ? Voilà d’éternelles questions.

Fasciné par les premiers grands romans des XVIIe et XVIIIe siècle français, Angelin Preljocaj a essayé de voir si un genre si verbeux pouvait survivre à sa traduction dans le langage du mouvement. Les Liaisons dangereuses, la Princesse de Clèves, la Clélie de mademoiselle de Scudéry et les pièces de Marivaux ont toutes pavé la traître route qui pourrait connecter votre cœur à votre corps en passant par votre esprit. Il fut même un temps où des artistes dessinèrent une carte de cette immensité sauvage : les liaisons décrites comme des paysages tous minés. Coincé entre la dangereuse mer des passions et le lac d’indifférence, confiance et tendresse sont-elles seulement une option ? Les amants se comprennent-ils jamais vraiment ?

Bien que le ballet soit dansé d’un seul tenant – 1 heure 40 sans entracte – il est en fait divisé en trois sections.

PREMIÈRE PARTIE :

Chaque partie est introduite par une bizarre horde de jardiniers à la gestuelle saccadée. Sont-ils les Parques ? Sont-ils les normes de la société ? Avec leurs lunettes de soudeur et leurs tabliers de boucher, se cachent-ils de la lumière du jour ou indiquent-ils seulement que l’amour est aveugle, bouillant, fatal ? La musique qui les accompagne résonnera comme le roulis d’un train ou alors comme le ronron obsédant de la chaîne à l’usine : contrôlons-nous jamais ces événements ? D’une manière rugueuse et raide, ils dressent la carte des gestes et des mouvements qui suivront. Remarquez que ce « jardin » est taillé dans l’acier et la poutre industrielle. Ce « parc », ce paysage d’amour, aura des angles contondants et blessants.

Soupçons/Séduction. L’assemblée se constitue autour d’un jeu (mais n’est-ce qu’un jeu ?) de chaises musicales et de surenchère. IL soupèse les différentes femmes disponibles (en travesti, un clin d’œil à Marivaux) tandis qu’ELLE feint l’indifférence. Mais il l’a remarquée. En dépit des dehors policés, le désorientant jeu de la séduction a commencé.

Première rencontre/tentations (Pas de deux/duo#1). Il est ardent, elle pleine d’appréhension ; mais ils réalisent rapidement qu’ils sont synchrones. Ils se parlent mais hésitent à se toucher… jusqu’à ce qu’elle s’évanouisse. Ils se démènent pour rester fidèles aux – et s’extirper des – règles de la société policée.

DEUXIÈME PARTIE :

Encore les jardiniers

Délicieux appâts. Les femmes, s’étant délestées de quelques vêtements, anticipent joyeusement la prochaine aventure. Elle, dans une robe rouge intense, est curieuse mais inquiète.

Désir. Quatre hommes arrivent à quatre pattes, jouant le désespoir. Il est l’un d’entre eux, mais trouve vite une autre femme avec qui flirter. Celles qui n’ont pas cette chance dansent leur frustration.

Deuxième rencontre/ Résistances (Pas de deux #2). Les jardiniers la mènent dans un bosquet du parc. Plus il essaye de l’impressionner, plus elle résiste. Alors qu’il semble s’offrir corps et âme, elle craint les conséquences. Peut-être serait-elle prête à donner son corps ; mais son âme ?

TROISIÈME PARTIE :

La voilà prisonnière d’un cauchemar où elle est agie par les froids jardiniers.

Regrets. Tard dans la nuit, les femmes se lamentent sur les amants/les amours perdus.

Passion. Lui, enflammé de désir, aiguillonne les autres mâles.

Faiblesse. Une seconde trop tard, certains hommes réalisent combien les femmes vont/peuvent dépendre d’eux. Alors que la séduction peut occasionnellement les enchaîner, pour les femmes les conséquences – que ce soit la maternité ou la mort qui en découle souvent – laisseront une marque indélébile sur leurs corps.

Troisième rencontre/ Abandon (pas de deux #3). La traduction anglaise serait « rendre les armes ». Tandis qu’ILS dansent, les pas qu’ils ont jadis faits côte à côte se fondent en un seul. Voilà une des plus magnifiques représentations de l’amour – ce baiser en vol ! – mais qui de nous croit vraiment que l’amour est éternel ?

ÉPILOGUE : alors que le ciel s’assombrit (à l’approche d’une tempête ?) les jardiniers ont le dernier mot.

Commentaires fermés sur Le Parc. Paris. Un argument.

Classé dans Hier pour aujourd'hui, Retours de la Grande boutique

Un argument pour Raymonda

Rudolf Noureev. Raymonda. Captation filmée 1984. Capture d’écran.

RAYMONDA: Chorégraphie de Rudolf Noureev (1983), d’après le ballet original de Marius Petipa (1898). Musique d’Alexandre Glazounov. Paris, Opéra Bastille, du 3 au 31 décembre.

Bien avant qu’il ne s’avère être le plus célébré des chorégraphes du XIXe siècle, Marius Petipa dut quitter sa ville de naissance Marseille et parcourir l’Europe comme danseur indépendant. Puis, il décrocha un poste permanent en Russie. Une fois achevée la fameuse trilogie avec Tchaïkovski – La Belle au bois dormant, Casse-noisette et le Lac des cygnes – Petipa continua à produire ses ballets d’une soirée en utilisant une formule éprouvée : un décor exotique (souvent un de ceux dont il avait fait l’expérience, durant ses voyages forcés, et dont il avait assimilé, dans toutes ses fibres, les danses locales) ; un dramatique triangle amoureux (pareil qu’à l’opéra, na !) ; et un très attendu ballet blanc (que les anglo-saxons appellent « scène du rêve ») où l’héroïne – la femme idéale – est diffractée indéfiniment par un corps de ballet de ballerines toutes revêtues d’un tutu identique.

En 1961, alors en tournée en France, l’immense danseur Rudolf Noureev déserta, préférant le Monde à la Russie soviétique. S’il laissa tout derrière lui, il garda dans son esprit et dans son corps, tel une mémoire-valise pleine à craquer, tous les grands ballets narratifs de Marius Petipa. Parmi ces joyaux datant de la Russie tsariste, certains n’avaient été que rarement vus à l’étranger. Raymonda en trois actes était de ceux-là.

Cette histoire, située à l’époque des Croisades, tourne autour d’une princesse française qui se trouve écartelée entre l’amour d’un séduisant chef guerrier arabo-mauresque et celui d’un « bel et preux chevalier » au service du roi de Hongrie. Les noms des personnages principaux masculins – Abd-el-Rahman, Jean de Brienne et André II – sont pris dans l’Histoire [même s’ils ne furent pas contemporains], tandis que l’argument – ainsi que l’héroïne – sont pure invention et prétexte à la danse.

Tout en respectant les parties subsistantes de la chorégraphie originale, Noureev ajoutait toujours quelque chose en plus dans ses propres productions : beaucoup plus de danse pour les hommes que cela n’était d’usage à l’époque de Petipa (et même à l’Ouest à l’époque de Noureev). Ici, tout particulièrement, il développe le rôle du chef sarrasin – un simple mime dans la production originale – pour en faire un protagoniste majeur dont la séduisante gestuelle est très clairement plus inspirée par la technique de la modern dance américaine, que Noureev avait appris à aimer, que par la couleur locale à la Petipa tellement appréciée au XIXe siècle.

ACTE UN : (1 heure et 10 minutes)

Versailles. Salles des croisades. Marguerite de France mène les Hongrois à la croisade.

Scène 1 : quelque part en Provence, France, début du XIIIe siècle.

Un mariage arrangé se prépare. La vieillissante Comtesse de Doris a irrévocablement fiancé sa nièce à un chevalier français au service d’André II, roi de Hongrie. Mais la comtesse est perturbée par les amis de sa nièce, un joyeux quartet de jeunes troubadours : Henriette, Clémence et leurs petits amis Béranger et Bernard.
La comtesse se fend d’une longue pantomime, battant sa coulpe. Comment ces enfants peuvent-ils rester si légers alors que la cité est assiégée ? Ces fol d’Arabes se pressent aux portes. Elle mime les pré-requis indispensables : quand la ville est en danger, une mystérieuse dame blanche (regardez vers la gauche dans la direction indiquée par ses poings) « revient toujours de l’autre monde pour nous protéger… sauf lorsque nous nous sommes montrés trop frivoles et oublieux de nos devoirs. » Les quatre APLV adeptes du flirt ne sont pas du tout impressionnés par ce sombre karma.

La nièce de la comtesse, Raymonda, paraît en-fin et se montre si légère sur ses pieds qu’elle peut pirouetter et cueillir des roses sans se ramasser. Elle est à la fois intelligente et innocente. Le roi de Hongrie lui remet un parchemin qui lui annonce le retour imminent d’un de ses chevaliers et déroule une tapisserie représentant un superbe cliché de prince charmant. Raymonda se montre convenablement enchantée par ce mirage de prince que sa tante et le roi de Hongrie ont choisi pour elle.

La comtesse danse, tout comme les quatre amis de Raymonda. Tout est pour le mieux quand soudain…

Abderam, le guerrier sarrasin, celui là même qui assiège la cité, fait irruption, offrant joyaux, esclaves et – ouh là là – lui même; tout un pactole qu’il dépose aux pieds d’une Raymonda stupéfaite.

Versailles. Salles des croisades. Rencontre de Richard Coeur de Lion et de Philippe Auguste. Détail.

Scène 2 : le rêve

Raymonda, touchant distraitement du luth, est désormais perplexe. Ses quatre amis dansent autour d’elle, espérant la distraire. Dans l’espoir de les distraire, elle danse avec son voile nuptial mais préférerait bien qu’on lui fichât la paix.

Epuisée par cette journée émotionnellement éprouvante, Raymonda a décidément besoin de faire un petit ronron. Mais au lieu d’écraser, elle commence à rêver de :

La dame blanche, qui désigne la tapisserie. Et soudain IL apparaît :

Jean de Brienne, chevalier à l’éclatante armure, tout habillé de blanc, qui sort de la tapisserie et qui – littéralement – lui met cul par-dessus tête. Il est vraiment l’homme de ses rêves. Du moins le croit-elle.

Ses amis réapparaissent, maintenant parés de costumes argentés, et une flopée de danseurs habillés de noir et de blanc dansent une fugue incroyablement compliquée : c’est la Valse fantastique. Cet intermède s’est avéré être une des plus complexes, des plus inventives et des plus enthousiasmantes additions au répertoire du corps de ballet.

Henriette, Clémence, Raymonda et Jean de Brienne dansent chacun à leur tour.

Mais, pour son plus grand choc, Raymonda voit son amoureux de rêve se métamorphoser en un sulfureux Abderam.

Réveillée par ses amis, l’héroïne réalise qu’elle est écartelée entre deux idéaux masculins opposés.

ENTRACTE (20 minutes)

ACTE DEUX : (40 minutes)

Versailles. Salle de Croisades

Abderam, prêt à offrir la paix en échange de la main de Raymonda, sort le grand jeu : une fabuleuse tente bédouine, des numéros de danse exotique, son corps et son âme sur un plateau… Tout ce qu’elle peut désirer. Mais Raymonda, bien que titillée, reste imperturbable, la têtue…

Absolument frustré et brûlant de désir, Abderam décide de kidnapper la récalcitrante donzelle. Mais voilà que soudain, qui croyez-vous va faire son apparition, en chair et en os et serré dans d’immaculés collants blancs ? Jean de Brienne, bien sûr, fraîchement débarqué de la Croisade ! Les deux hommes se défient en duel… La lice est suivie d’un combat à l’épée. Devinez qui est vaincu? …

ENTRACTE (20 minutes)

ACTE TROIS (35 minutes)

Appartement de Rudolf Noureev à Paris, quai Voltaire

Les festivités du mariage :

Ici, le ballet atteint son apogée en se resserrant sur ses essentiels. Une czardas hongroise, menée par la comtesse et le roi, est suivie par de diverses et délicates variations sur ce thème : des solos, un quatuor de garçons, des danses de groupe. L’acmé est atteint avec un envoûtant solo pour Raymonda [son septième de la soirée] – la musique consiste dans les vibrations du piano saupoudrées de l’intervention des cordes – une orchestration très surprenante en 1898. Ruisselante de lourds joyaux et claquant des mains avec une autorité toute neuve, cette princesse fiancée est désormais prête à devenir reine.

Tandis que le ballet court à sa fin, vous désirerez peut-être lever votre calice de vermeil et porter un toast en l’honneur de ce si joli couple [A moins que comme moi, vous ne regrettiez – ce qui m’arrive le plus souvent – qu’Abderam n’ait pas été invité à ces célébrations].

Rudolf Noureev avec Michelle Phllips dans « Valentino », film de Ken Russell

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Classé dans Hier pour aujourd'hui, Retours de la Grande boutique

A plot summary for RAYMONDA

Rudolf Nureyev filmed in Raymonda (1984). Screen shot.

RAYMONDA: Choreography by Rudolf Nureyev(1983), inspired by Marius Petipa’s original ballet (1898) Music by Alexander Glazunov Paris, L’Opéra Bastille. In repertory from December 3rd to the 31st, 2019

Way before he actually turned out to be the most celebrated choreographer of the 19th century, Marius Petipa first had to leave his native Marseille and wing it all over Europe as a hired dancer. Then he landed a permanent post in Russia. Once done with the famous trilogy with Tchaikovsky — Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker and Swan Lake – Petipa went on to produce full-length ballets where he used a tried and tested formula: an exotic setting (often one he had experienced during his enforced travels, where he had absorbed the local dance forms into his bones); a dramatic love triangle (like most operas, duh); and an acclaimed “dream scene” (which the French call a ballet blanc) where the heroine – the ideal woman — is infinitely refracted by a corps of ballerinas all clad in identical tutus.
In 1961, while on tour in France, the great dancer Rudolf Nureyev defected, choosing the world over Soviet Russia. If he left a few material possessions behind, in his head and body he carried out an overstuffed memory-suitcase of all of Petipa’s evening-length story ballets. Among these jewels that dated back to the Tsarist era, some had been rarely seen abroad, such as…the full-length “Raymonda.”
This story, set during the Crusades, revolves around a French princess who finds herself torn between the love of a dishy Arabo-Mauresque chieftain and that of a “verry parfit gentil knight” [as Chaucer was wont to say] in the service of the King of Hungary. The male characters’ names — Abd-el-Rahman, Jean de Brienne, and André II – are indeed taken from history but lived during different eras, alas. The plot – and the heroine – are pure invention let fly as a pretext for dancing.
While respecting what original choreography had survived, Nureyev would always add one thing to all of his productions: much more dancing for the men than was the norm in Petipa’s time (or even in “the West” of Nureyev’s own lifetime). Here, in particular, he expanded the role of the Saracen chief – more of a standard mime in the original production – into a major protagonist whose slinky moves are clearly more inspired by the modern dance techniques that Nureyev had learned to love than by that “Petipa local color” once so beloved in the 19th century.

ACT ONE : (1 hour 10 minutes)

Versailles. Salles des croisades. Marguerite de France mène les Hongrois à la croisade.

Scene 1: somewhere in Provence, France, early in the 13th century.

An arranged wedding is in preparation. The aging Countess de Doris of Provence, without issue, has betrothed her niece Raymonda to a French knight in the service of André II, King of Hungary. But the Countess gets distracted by her niece’s friends, a jolly quartet of joyous young troubadors: Henriette and Clémence and their boyfriends Bernard and Béranger.
The Countess does a long pantomime, beating her breast. How can these kids be so silly when in fact the town is under siege? Crazed Arabs are pressing against the gates! She mimes the back-story: when the town is in danger a mysterious white lady (look up to the left, the direction towards which she shakes her fists) “always returns from the other world to protect us…unless we have been too frivolous and forgotten our duties.” Our future heroine’s four flirty BFFs are not impressed by all this gloomy karma.
The Countess’s niece, Raymonda, fi-na-lly, appears and proves so light on her feet she can spin while plucking up roses. She is bright and innocent. The King of Hungary hands her a scroll which heralds the imminent return to France one of his knights…and unfurls a tapestry depicting a gorgeous cliché of a prince-handsome. Raymonda is suitably delighted by this manly mirage that her aunt and the king have chosen for her.
The Countess dances, as do Raymonda’s four friends. Everything is perfect but suddenly…
Abderam, the Saracen (i.e. Arab) chieftain, the one who has been besieging the city, bursts in. Offering jewels and slaves and –ooh-la-la!– even himself, he throws all that he has at the feet of the astounded Raymonda.

Versailles. Salles des croisades. Rencontre de Richard Coeur de Lion et de Philippe Auguste. Détail.

Scene 2: The dream.

Raymonda, picking at her lute, is now perplexed. Her four friends dance about and hope to distract her. Hoping to distract them, she dances with her wedding veil, but she would rather be left alone.
Exhausted by this emotionally demanding day, Raymonda definitely needs to take a nap. But instead of really checking out she starts to dream of:
The White Lady, who points to the tapestry and suddenly HE appears:
Jean de Brienne, a knight in shining armor all dressed in white, who descends from the tapestry and –literally—sweeps her off her feet. He is truly the man of her dreams. Or so she thinks.
Her friends reappear, now dressed in silvery costumes, and a swarm of dancers dressed in black and white dance an incredibly complicated fugue: this is the Valse fantastique. This interlude proves one of Nureyev’s most complex, inventive, and exhilarating additions to the beautiful repertoire of the corps de ballet.
Henriette, Clémence, Jean de Brienne and Raymonda each dance in turn.
To her shock, Raymonda’s dream lover morphs back into the smoldering Abderam.
Awakened by her friends, Raymonda realizes that she is torn between two utterly opposite dreamboats.

INTERMISSION (20 minutes)

ACT TWO: (40 minutes)

Versailles. Salle de Croisades

Abderam, willing to offer peace in return for the hand of Raymonda, pulls out all the stops: a fabulous tent, wild and exotic entertainment, his body and soul…anything her heart could desire. But Raymonda, albeit quite titillated, persists in remaining demurely unmoved.
Completely frustrated and bursting with desire, Abderam decides to kidnap the reluctant maiden. Then all of a sudden, who should appear in the flesh but the real Jean de Brienne, replete with gleaming white tights, freshly back from the Crusades! The two men duel…a joust is followed by a swordfight. Guess who loses?

INTERMISSION (20 minutes)

ACT THREE : (35 minutes)

Appartement de Noureev à Paris. Quai Voltaire.

The Wedding Festivities:

Here the ballet reaches its climax by being reduced to essential shapes and patterns. A Hungarian czardas, led by the Countess and the King, is followed by delicately different and difficult variations: solos, a chorale for four men, a love duet, group dances. The highlight is an atmospheric solo for Raymonda [her seventh!] — the music’s essence consists of a trilling piano backed by a few plucked strings—an orchestration so pared down that the score was deemed shockingly modern in 1898. Dripping with weighty jewels and clapping her hands together with newfound authority, this princess-bride is certainly ready to become a queen.

As the ballet roars to its end, you may yearn to hoist your gilded chalice aloft and drink to the health of the adorable couple. [Unless you find yourself regretting – as I often do – that no one thought to invite Abderam to the party].

Rudolf Noureev avec Michelle Phillips dans « Valentino »,  film de Ken Russell

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Lifar in Toulouse : synesthesia

Théâtre du Capitole – salle. Crédit : Patrice Nin

Despite Lifar’s own rather jejune pronouncements about the superiority of dance to music [understandable though, as even today too many musicians look down their noses at ballet] on October 26th and 27th both the ballet and the orchestra of Toulouse’s Capitole were up and ready to share the spotlight.
Philippe Béran sprang up to the podium and began to bring the flutes to life. About ten measures into the overture to Edouard Lalo’s Namouna, I was afloat.

« En dépit des déclarations un brin naïves de Lifar lui-même sur la supériorité de la danse sur la musique […] les 26 et 27 octobre, aussi bien le ballet que l’orchestre du Capitole de Toulouse étaient prêts à partager les feux de la rampe.

Philippe Béran se hissa au pupitre et commença à donner vie aux flûtes. À dix mesures du début de l’ouverture de la Namouna d’Edouard Lalo, j’étais déjà embarquée. »

Whatever you may think about Serge Lifar the man, his choreographies for Suite en Blanc and Les Mirages deserve to be danced as often as possible. They were designed to make each individual shine in the company of others. Suite folds all kinds of technical challenges into that big one of stylistic refinement, while Mirages asks the cast to soulfully embody – rather than simply act out – a most surreal storyline. Best of all, his works allow the dancers to be music. You can’t just stomp out his steps on the beat, you have to insinuate yourself into the melody and play within rhythms.

*

Suite en blanc. Final. Photographie David Herrero

Suite en Blanc begins with a tableau vivant of the cast that slowly breaks apart as various groups glamorously stalk off the stage, leaving a trio of ballerinas to embark on a kind of gentle chorale. At both performances, I was drawn to the manner in which Juliette Thélin gave a natural flow to the peculiarities of Lifar’s neo-classical style. Lifar’s vision involves an elegant Art Deco feeling, two-dimensional yet in three, with elbows bent just so, the nape of the neck bent just so, the décalé – a kind of languid stretching out/exaggeration of a movement’s impulse that makes time stop for a micro-second — and frequent use of 6th positions. This is not to say that on both nights the trio didn’t feel like a trio, but there was just “that soupçon of a quelque chose that Parisian girls have” (to quote Gary Cooper) more about the way Thélin moved. The next day, she would endow her incarnation of the melancholy Moon in Les Mirages with the same stylish glow.

« Aux deux représentations, j’étais attirée pas la façon avec laquelle Juliette Thélin donnait un débit naturel aux étrangetés du style néoclassique de Lifar […] un élégant aspect Art Déco, du bidimentionnel en 3D […] Le jour suivant, [Thélin] conférerait à son incarnation de la mélancolique lune des Mirages cette même aura stylée »

On the 26th, the Thême varié that follows — another trio, but this time for a girl and two boys – blew me out of the water. In any group, usually your eye catches one dancer no matter how hard you are trying to be fair. But here, Thiphaine Prévost, Philippe Solano, the promising Matteo Manzoni…sheesh, I wanted them to re-dance the damn thing three times. It was like staring into a gorgeous box of chocolates and trying to decide. Maybe Solano? He made the classic Lifar déhanchement super-elegant. This pose involves a stretchy and arched swerve of the hips and arms that both breaks and confirms the classical line. Preparations (and this goes for the whole company) were tossed off, subordinated to the movement. Not once did someone squat down into “now as I am about to do my big pirouette, just wait one more sec while I settle in” mode.

[Thème Varié] « Tiphaine Prevost, Philippe Solano et le prometteur Matteo Manzoni… Mazette ! J’aurais voulu les voir trois fois redanser leur bon sang de truc [Thème Varié]. C’était comme être devant une boîte de chocolats et essayer de se décider. Solano, peut-être ? Il rendait le caractéristique déhanché lifarien super élégant. […] Ses préparations (mais cela est aussi valable pour l’ensemble de la compagnie) étaient escamotées, subordonnées au mouvement. Pas une seule fois quelqu’un ne s’est campé dans le sol pour un « Et maintenant, je vais vous montrer ma multiple pirouette. Juste une petite seconde, que je me mette sur le bon mode »

On the 26th, Julie Charlet owned the La Cigarette variation with easeful and stylish phrasing, as if a foot caressing the floor and an hand teasing the geometries of the air just above her shoulder were the norm. She played with the music, seeming to wrap her body around the orchestra’s phrasing. On the Sunday matinee, Natalia de Froberville made invisible lift-offs from a lovely variety of pliés another norm. Later, in the pas de deux, de Froberville’s effortlessly unshowy balances floated along with the strings.

Le 26, Julie Charlet faisait sienne la variation de la Cigarette avec son phrasé à la fois facile et élégant ; comme si caresser le sol du pied et taquiner de la main les géométries de l’espace au-dessus de ses épaules était la norme. Elle jouait avec la musique, semblant se draper dans le phrasé de l’orchestre. [Dans la même variation] Natalia de Froberville quant à elle fit des envols partis d’une jolie variété de pliés une autre norme. Plus tard, dans le pas de deux, ses équilibres faciles et sans affectation flottaient parmi le son des cordes de l’orchestre.

Suite en blanc. Natalia de Froberville dans « La Cigarette ». Photographie David Herrero

Alas, while blessed with a smooth and solid technique, Alexandra Surodeeva needs to work on style. She substituted Princess Aurora arms in place of Lifarian épaulement whatever the role: Thême varié, Grand Adage, the “La Flûte” solo, or “La Femme” in Les Mirages. Whenever a combination of steps was repeated, the energy and phrasing were carbon copied. This must be fixed.

«Hélas, bien que douée d’une technique à la fois solide et fine, Alexandra Sudoreeva aurait besoin de travailler sur le style. Elle a substitué aux épaulements lifariens les bras de la Belle au bois dormant, quel que soit le rôle […]»

On the other hand, whether part of the female trio at the first performance, as a soloist the next day, or as the ballerina of one’s desire in Les Mirages, the unaffectedly feminine Florencia Chinellato made us breathe to the music. Her responsiveness to the pan pipe nuances of the orchestra’s flutist in La Flûte – including deliciously hovering décalés — gave you the feeling that the two of them could see each other. I know this sounds absurd, but musician and dancer seemed to be having a flirtatious conversation..

[La flûte] «La féminité sans affectation de Florencia Chinellato nous a fait respirer sur la musique. Sa réactivité aux accents de flûte de pan du flutiste […] donnait l’impression que les deux se voyaient. […] et menaient une conversation intime.»

Even if it comes before the adagio, I’ve left the Mazurka for last. It’s the best: an emulsion of steps and style and danciness, of chic and cool. (Even though it does proffer the temptation to ham it up). On the 26th, Davit Galstyan used his arching arabesques and organic sense of rhythmic variation. He gave his solo polish, sweep, and jazz, and made you want to run out and sign up for mazurka class. Perhaps because the Sunday matinée unexpectedly turned out to be his only shot at it, Solano’s beautifully-executed demonstration of the solo lacked the release he had had the night before. If the performance for the 29th hadn’t been cancelled, I am certain Solano would have let loose and grooved.

« [Mazurka] Davit Galstyan utilisait son arabesque cambrée et son sens organique de la variation rythmique. Il donnait à son solo à la fois un caractère polonais, du parcours et du jazz […] Peut-être parce que le dimanche matinée était sa chance unique, la démonstration parfaitement exécutée du solo par Solano manquait de ce relâché qu’il possédait lors de la représentation de la veille [dans le Thème varié]. »

*

Les Mirages. Davit Galstyan (le jeune homme) et Julie Charlet (l’Ombre). Photographie David Herrero.

Henri Sauguet believed so deeply that his haunting score for Les Mirages only came alive – only existed — when danced out that he refused to allow the music to be recorded. This ballet is a fable about a young man who, shadowed by his conscience, insists upon chasing after glittering illusions at his own peril.
In a reversal of the usual, here the female lead, L’Ombre [His Shadow], often finds herself behind her partner and even on his back as she tries to point the way to the path he should be taking.

Les Mirages. Ramiro Gomez-Samon (le jeune homme) et Kayo Nakazato (la Chimère). Photographie David Herrero.

Like Romeo, the Young Man proves a role to which few young actors are actually suited. On the 26th, Ramiro Gómez Samón gave the character a naïve grace, purity of line and movement, great energy. He chased after the bird-woman, the ballerina, the pot of gold, with the gleeful joy of a little boy in a roomful of toys. No hint of growing disillusionment came through though, so the character gradually became static. Within a few years, this talented dancer will have had the experience to develop his interpretation into that of a man, certainly still young, but one with desires and regrets.

« Ramiro Gómez Samón a donné au personnage [du jeune homme] une grâce naïve, une pureté de ligne et de mouvement et une grande énergie […] Mais aucun soupçon d’une désillusion grandissante ne sourdait, en conséquence, son personnage est graduellement devenu statique. »

Les Mirages : Natalia de Froberville (l’Ombre) et Ramiro Gomez-Samon (le jeune homme). Photographie : David Herrero

Thus, as his shadow, Natalia de Froberville had less to work with than she deserved. Her partner was dancing to the beat of a different drummer.  If you hadn’t read the program notes, you would have been confused. Is she this immature boy’s disappointed ex-girlfriend? His governess? This is a pity, for her interpretation had integrity, sculpted and extending lines, and paid thoughtful attention to every unshowy detail down to the way she slowly swept the back of her palm across her eyes, trying to wipe away what she’s seeing in the boy’s future.

« Du coup, en tant que son Ombre, Natalia de Froberville avait moins à se mettre sous la dent qu’elle ne le méritait. Son partenaire dansait sur une toute autre partition. Si vous n’aviez pas lu l’argument dans le programme, vous auriez pu vous méprendre. Était-elle l’ex-petite amie déçue du jeune homme immature, sa gouvernante ? C’est dommage, car son interprétation était intègre, pleine de lignes sculptées et allongées, et prêtait attention à tous les petits détails cachés comme cette façon de lentement placer le dos de sa main sur ses yeux pour essayer de chasser l’image de ce qu’elle était en train de lire dans la destinée du jeune homme.»

On the 27th, Davit Galstyan’s Young Man – like Albrecht, like James – entered with that slow stop-and-start run around the stage, his arm loosely raised to track the will-o’-the-wisps flying just beyond his reach. He radiated the hope that if he chased them hard enough his dreams would come true, thus setting up his path to disappointment. Julie Charlet’s wide-eyed Shadow came across as softer and more protective. Less despairing, as if the pair had already travelled a long way together and she knew they were almost “there.” Here their relationship felt symbiotic, conjoined, even as Galstyan kept trying to squirm out of it. At one moment, after she reminded him of how the clock is ticking, the tender way she wrapped her arms around thin air said this: “You try to ignore that your existence is bound by chains even as you try to fly. Trust me, for I am the only one who cares about you.” By the end, as the two of them turned their backs on the mirages of the night and raised their faces towards the rising sun, you knew that this young man had finally found the light at the end of the tunnel.

« Le 27, le jeune homme de Davit Galstyan […] irradiait de l’espoir que s’il pourchassait très fort ses rêves ils deviendraient réalité, créant ainsi le terreau de la désillusion. Julie Charlet, Ombre aux yeux immenses nous est apparue plus douce et protectrice. Moins désespérée aussi, comme si le couple avait déjà accompli un long voyage et qu’elle savait qu’ils étaient presque arrivés à bon port. […] Ici, leur relation était en symbiose, conjointe, même lorsque Galstyan essayait de s’en extirper. […] À la fin, quand tous les deux ont tourné le dos aux mirages de la nuit et ont présenté leur visage au soleil naissant, vous compreniez que le jeune homme avait finalement vu la lumière au bout du tunnel »

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Classé dans Blog-trotters (Ailleurs), France Soirs

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.

 

Ce diaporama nécessite JavaScript.

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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