Archives de Tag: Arthur Honegger

Bordeaux: Roses Bloom Beyond Paris (3/3)

DAY TWO: BORDEAUX (matinee, October 26th)

P1080799ICARE (Lifar/Honneger/Picasso)

“Men,” said the little prince, “set out on their way in express trains, but they do not know what they are looking for. Then they rush about, and get excited, and turn round and round […] “With a hint of sadness, he added: ‘Straight ahead of him, nobody can go very far…”

What a weird and startling experience. To all of the Dr.Who guys from the Nerd Bars in Brookyn: prick up your ears! Not going to ballet explains why you still haven’t found what you’re looking for. An ancient legend of just what happens when you try to fly too high in the sky with invented wings, merged with violent and multi-colored percussion, plus sets and costumes by Picasso in his most Jean Cocteau (as in, let’s do this in bold, iconic, yet ironic, strokes) phase, is what you need.

Most at this matinee audience were already atwitter about how Bordeaux’s director, Charles Jude, had already drunk from the fountain of both Lifar (therefore Diaghilev) and Nureyev (therefore everyone). We knew this matinee would serve up great goblets of more beautiful dancing.

This ballet is sooo Ballet Russes that it seems all about the sets and costumes and lights and music and philosophy and …you. The dance seems to just grow out of all this: I’d never seen the ballet before, but cannot imagine it existing in another way.

P1030074It’s incredibly hard to describe the atmosphere it creates. A bit cubist (those Ikea wings that — as you would expect, screw on, sort of, but don’t hold fast and then inspire your angry dance across the room — became Igor Yebra/Icare’s), a bit Expressionist (a gesticulating lost father like Lifar’s in the original Prodigal Son, but also a Daedalus awakened, Ludovic Dussarps, a Faust-like enabler, utterly “on”) and a bit of something other: graceful choral groups, male and female, all Art Deco curves and profiled angles. And all along, the music forcing you to bounce along in one-two-three-four (and other) phrasing. Boom cha che whoosh!

FAUN (Lifar/Debussy/who the hell did the decor?)

“Little golden objects that set lazy men to idle dreaming.” […] “Ah, you mean the stars?”

Le Faune Barberini (Glyptothek Munich)

Le Faune Barberini (Glyptothek Munich)

This version, carried forward from Nijinsky to Nijinska to Lifar, turns out to be a solo. Be gone the nymphs, me here, yo. So it’s the After That Afternoon, where I – Alvaro Rodriguez Piniera — lie about in my primitivo-naif rain forest décor and um, revisit that experience without even needing actual nymphs. Because, and that is what astonished me, a great artist can concentrate your mind into actually seeing what he sees. A split second hit where I started to feel inarticulately overwhelmed by the intensity of the mood he created alone out there. I thought, OK, sit up and quickly look around in order to make sure you are not insane. I saw: an entire audience, leaning forward, all sitting with mouths hanging open. I swear, it was a glimpse at a cave of bats hanging upside down! What an actor!

I’d always wondered what was so special about Nijinsky. Maybe here I finally caught a glimpse. Concentration, conviction, release with utter control. Where all lines and the smallest gestures confirmed a deeply-felt inner logic. Rodriguez Piniera made a guy in a spotted costume and gilded horned wig swooping around an abandoned scarf seem like the only way to go. A ballet that would always be modern. For what is otherworldly, if brought to life, can turn into an evident truth.

SUITE EN BLANC (Lifar/Lalo/well, yes, obviously no decor and arty costumes here)

“This is only his box. The sheep you asked for is inside.”

Everyone loves “Etudes.” But not enough people know this other ballet about ballet that held the stage in Paris before Harald Lander imported his masterpiece from Copenhagen. The best difference between these two roller-coasters which have no other story-line other than letting the audience in on just how high you can ride on technique? In Etudes you have a massively functioning corps de ballet and three stars. Yet all seem to be equally committed to one task: demonstrating how the struggle against one’s recalcitrant body leads to a larger kind of, ah that word again, inner perfection. In Lifar’s Suite en Blanc you have smaller groups and, by giving each one of them so much to do, he crafted each section into a constellation of stars each shedding its own light.

Nathan Fifield conducted the overture with such force and delicacy you could hear the stars and planets begin to twinkle as blown into place by the winds.

In swooping long tutus, Emilie Cerruti, Marie-Lys Navarro and Aline Bellardi, set the stage in the opening “Siesta”: softly romantic, powerfully in control, well-coordinated as a trio yet each individual never felt faceless (alas, I don’t know these dancers by heart yet, so I fear attributing attributes to the wrong name!)

Then Vanessa Feuillate wholeheartedly led Samuele Ninci and Ashley Whittle in a grand trio. All three played to the audience in a good way, with confident flair, utterly committed to the steps and without irony: let’s just hit this “invitation to the dance.” The audience, kind of still reeling after the “Faun,” responded. Delicate and precise, Mika Yoneyama then soothed us with her smoothly poised balances in the “Serenade.”

According to legend, one of the “baby ballerinas” of the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo – I think it was Tatiana Riabouchinska – used to take men’s class as well. I always am reminded of that when I see the relentless “Pas de cinq,” where one girl challenges four boys in echapés and cabrioles and sheer energy. And can do all the « girly » things, too. The score gets terribly bombastic here and can, if listlessly played as is wont in Paris, drag the poor dancers down. Here dance and music bounced merrily along together. Sara Renda, despite a tutu, definitely proved to be one of the boys. With her four impeccable partners, they even made this all look easy and fun, which is absurd. And enchanting.

All bourées and asymmetrically-timed-and-positioned passés and careful flutterings, “La Cigarette” (in the long-lost first stage version of this flute-filled music from 1866, Rita Sangalli waved one around) should create the impression that the soloist floats and never comes off pointe. I found the solo a bit too strongly danced by Oksana Kucheruk, the crowd-pleasing pirouettes almost harsh in execution (the “I’m now going to let my face go blank and nail this step” variety). Etude-y. This may have been one little moment when I actually missed the way Paris’s dancers can merge precision with sometimes too much chic and nonchalance. Later on, in “La Flûte,” I had the same impression: Kucheruk is an impressive technician with natural lines who can indeed do almost everything…except go a little easier on herself. A bit like the rose with four thorns. I kept wanting to tell her: « you’re fine! Don’t force it, don’t keep the mirror in your mind, just enjoy the steps, will you?! »

But, in the meantime, Roman Mikhalev had used the grand Mazurka to grant me a little wish: what if the Poet in “Les Sylphides” could have broken out of that droopy melancholy solo? He’s in a mosh pit of girls, for god’s sake! He’d think big and jeté and turn and leap all over the place, while never losing his dignity. Nice, bold, manly, tasty. In the Adage, Stéphanie Roublot and Oleg Rogachev at first seemed beautifully in-synch, yet then something went cold. That was a pity, because the great advantage Suite en Blanc has over Etudes is that it’s not about just getting it to work in an empty studio. It’s about negotiating dancing all together. Most of the choreography is given over to partnering and interacting and sharing the stage.

Yes, that’s the major difference between Etudes and Suite en Blanc: the first focuses on challenging the deep part that lurks in dancers’ minds – you facing the mirror, and that annoying person just in front of you at the barre, whose every perfection is pissing you off…the stuff audiences don’t really understand — the second on how the excellence of each rare idiosyncratic talent contributes to forming a real community. More than a challenge, this ballet remains an homage to every one on stage. You each face us sitting out there in the dark, but are not alone. Suite en Blanc recognizes that we are all in this together: you dancers, us in the audience, even the musicians in the pit (who actually cared to look back at the stage at the end and applaud…hello, Paris?)

“What is a rite?” asked the little prince. /”Those also are actions too often neglected, “ said the fox. “They are what make one day different from other days, one hour from other hours.”

I found these different days in Bordeaux and Toulouse. My eyes still hear golden peals of laughter.

[Just in case: all citations, and many bit of inspiration, came from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s « The Little Prince » from 1943, in its translation by Katherine Woods].


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Roses Bloom Beyond Paris: A Tale of Music and Dance in Toulouse and Bordeaux (1/3)


“May I sit down?” came now a timid inquiry from the little prince. “I order you to do so,” the king answered him… [all citations are from Antoine de Saint Exupéry, “The Little Prince,” translation by Katherine Woods, 1943.

I can still taste the music. Henri Sauguet’s deep and melodious melancholy for Les Mirages and Les Forains. He seemed to have dipped a finger into Satie’s cocktails yet have shaken off those drops of bitters. Honneger’s wild score for Icare went down like a Black Russian: “just what is in this tasty thing? Percussions only? I had no idea they could be so varied and so peppery and creamy.” Debussy? Sauternes, golden and daring to be swallowed whole. Lalo? Shots of vodka, invigorating and intoxicating. These ridiculous analogies? Due to the utter involvement and unblemished playing of Toulouse’s Orchestre National du Capitole and the Orchestre National Bordeaux Aquitaine.

Each group was led by an enormously committed conductor — Philippe Béran and Nathan Fifield, respectively— who actually watch and respond to what the dancers are doing. There is no shame in slowing down or accelerating, in picking up a nuance, while playing all the notes faultlessly, is there? After years of irritation with the sloppy rhythms and false notes served up by the Paris Opera’s orchestra whenever even some of its titular members deign to park their bottoms in the pit, here I could actually enjoy the dance — without wincing. More than that, I could savor the music completely dry. Conducted with force, yet sensitive to each flavorful layer of instrumentation, all the music for once really supported the dance. For two performances, I thought I was back at Carnegie Hall after too much champagne: when the music is so good you start to imagine little groups of dancing figures float across the proscenium.

But here I just needed to stare at the stage to make the music sound even better. My eyes could drink in the dancers of Toulouse and Bordeaux. While it’s too late for any Anglophones to catch this series of performances, the next time you come to France maybe you should seriously consider checking out what’s on in these cities located only a few hours from Paris. Don’t go unless the ballet or opera is on and let yourself be lifted up in the air by real, not recorded, music. Unlike the U.S., here we still have regional companies that present offbeat programs – no yearly, automatic, soul-deadening, demeaning, Nutcrackers in sight – even if Bordeaux and Paris have scheduled some for this December, that’s for the pleasure of playing around (in Paris, Nuts only shows up randomly every once in a while).

Or so I thought.

“We do not record flowers,” said the geographer. “Why is that? The flower is the most beautiful thing on my planet!” “We do not record them,” said the geographer, “because they are ephemeral.”/ “My rose […] perfumed all my planet. But I did not know how to take pleasure in all her grace.”

Alas, the hat passed around stage near the end of Les Forains turns out to be more timely than one would wish. So much great potential in regional theater turns out to be utterly underfunded due to political short-sightedness on the part of local and central government. These “geographers of nothing” seem to have become blind to why the ballet, from the era of Louis XIV until very recently had never been considered a luxury for the res publica, but a reservoir for national pride. Ballet was born in France! All these regional companies should not be facing the same existential struggle as American companies.

Have we learned nothing, then, since the 1940’s? These two companies – and others — need to be watered and protected, like the beautiful plants they are. Kader Belarbi and Charles Jude — despite the impatient and stingy hand of bureaucracy — choose ballets and dancers that do indeed prove that they both see from the heart.

Tomorrow and after tomorrow, I will tell you precisely how I spied not one perfect rose, but two.

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Bordeaux : Lifar dansé au présent

P1080799Bordeaux Icare… Hommage à Lifar. Ballet de l’Opéra de Bordeaux. Dimanche 26/10/2014

Avec le ballet de l’Opera de Bordeaux, le programme se concentre sur le Lifar choréauteur des années trente. Icare et la relecture du Faune datent tous deux de 1935.

Icare naquit  accompagné du fameux manifeste du chorégraphe où Lifar définissait sa conception de la création chorégraphique comme œuvre totale. On imagine sans peine le choc qu’a pu provoquer en 1935 cette pièce dansée uniquement sur un arrangement de percussions d’Arthur Honegger et de Karl Szyfer avec une chorégraphie à la fois minimaliste (à base de batterie en réponse à la percussion) et expressionniste (des mouvements amples évoquant le théâtre antique plus que la pantomime); Lifar réutilisera ce style « minoen » dans Phèdre en 1950. Le parallèle est d’ailleurs renforcé depuis que le ballet a été « rhabillé » par Picasso dans une palette aussi tonitruante que celle de Cocteau pour Phèdre. Cela sert-il réellement l’œuvre ? Pas sûr. Cette esthétique « faïence de Vallauris » incruste le ballet dans une période, les années De Gaulle- Malraux, qui n’est pourtant pas la sienne. Il est des associations décor-chorégraphie qu’on ne peut rompre sans faire perdre l’un ou l’autre. C’est le cas de Mirages. Mais pas ici. En fait, le ballet de Lifar souffre actuellement de sa production Picasso 62 comme l’Orphée de Balanchine de sa production Noguchi 1948. On rêve de voir ces ballets dansés en costumes de répétition.

Icare : Les amis dans le décor de Picasso. Photographie Sigrid Colomyès. Courtesy of Opera National de Bordeaux

Icare : Les amis dans le décor de Picasso. Photographie Sigrid Colomyès. Courtesy of Opera National de Bordeaux

Car il y a d’immenses qualités dans Icare. Les évolutions des amis (4 garçons et 4 filles) avec leurs savantes et brutes architectures mouvantes sont à la fois simples et directement expressives. On se prend à s’émerveiller devant de simples tours en l’air que le corps de ballet – très homogène – achève soit de face, soit de dos, nous transportant dans un tableau cubiste. On distingue aussi ce que la chorégraphie créée par Lifar sur lui-même avait de force, même si l’Icare de cette matinée, Igor Yebra, semblait ne jamais l’attaquer franchement du pied. Un rôle tel qu’Icare, avec ses lentes pirouettes s’achevant sur des poses plastiques, ne supporte ni l’approximation ni le timoré. Or, c’est ce qui semblait caractériser l’interprétation de l’étoile bordelaise. Du coup, ses rapports avec le reste des danseurs sur le plateau ne sortaient pas clairement: il n’était ni un chef pour les amis ni réellement un fils pour le Dédale de l’excellent Ludovic Dussarps.

Timoré, il ne faut pas non plus l’être quand on interprète le Prélude à l’après midi d’un faune que Lifar a remodelé pour en faire un solo.

L’expérience est fascinante. Dans un décor frontal qui rappelle plus le douanier Rousseau que Bakst, on observe une chorégraphie à la fois proche de celle de Nijinsky (elle recourt à des poses « aplaties » inspirées des vases à figures noires de la Grèce archaïque ou bien des bas-reliefs égyptiens) et, en même temps, complètement renouvelée. Ce n’est pas simplement parce qu’elle supprime les nymphes mais également parce qu’elle réalise une petite révolution copernicienne en donnant de la chair à l’esthétique de bas-relief du ballet original. Il ne s’agit plus d’un épisode de rencontre manquée mais bien d’autosuggestion. Tout en traduisant la passion de Lifar pour la forme plastique – tout particulièrement la sienne, on le concède–, l’absence des nymphes nous recentre sur la psyché du Faune. L’écharpe est bien là, abandonnée. Et comme sa propriétaire n’a pas pris forme physique, on voit la créature mi-animale renifler son parfum dans l’air. À la fin de la pièce, après l’orgasme imaginé par Nijinsky, le Faune se retourne et finit sur le dos, appuyé sur un coude ; comblé. Plus qu’à l’esthétique archaïque du ballet d’origine, c’est à la statuaire baroque que Lifar se réfère. Le chorégraphe n’hésite pas à briser la ligne de l’original pour, ne serait-ce que brièvement, y introduire la courbe et l’ellipse.

Dans le faune, Alvaro Rodriguez Piñera, tout en respectant la lettre de la chorégraphie et ses débordements expressifs, parvient à rester sur le fil : jamais cabotin, jamais complètement narcissique non plus. Tout en marchant de manière stylisée mais nerveuse, il agite ses pouces d’une manière explicite. Mais ce qui pourrait être obscène ne l’est pas avec lui. On a plutôt l’impression d’un insecte qui ferait une parade d’amour en agitant ses antennes pour une parèdre cachée quelque part dans la coulisse. La grande nymphe devient accessoire quand sa présence est suggérée de manière si suggestive.

Suite en Blanc : Ballet de l'Opéra de Bordeaux. Photographie Sigrid Colomyès. Courtesy of Opéra National de Bordeaux

Suite en Blanc : Ballet de l’Opéra de Bordeaux. Photographie Sigrid Colomyès. Courtesy of Opéra National de Bordeaux

Avec « Suite en Blanc », c’est un Lifar plus maître de son style que l’on rencontre. En 1943, l’interprète-choréauteur et le ballet de l’Opéra de Paris se sont en quelques sortes « acculturés ». Les bizarreries du  » barbare Lifar » semblent s’être bonifiées sous le vernis d’élégance de l’école française qui elle, a gagné en virtuosité. Force nous est de reconnaître que ce vernis était bien mieux défendu par le ballet de Bordeaux que par l’Opéra de Paris lui-même lors des dernières reprises de ce ballet.

Oh ! Sacrilège ? Je m’explique. L’interprétation de « Suite en Blanc » par La première troupe nationale ressemble trop souvent à un coffre à bijoux où des pierres précieuses voisineraient en vrac avec de la pacotille. Deux ou trois apparitions fulgurantes réveillent par intermittence un ballet dansé par des interprètes plantons qui ânonnent leur chorégraphie comme on dit un Pater et trois Ave. À Bordeaux, on ne présente pas nécessairement toujours des diamants de la plus belle eau (l’étoile maison, Oksana Kucheruk ne convainc pas vraiment dans « la cigarette » à force de vouloir faire preuve d’autorité et Roman Mikhalev est plus précis qu’enthousiasmant dans la Mazurka), mais le tout est enchâssé dans une vraie monture dynamique. Les numéros s’enchaînent avec naturel et la partition – par ailleurs très bien défendue par l’orchestre sous la direction de Nathan Fifield – scintille encore davantage. Les danseurs de Bordeaux servent avec brio cette chorégraphie quand les parisiens se trouvent bien assez bons de la ressortir de temps en temps de la naphtaline. À regarder l’élégante « Sieste » (Melles Cerruti, Navarro et Bellardi), le « Thème varié » plein de chic teinté d’humour (Vanessa Feuillate, Samuele Ninci et Ashley Whittle), le « Presto » enflammé par Sara Renda entourée d’un quatuor de gaillards à la fois énergiques et moelleux puis enfin tout le corps de ballet rendant justice à ces charmantes ponctuations en forme de rideau qui s’ouvre et puis se ferme sur les solistes, on n’était pas loin de ressentir l’émotion qui s’était saisie de nous lorsque le Miami City Ballet d’Edward Villella nous avait montré comment Balanchine pouvait être mieux dansé qu’au New York City Ballet.

Tout chorégraphe appartient à son époque. Lifar a embrassé la sienne avec démesure et gourmandise. Faut-il pour autant l’enfermer dans le passé? Non. Son œuvre n’est pas en soi vieillie même si elle est d’une époque. Car quand elles sont prises à bras le corps comme cela a été le cas à Bordeaux, ses chorégraphies appartiennent à notre présent.

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