Archives de Tag: Balanchine

Balanchine’s « Songe » : Energy is Eternal Delight

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

“Man has no body distinct from his soul”

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

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

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

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

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

“Life delights in life”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Le Songe de Balanchine : la nuit désenchantée

Deux de nos balletotos ont assisté à la représentation du samedi 11 mars du Songe de Balanchine. La première prise … semble ne pas avoir été la bonne. L’avenir (ou les distributions à venir) dira si Fenella et James réviseront leur jugement sur la version Balanchine de la pièce de Shakespeare.

Honneur aux dames!

Fenella : Things that go bump in the night

Many people, once they realize they have absolutely no talent for something – be it knitting or math – develop peevish justifications for why they won’t go near the thing. Machines can do it better, I have better things to do with my time. That way of doing things is just so beneath me, not cutting edge enough, too old-fashioned.

I am sorry to say this, but – OK, it’s my opinion, don’t bite me – Mr. B. had absolutely no talent for storytelling, ergo those statements about abstraction being the be-all and end-all definition of dance. Maybe he hated his early Prodigal Son so much precisely because he realized pulling off that kind of tight narrative structure didn’t come naturally?
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, as Balanchine retells it, turns out to be a clunky and confusing tale.
Luckily, Christian Lacroix- I’d feared he wouldn’t — had kept the traditional blue for Hermia/Lysander and the red for Helena/Demitrius, but Hippolyta confused everyone. And then who was that guy partnering Titania? And what’s up with the mysterious mime in the fur hat? So I got to spend most of the intermission trying to explain to people I encountered who was who, what was what, and who danced exactly what part, and what had gone on. Then I eves-dropped on the crowded metro back: several couples, scanning the program, arguing about who had been who. This is not the usual reaction to a ballet.
I started to realize that — excepting Puck or Bottom (and Frederick Ashton did these parts more clever and subtle service in “The Dream”) — the characters’ steps are interchangeable to the point that even longtime fans of the company’s dancers missed out at who was who. There is an art to characterization., to individuated movement, and there is not enough of it here. Yes, Titania has her grasshopper jumps, Oberon his onstage class in batterie, and Hippolyta her fouettés.
But then there’s Act 2, where Lacroix abandons the traditional blueish tutu for Hermia and pinkish one for Helena. I knew I would need to flee the theater fast before anyone could catch me and ask me to explain once again what had gone on. The three sets of bride and groom were all identically attired in: white for the girls, gold for the boys, as were the corps. I doubt many in the audience caught on that Theseus, the miming cypher covered in fur hat and heavy gown during Act 1, had just been reborn as an actual dancer in crown and white tights.
Then there’s that couple that takes over the stage with their escort in pale blue. There’s not even the pretense that they are dancing for the guests: who are they and why are they here? Identified in the program as “Divertissement”…during an entire act of nothing BUT divertissements? Whyyy do this? Titania and Oberon are barely given any more to do than appear at the very end and do a short demonstration of how to walk around with graceful poise. This number should have been theirs.

From ghoulies and ghosties / And long-leggedy beasties / And things that go bump in the night, / Good Lord, deliver us! Anonymous Scottish poem.
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James : Même pas en rêve…

Qu’on le découvre par hasard lors d’une tournée du Footsbarn, à travers l’opéra de Benjamin Britten, ou dans la chorégraphie de Frederick Ashton, Le Songe d’une nuit d’été séduit par l’accumulation des contrastes et la diversité des humeurs. La pièce de Shakespeare est comique et tragique, onirique et grotesque, solaire et lunaire. On rit de la lourdeur des artisans qui s’improvisent acteurs, on pleure au désarroi d’Hermia soudainement délaissée par son amant Lysandre, on s’esbaudit de la maladroite fantaisie de Puck et on s’évade dans l’irréalité du monde des fées.

Malheureusement, le ballet « d’après William Shakespeare » concocté par George Balanchine en 1962 a manifestement manqué d’un dramaturge : tout y est étiré et sans objet. Au lieu de se borner à l’ouverture et à la musique de scène Ein Sommernachstraum de Mendelssohn (comme fit Ashton dans The Dream), Balanchine ajoute d’autres pièces du compositeur, faisant de l’ensemble un patchwork désaccordé.

Le fil transparent reliant les différents univers de la pièce (Athènes, le monde des Elfes, les amants et les artisans), au lieu d’être tenu serré, est ici tout relâché. Il faut donner à voir la confusion des cœurs tout en préservant la lisibilité pour le spectateur, et c’est le contraire qui arrive (les figures sont structurées, mais les personnages sont interchangeables). Qui plus est, Balanchine fait preuve d’une imperméabilité foncière à l’humour de la pièce. Les péripéties amoureuses agitant Hermia (Laëtitia Pujol), Lysandre (Alessio Carbone), Héléna (Fanny Gorse) et Démétrius (Audric Bezard) manquent de piquant et de saveur ; le groupe des artisans est esquissé à gros traits paresseux, et la scène où Titania (Eleonora Abbagnato) tombe amoureuse de Bottom déguisé en âne (Francesco Vantaggio) manque de drôlerie comme de poésie.

L’intrigue se noue et se dénoue à la va-comme-je-te-pousse; Hippolyte, reine des Amazones, surgit d’on ne sait où, avec ses chiens qui plus est, pour faire quelques fouettés. Le second acte est un divertissement presque sans lien avec l’histoire. D’autant que les costumes de Christian Lacroix ne permettent pas au spectateur lambda de distinguer parmi les couples du triple mariage.

Bénéficie-t-on au moins, d’une atmosphère un peu moite et ouatée, estivale et semi-éveillée ? Je ne l’ai perçue ni dans le pas de deux de Titania avec son cavalier (Stéphane Bullion), ni dans celui du divertissement, dansé par une Sae Eun Park dépourvue de moelleux (avec Karl Paquette).

Au moins a-t-on le plaisir de voir la très jolie batterie, altière et légère, de Paul Marque, Obéron de grande classe. Le Puck d’Hugo Vigliotti et le Papillon de Muriel Zusperreguy dédommagent aussi de l’ennui qui plombe le premier acte. Au second, qui n’évite pas le pompeux, on retient le léger et virevoltant passage des douze danseurs en bleu. Au final, le programme comme la promesse énoncés par le titre sont manquées : ni songe, ni nuit, ni été.

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