Archives de Tag: Ballet Don Quichotte

Cuba : un Don Quichotte « historique »

Salle Pleyel

Don Quichotte. Ballet de Cuba. Représentation du mardi 18 juillet, salle Pleyel.

Dix ans après sa venue à Paris dans le cadre des Étés de la Danse, le ballet de Cuba avait décidé de se présenter avec le même programme. Après Giselle, cela aura donc été Don Quichotte. La production passe mieux qu’au Grand Palais où elle se réduisait, dans le cadre du grand escalier, à ses accessoires et à une toile de fond. Pour autant, le décor complet à base de nuée lunaire stylisée sert à tous les actes. La place de la ville est à peine esquissée. C’est sans doute pour cela que cette production voyage. En termes de narration, il faut faire son deuil de toutes les subtilités des versions européennes: la pantomime est tout simplement sémaphorique. Celle-ci reste néanmoins claire, au moins en ce qui concerne les actes dans la vie réelle. Les Cubains ayant vraisemblablement une aversion pour l’accessoire dansant (Kitri pirouette et jette sans castagnettes malgré la bande-son qui les suggère lourdement. Elle n’a pas d’éventail pour sa variation de l’acte 3),  je serais bien étonné si un seul membre néophyte du public a compris que la jolie demoiselle en robe-princesse vert d’eau qui faisait des ports de bras bizarres avec poignet à l’épaule n’était autre que Cupidon, le petit dieu de l’amour.

La chorégraphie est sans doute plus problématique, pour le corps de ballet en général mais surtout pour les hommes. Elle est basique comme celle des ballets russes des années 40 qui employaient beaucoup de « russes » improvisés danseurs. Le matador Espada fait par exemple un fouetté arabesque ouverte suivi d’une cabriole simple. Cette combinaison est répétée à droite et à gauche par le danseur ad nauseam avant d’être entonnée par ses six compagnons. Dans ce canevas usé ont été intercalés des prouesses soviétiques (avec la constance du grand jeté pêchu) interprétées comme à la classe. C’est à celui qui jettera le plus haut ou cambrera le plus (mention spéciale à Ariel Martinez). Ce qui déçoit aussi dans ce Don Quichotte, c’est la quasi-absence de panache dans les danses de caractère. Le Fandango qui ouvre la scène du mariage chez Noureev est bien là mais il semble seulement « marqué » par le corps de ballet. Il ne s’agit pas nécessairement d’un défaut des danseurs mais bien d’un style qui leur est imposé. Les bras, par exemple, ne sont jamais franchement habités et les poignets sont cassés d’une manière vieillotte.

Grettel Morejón et Rafael Quenedit, Kitri et Basilio, paraissent agréablement sobres au milieu de ce déploiement de pyrotechnie de base. Leur couple est d’emblée tendre et complice. Il n’y a pas tant d’accent mis sur le flirt-rivalité que dans d’autres productions. Dans leur grand pas de deux de l’acte 1, Morejón impressionne dans sa variation aux castagnettes (hélas sans castagnettes) : battements développés, jetés cambrés, tours piqués précis et musicaux ; tout cela coule d’un flot continu. Rafael Quenedit maîtrise les pré-requis de la danse cubaine mais il présente le tout avec une attitude presque humble.

À l’acte 2, c’est la même ingénuité chez le couple Kitri-Basilio qui séduit au cours des deux duos : l’un amoureux, l’autre plus conflictuel – Basilio flirtant un peu avec les gitanes. Malheureusement, Morejón se voit privée dans cette version de la variation de Kitri-Dulcinée  (se trouvant alors cantonnée aux jetés de la coda) laquelle est dévolue à Cupidon qui danse cet habituel moment de suspension en vitesse accélérée et un peu staccato. Avec Chanell Cabrera, on reconnait que ça a du charme, mais cela prive néanmoins la danseuse principale d’un registre aérien qui donne habituellement sa richesse au rôle.

Du coup, le grand pas de deux de l’acte 3 cueille nos danseurs presque à froid. Ils séduisent toujours par le fini de leur danse plus que par la bravoure proprement cubaine. Mais la bande-son, lancinante de lenteur, ne convient pas, par exemple, aux qualités de Grettel Morejón . Elle a été faite pour les serials équilibristes de la compagnie qui font exploser la salle en applaudissements par ces tours de force même si tout le reste est dansé en avance de la musique (l’expérience de Fenella qui a vu la représentation du 17).

L’école cubaine produit de bons danseurs. Pendant cette soirée, on apprécié la précision et la ligne acérée du chef gitan (Daniel Barba, déjà remarqué la veille par Fenella en Espada) ou la longue et élégante reine des Dryades (Claudia Garcia, apparemment aussi une très belle Mercedes). Mais, à l’instar du couple principal, c’est parce qu’ils n’apparaissaient pas encore infectés par les maniérismes de la compagnie.

On s’est pris à rêver à ce qu’auraient pu donner Grettel Morejón et Rafael Quenedit au Miami City Ballet (celui du temps d’Edward Villella) : l’une nous a convoqué le souvenir des sœurs Delgado (Jeannette et Patricia) et l’autre est placé quelque part entre l’innocence d’un jeune Renan Cerdeiro et la technique un peu crâne de Kleber Rebello.

Grettel Morejón et Rafael Quenedit

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

Théâtre du Capitole – salle. Crédit : Patrice Nin

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

Production:

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

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

Economy and invention

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

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

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

Kitri:

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

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

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

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

Basilio:

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

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

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

Mercedes

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

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

Dryad/Nayad/Schmayad

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

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

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

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

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