Archives de Tag: Dying Swan

Pas de deux at the Paris Opera Ballet : Baby Can YOU drive my car?

The extended apron thrust forward across where the orchestra should have been gave many seats at the Palais Garnier – already not renowned for visibility — scant sightlines unless you were in a last row and could stand up and tilt forward. Were these two “it’s a gala/not a gala” programs worth attending? Yes and/or no.

Evening  Number One: “Nureyev” on Thursday, October 8, at the Palais Garnier.

Nureyev’s re-thinkings of the relationship between male and female dancers always seek to tweak the format of the male partner up and out from glorified crane operator into that of race car driver. But that foot on the gas was always revved up by a strong narrative context.

Nutcracker pas de deux Acts One and Two

Gilbert generously offers everything to a partner and the audience, from her agile eyes through her ever-in-motion and vibrantly tensile body. A street dancer would say “the girlfriend just kills it.” Her boyfriend for this series, Paul Marque, first needs to learn how to live.

At the apex of the Act II pas of Nuts, Nureyev inserts a fiendishly complex and accelerating airborne figure that twice ends in a fish dive, of course timed to heighten a typically overboard Tchaikovsky crescendo. Try to imagine this: the stunt driver is basically trying to keep hold of the wheel of a Lamborghini with a mind of its own that suddenly goes from 0 to 100, has decided to flip while doing a U-turn, and expects to land safe and sound and camera-ready in the branches of that tree just dangling over the cliff.  This must, of course, be meticulously rehearsed even more than usual, as it can become a real hot mess with arms, legs, necks, and tutu all in getting in the way.  But it’s so worth the risk and, even when a couple messes up, this thing can give you “wow” shivers of delight and relief. After “a-one-a-two-a-three,” Marque twice parked Gilbert’s race car as if she were a vintage Trabant. Seriously: the combination became unwieldy and dull.

Marque continues to present everything so carefully and so nicely: he just hasn’t shaken off that “I was the best student in the class “ vibe. But where is the urge to rev up?  Smiling nicely just doesn’t do it, nor does merely getting a partner around from left to right. He needs to work on developing a more authoritative stage presence, or at least a less impersonal one.



A ballerina radiating just as much oomph and chic and and warmth as Dorothée Gilbert, Alice Renavand grooved and spun wheelies just like the glowing Hollywood starlet of Nureyev’s cinematic imagination.  If Renavand “owned” the stage, it was also because she was perfectly in synch with a carefree and confident Florian Magnenet, so in the moment that he managed to make you forget those horrible gold lamé pants.


Swan Lake, Act 1

Gently furling his ductile fingers in order to clasp the wrists of the rare bird that continued to astonish him, Audric Bezard also (once again) demonstrated that partnering can be so much more than “just stand around and be ready to lift the ballerina into position, OK?” Here we had what a pas is supposed to be about: a dialogue so intense that it transcends metaphor.

You always feel the synergy between Bezard and Amandine Albisson. Twice she threw herself into the overhead lift that resembles a back-flip caught mid-flight. Bezard knows that this partner never “strikes a pose” but instead fills out the legato, always continuing to extend some part her movements beyond the last drop of a phrase. His choice to keep her in movement up there, her front leg dangerously tilting further and further over by miniscule degrees, transformed this lift – too often a “hoist and hold” more suited to pairs skating – into a poetic and sincere image of utter abandon and trust. The audience held its breath for the right reason.

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Bewildered, the audience nevertheless applauded wildly at the end of this agonized and out of context solo. Pretending to themselves they had understood, the audience just went with the flow of the seasoned dancer-actor. Mathias Heymann gave the moment its full dose of “ah me” angst and defied the limits of the little apron stage [these are people used to eating up space the size of a football field].

Pas de deux can mostly easily be pulled out of context and presented as is, since the theme generally gravitates from “we two are now falling in love,” and “yes, we are still in love,” to “hey, guys, welcome to our wedding!” But I have doubts about the point of plunging both actor and audience into an excerpt that lacks a shared back-story. Maybe you could ask Juliet to do the death scene a capella. Who doesn’t know the “why” of that one? But have most of us ever actually read Lord Byron, much less ever heard of this Manfred? The program notes that the hero is about to be reunited by Death [spelled with a capital “D”] with his beloved Astarté. Good to know.

Don Q

Francesco Mura somehow manages to bounce and spring from a tiny unforced plié, as if he just changed his mind about where to go. But sometimes the small preparation serves him less well. Valentine Colasante is now in a happy and confident mind-set, having learned to trust her body. She now relaxes into all the curves with unforced charm and easy wit.

R & J versus Sleeping Beauty’s Act III

In the Balcony Scene with Miriam Ould-Braham, Germain Louvet’s still boyish persona perfectly suited his Juliet’s relaxed and radiant girlishness. But then, when confronted by Léonore Baulac’s  Beauty, Louvet once again began to seem too young and coltish. It must hard make a connection with a ballerina who persists in exteriorizing, in offering up sharply-outlined girliness. You can grin hard, or you can simply smile.  Nothing is at all wrong with Baulac’s steely technique. If she could just trust herself enough to let a little bit of the air out of her tires…She drives fast but never stops to take a look at the landscape.

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As the Beatles once sang a very, very, long time ago:

 « Baby, you can drive my car
Yes, I’m gonna be a star
Baby you can drive my car
And maybe I’ll love you »

Evening Two: “Etoiles.”  Tuesday, October 13, 2020.

We were enticed back to the Palais Garnier for a thing called “Etoiles {Stars] de l’Opera,” where the program consisted of…anything and everything in a very random way.  (Plus a bit of live music!)

Clair de lune by Alistair Marriott (2017) was announced in the program as a nice new thing. Nice live Debussy happened, because the house pianist Elena Bonnay, just like the best of dancers, makes all music fill out an otherwise empty space.

Mathieu Ganio, sporting a very pretty maxi-skort, opened his arms sculpturally, did a few perfect plies à la seconde, and proffered up a few light contractions. At the end, all I could think of was Greta Garbo’s reaction to her first kiss in the film Ninochka: “That was…restful.”  Therefore:

Trois Gnossiennes, by Hans van Manen and way back from 1982, seemed less dated by comparison.  The same plié à la seconde, a few innie contractions, a flexed foot timed to a piano chord for no reason whatever, again. Same old, eh? Oddly, though, van Manen’s pure and pensive duet suited  Ludmila Paglerio and Hugo Marchand as  prettily as Marriott’s had for Ganio. While Satie’s music breathes at the same spaced-out rhythm as Debussy’s, it remains more ticklish. Noodling around in an  absinth-colored but lucid haze, this oddball composer also knew where he was going. I thought of this restrained little pas de deux as perhaps “Balanchine’s Apollo checks out a fourth muse.”  Euterpe would be my choice. But why not Urania?

And why wasn’t a bit of Kylian included in this program? After all, Kylain has historically been vastly more represented in the Paris Opera Ballet’s repertoire than van Manen will ever be.

The last time I saw Martha Graham’s Lamentation, Miriam Kamionka — parked into a side corridor of the Palais Garnier — was really doing it deep and then doing it over and over again unto exhaustion during  yet another one of those Boris Charmatz events. Before that stunt, maybe I had seen the solo performed here by Fanny Gaida during the ‘90’s. When Sae-Un Park, utterly lacking any connection to her solar plexus, had finished demonstrating how hard it is to pull just one tissue out of a Kleenex box while pretending it matters, the audience around me couldn’t even tell when it was over and waited politely for the lights to go off  and hence applaud. This took 3.5 minutes from start to end, according to the program.

Then came the duet from William Forsythe’s Herman Schmerman, another thingy that maybe also had entered into the repertoire around 2017. Again: why this one, when so many juicy Forsythes already belong to us in Paris? At first I did not remember that this particular Forsythe invention was in fact a delicious parody of “Agon.” It took time for Hannah O’Neill to get revved up and to finally start pushing back against Vincent Chaillet. Ah, Vincent Chaillet, forceful, weightier, and much more cheerfully nasty and all-out than I’d seen him for quite a while, relaxed into every combination with wry humor and real groundedness. He kept teasing O’Neill: who is leading, eh? Eh?! Yo! Yow! Get on up, girl!

I think that for many of us, the brilliant Ida Nevasayneva of the Trocks (or another Trock! Peace be with you, gals) kinda killed being ever to watch La Mort du cygne/Dying Swan without desperately wanting to giggle at even the idea of a costume decked with feathers or that inevitable flappy arm stuff. Despite my firm desire to resist, Ludmila Pagliero’s soft, distilled, un-hysterical and deeply dignified interpretation reconciled me to this usually overcooked solo.  No gymnastic rippling arms à la Plisetskaya, no tedious Russian soul à la Ulanova.  Here we finally saw a really quietly sad, therefore gut-wrenching, Lamentation. Pagliero’s approach helped me understand just how carefully Michael Fokine had listened to our human need for the aching sound of a cello [Ophélie Gaillard, yes!] or a viola, or a harp  — a penchant that Saint-Saens had shared with Tchaikovsky. How perfectly – if done simply and wisely by just trusting the steps and the Petipa vibe, as Pagliero did – this mini-epic could offer a much less bombastic ending to Swan Lake.

Suite of Dances brought Ophélie Gaillard’s cello back up downstage for a face to face with Hugo Marchand in one of those “just you and me and the music” escapades that Jerome Robbins had imagined a long time before a “platform” meant anything less than a stage’s wooden floor.  I admit I had preferred the mysterious longing Mathias Heymann had brought to the solo back in 2018 — especially to the largo movement. Tonight, this honestly jolly interpretation, infused with a burst of “why not?” energy, pulled me into Marchand’s space and mindset. Here was a guy up there on stage daring to tease you, me, and oh yes the cellist with equally wry amusement, just as Baryshnikov once had dared.  All those little jaunty summersaults turn out to look even cuter and sillier on a tall guy. The cocky Fancy Free sailor struts in part four were tossed off in just the right way: I am and am so not your alpha male, but if you believe anything I’m sayin’, we’re good to go.

The evening wound down with a homeopathic dose of Romantic frou-frou, as we were forced to watch one of those “We are so in love. Yes, we are still in love” out of context pas de deux, This one was extracted from John Neumeier’s La Dame aux Camélias.

An ardent Mathieu Ganio found himself facing a Laura Hecquet devoted to smoothing down her fluffy costume and stiff hair. When Neumeier’s pas was going all horizontal and swoony, Ganio gamely kept replacing her gently onto her pointes as if she deserved valet parking.  But unlike, say, Anna Karina leaning dangerously out of her car to kiss Belmondo full throttle in Pierrot le Fou, Hecquet simply refused to hoist herself even one millimeter out of her seat for the really big lifts. She was dead weight, and I wanted to scream. Unlike almost any dancer I have ever seen, Hecquet still persists in not helping her co-driver. She insists on being hoisted and hauled around like a barrel. Partnering should never be about driving the wrong way down a one-way street.


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« Lil’Buck Real Swan » de Louis Wallecan : cercles et boucles

Lil’Buck Real Swan. Photographie Mathieu de Mongrand

Dans le documentaire de Louis Wallecan, Lil’Buck Real Swan, la clé de l’énigme sur le P’tit Gars (libre traduction de Lil Buck) , rendu immensément célèbre via la plateforme youtube par une vidéo en association avec le violoncelliste Yo Yo Ma où il réinventait la Mort du Cygne de Fokine, est donnée dès les premières minutes. L’art de Lil’Buck, le Jookin’, une technique dérivée d’une danse de gangs noir américains -la Gangsta Walk- est né dans la déprimante Memphis (une vue aérienne oblique du Central Business District un peu malingre de la ville annonce la couleur dès le premier plan du film) et cette technique vient des … rollers.

C’est en effet dans une institution née dans les années 80, le « Crystal Palace », un « roller rink » (un espace entre patinoire et vélodrome), que le jookin’ s’est inspiré puis détaché de ses racines ancrées dans la pauvreté et la violence urbaine. Tous les soirs, entre 1980 et 2016, une heure avant la fermeture de la piste de rollers, les patins étaient collectés mais les jeunes étaient autorisés à continuer leurs évolutions en baskets. On comprend mieux désormais ces glissés de godasses presque irréels jusque sur l’asphalte des parkings, omniprésents à Memphis, devant lesquels on reste bouche-bée. La vision des jeunes sur le skating rink encore chaussés de leurs patins est révélatrice. La mobilité de la cheville est celle que l’on sollicite lorsqu’on impulse des changements de direction à ses rollers, mettant alors la cheville dangereusement en dedans. Ajoutez à cela un peu de hip hop et de moon-walking et vous aurez la base, mais seulement la base, de l’art de Lil’Buck.

Le Jookin’ ajoute aux évolutions robotiques et acrobatiques du Break-Dance une souplesse et un jeu d’ondulations quasi liquides qui transforment les danseurs en une sorte de vague. Lil’Buck y a ajouté sa flexibilité exceptionnelle (notamment des chevilles et des genoux) et une force inusitée qui lui permet de rester plus longtemps que d’autres en suspension ou de multiplier les pirouettes sur la pointe de ses baskets.

Tout le parcours qui conduit le jeune natif de Chicago, résident du ghetto de Memphis, vers cette excellence est expliqué, notamment son détour vers la technique classique, au New Ballet Ensemble de Katie Smythe, pour obtenir cette force du pied, qui est sa marque distinctive ; l’amateur de ballet ne peut s’empêcher de faire un parallèle entre Lil’Buck et Marie Taglioni. L’un et l’autre ne sont pas les premiers à monter sur pointe, mais les premiers à avoir poussé cette technique utilisée par d’autres au niveau de la signifiance esthétique. En cela, Lil’Buck Real Swan est bien un documentaire. Il propose son lot d’images d’archives et d’interviews. L’élégance du film est cependant de laisser d’abord la place au contexte, expliqué en voix off par le danseur lui-même, et de donner largement la parole à ses devanciers/inspirateurs, notamment Daniel, avant de montrer Lil’Buck lui-même dans ses œuvres. La nébuleuse jookin’ est difficile à appréhender. Il faut bien deux visionnages pour s’y retrouver…

Mais Real Swan n’est pas qu’un documentaire, c’est également un vrai film de danse parsemé de miniatures chorégraphiques impromptues exécutées par divers danseurs dans l’entourage ou la mouvance de Lil’Buck. On pense à cette scène où une jeune femme, après avoir expliqué la place du Jookin’ dans sa vie, présente un enchaînement à la fois break et smooth dans les espaces aujourd’hui désertés du Crystal Palace, ou encore cette scène quasi-onirique dans un parking souterrain où un danseur oscille aussi vigoureusement qu’élégamment à la croisée de piliers en béton et de murs tagués. Une voiture s’arrête ; la vitre se baisse ; saluts. Le véhicule passe son chemin. La danse reprend. Un deuxième homme arrive ; accolades. Dernières rotations serpentines. Clap de fin. On pensait être devant un documentaire et on vient d’assister à une sorte de ballet. La dernière scène du film, en traveling arrière, qui voit Lil’Buck esquisser une chorégraphie sur le capot d’une belle américaine est elle aussi un de ces moments de spectacle impromptu.

Mais ce qui touche surtout dans Lil’Buck Real Swan, c’est la forme même du film, sous le signe de l’ellipse : ellipse du skating rink sur lequel les patineurs tournoient incessamment ; ellipse du film lui-même qui suit Lil’Buck depuis Memphis, au Cristal Palace, à l’école de danse classique, à la rencontre avec ses idoles du Jookin’, jusqu’à son départ pour Los Angeles où il rencontre la gloire avec Yo-Yo Ma, la consécration française avec la fondation Louis Vuitton et l’inauguration du Bosquet des belles danses à Versailles, et enfin le retour à Memphis dans sa famille et à l’école de danse classique pour des sessions de transmission à la future génération. Déjà…

Cette structure permet au documentaire, tout en étant très informatif, de rester comme à distance de son sujet, comme pour préserver le mystère de l’artiste. Car Lil’Buck, sans doute en raison de son extrême réactivité à la musique, est un artiste métaphorique. Pendant les extraits du Petrouchka sur une réduction pour Piano de la partition de Stravinski donné à la fondation Louis Vuitton en 2016, le danseur s’offre comme une synthèse des trois personnages du drame : il est à la fois Petrouchka (dont il donne une fantastique relecture de la gestuelle dans la scène d’ouverture), le Maure (la dureté du ghetto dont il est issu) et la Ballerine (la grâce féminine de la technique des pointes). À travers cette histoire d’une poupée de chiffon qui se heurte à des murs, Lil’Buck est parvenu à évoquer les affres de la vie des jeunes du ghetto de Memphis (« A city built around struggle » selon le danseur) tout en offrant une revivification de la tradition classique.


Là encore, on se trouve renvoyé à la figure du cercle. La capacité de la danse classique à absorber quantité de styles anciens ou étrangers, ce jeu permanent de références, se trouve ici inversé. C’est le Jookin’ au travers le Lil’Buck qui absorbe la tradition classique. Mais sans doute pas pour longtemps. Le chorégraphe d’expression classique qui digèrera cette technique n’est pas encore connu (Benjamin Millepied, qui apparaît dans le film, en a vu l’intérêt mais n’a pas ce génie chorégraphique qui lui permettra d’en effectuer l’hybridation) mais il arrivera, on en est sûr. Tout est question de cycle.

Pour sortir d’un cercle vicieux (ici la désespérante époque des chorégraphes néo-classiques savants et barbants), il faut parfois, comme Lil’Buck, épouser la figure du cercle pour la transcender et créer une nouvelle boucle.

« Lil’Buck Real Swan », Louis Wallecan, 2019. 1h25. Sorti le 12 août 2020. Actuellement en salle


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