Archives de Tag: Karinska

“Some enchanted evening/you may see …” (My spring season at the Paris Opera)

Just who wouldn’t want to be wandering about dressed in fluffy chiffon and suddenly encounter a gorgeous man in a forest glade under the moonlight? Um, today, that seems creepy. But not in the 19th century, when you would certainly meet a gentleman on one enchanted evening…« Who can explain it, who can tell you why? Fools give you reasons, wise men never try. »

Notes about the classics that were scheduled for this spring and summer season — La Bayadère, Midsummer Night’s Dream, Giselle — on call from April through July.

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After the confinement, filmed rehearsals, and then two live runs in succession, DOES ANYONE STILL WANT TO HEAR ABOUT LA BAYADERE? But maybe you are still Dreaming or Giselling, too?

Here are my notes.

Bayaderes

« Some enchanted evening, you may see a stranger across a crowded room. And somehow you know, you know even then, That somehow you’ll see her again and again. »

April 21

In La Bayadère, if Ould-Braham’s Nikiya was as soft and naïve and childlike as Giselle. Bleuenn Batistoni’s  Gamzatti proved as hard and sleek as a modern-day Bathilde: an oligarch’s brat. [Albeit most of those kinds of women do not lift up their core and fill out the music]. Their interactions were as clear and bright and graphic as in a silent movie (in the good sense).

OB’s mind is racing from the start, telling a story to herself and us, desperate to know how this chapter ends. Partnering with the ardent Francesco Mura was so effortless, so “there in the zone.” He’s one of those who can speak even when his back is turned to you and live when he is off to the side, out of the spotlight. Mura is aflame and in character all the time.

OB snake scene, iridescent, relives their story from a deep place  plays with the music and fills out the slow tempi. Only has eyes for Mura and keeps reaching, reaching, her arms outlining the shape of their dances at the temple (just like Giselle. She’s not Nikiya but a  Gikiya).

Indeed, Batistoni’s turn at Gamzatti in the second act became an even tougher bitch with a yacht, as cold-blooded as Bathilde can sometimes be:  a Bamzatti. There was no hope left for Ould-Braham and Francesco Mura in this cruel world of rich fat cats, and they both knew it.

April 3

Park  as Nikiya and later as Giselle will channel the same dynamic: sweet girl: finallly infusing some life into her arms in Act 1, then becoming stiff as a board when it gets to the White Act, where she exhibits control but not a drop of the former life of her character. I am a zombie now. Dry, clinical, and never builds up to any fortissimo in the music. A bit too brisk and crisp and efficient a person to incarnate someone once called Nikiya. Could the audience tell it was the same dancer when we got to Act 3?

Good at leaps into her partner’s arms, but then seems to be a dead weight in lifts. When will Park wake up?

Paul Marque broke through a wall this season and finds new freedom in acting through his body. In Act Three: febrile, as “nervosa” as an Italian racecar. Across the acts, he completes a fervent dramatic arc than is anchored in Act 1.

Bourdon’s Gamzatti very contained. The conducting was always too slow for her. Dancing dutifully. Where is her spark?

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Midsummer Night Dreams

« Some enchanted evening, someone may be laughing, You may hear her laughing across a crowded room. And night after night, as strange as it seems, The sound of her laughter will sing in your dreams. »

June 30

Very baroque-era vivid conducting.

Aurelien Gay as Puck: feather light.

Pagliero’s Titania is clearly a queen, calm and scary. But also a woman, pliant and delightful.

Jeremy Loup-Quer as Oberon has heft and presence. Dances nicely. Smooth, but his solos are kind of like watching class combinations. (Balanchine’s choreography for the role is just that, basically)

First Butterfly Sylvia Saint-Martin displayed no authority and did the steps dutifully.

Paris Opera Ballet School kiddie corps has bounce and go and delicate precision, bravo.

Bezard/Demetrius in a wig worthy of a Trocks parody. Whyyyy? Particularly off-putting in the last act wedding scene. Who would want to marry a guy disguised as Mireille Matthieu?

Bourdon/Hyppolita unmusical fouettés. I miss her warmth and panache. Gone.

Act 2 Divertissement Pas where the couple appears out of nowhere in the “story.” (see plot summary). The way Louvet extends out and gently grasps Ould-Braham’s hand feels as if he wants to hold on to the music. Both pay heed and homage to the courtly aspect of the Mendelssohn score. That delicacy that was prized by audiences after the end of the Ancien Régime can be timeless. Here the ballerina was really an abstract concept: a fully embodied idea, an ideal woman, a bit of perfect porcelain to be gently cupped into warm hands. I like Ould-Braham and Louvet’s new partnership.  They give to each other.

July 12

Laura Hequet as Helena gestures from without not from within, as is now usual the rare times she takes the stage. It’s painful to watch, as if her vision ends in the studio. Does she coach Park?

Those who catch your eye:

Hannah O’Neill as Hermia and Célia Drouy as Hyppolita. The first is radiant, the second  oh so plush! Hope Drouy will not spend her career typecast as Cupid in Don Q.

In the Act II  Divertissment, this time with Heloise Bourdon, Louvet is much less reverential and more into gallant and playful give and take. These two had complimentary energy. Here Louvet was more boyish than gentlemanly. I like how he really responds to his actresses these days.

Here the pas de deux had a 20th century energy: teenagers rather than allegories. Teenagers who just want to keep on dancing all night long.

NB Heloise Bourdon was surprisingly stiff at first, as if she hadn’t wanted to be elected prom queen, then slowly softened her way of moving. But this was never to be the legato unspooling that some dancers have naturally. I was counting along to the steps more than I like to. Bourdon is sometimes too direct in attack and maybe also simply a bit discouraged these days. She’s been  “always the bridesmaid but never the bride” — AKA not promoted to Etoile — for waaay too long now.  A promotion would let her break out and shine as she once used to.

My mind wandered. Why did the brilliant and over-venerated costume designer Karinska assign the same wreath/crown of flowers (specifically Polish in brightness) to both Bottom in Act I and then to the Act II  Female Allegory of Love? In order to cut costs by recycling a headdress ? Some kind of inside joke made for Mr. B? Or was this joke invented by Christian Lacroix?

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Giselles

« Some enchanted evening, when you find your true love, When you hear her call across a crowded room, Then fly to her side and make her your own, Or all through your life you may dream all alone.. »

 July 6

 Sae Eun Park/Paul Marque

 Sae Eun Park throws all the petals of the daisy already, does not lower the “he loves me” onto her skirt. There goes one of the main elements of the mad scene.

Her authoritative variations get explosions of applause due to obvious technical facility , plus that gentle smile and calm demeanor that are always on display.

What can Paul Marque’s Albrecht do when faced with all this insipid niciness? I’ve been a bad boy? He does try during the mad scene, shows real regret.

Ninon Raux’s Berthe:  gentle and dignified and not disdainful.

Park’s mad scene was admired by those around me at the top of the house. Many neophites. They admired from afar but not one of those I surveyed at the end of Act I said they had cried when her character died. Same thing at the end of the ballet while we reconnected and loitered around on the front steps of the Palais Garnier.  I asked again. No tears. Only admiration. That’s odd.

On the upside, the Paris Opera has a real thing with bourrées (piétinées), Each night, Myrtha and Giselle gave a plethora of what seemed almost like skateboard or surfing slides. They skimmed over a liquid ground with buttery feet whether forward, backward, or to the side. I think a new standard was set.

In her variations, Hannah O’Neill’s Myrtha gave us a will o’ the wisp of lightly churning jétés. She darted about like the elusive light of a firefly. Alas, where I was sitting behind a cornice meant a blocked view of downstage left, so I missed all of this Wili Queen’s acting for the rest of Act II.

Daniel Stokes’s Hilarion was not desperate enough.

Despite the soaring sweep of the cello, I don’t feel the music in Park-Marque’s Giselle-Albrecht’s pas de deux.  Not enough flow. Marque cared, but Park so careful. No abandon. No connection. The outline of precise steps.

July 11

 Alice Renavand/Mathieu Ganio

Act I

Battistoni/Magliono peasant pas: Turns into attitude, curve of the neck, BB swooshes and swirls into her attitudes and hops. As if this all weren’t deliberate or planned but something quite normal. AM’s dance felt earthbound.

Renavand fresh, plush, youthful, beautiful, and effortlessly mastering the technique (i.e. you felt the technique was all there,  but didn’t start to analyse it). I like to think that Carlotta Grisi exhaled this same kind of naturalness.

ACT II

The detail that may have been too much for Renavand’s body to stand five times in a row: instead of quick relevé passes they were breathtakingly high sissones/mini-gargoullades…as if she was trying to dance as hard as Albrecht in order to save him (Mathieu Ganio,, in top form and  manly and protective and smitten from start to stop with his Giselle. Just like all the rest of us)

Roxane Stojanov’s Myrtha? Powerful. Knows when a musical combination has its punch-line, knows how to be still yet attract the eye. She continues to be one to watch.

July 16

 Myriam Ould-Braham/Germain Louvet

Act I :

A gentle and sad and elegant Florent Melac/Hilarion, clearly in utter admiration of the local beauty. Just a nice guy without much of a back story with Giselle but a guy who dreams about what might have been.

Ould-Braham a bit rebellious in her interactions with mum. This strong-minded choice of Albrecht above all will carry into the Second Act. Myrtha will be a kind of hectoring female authority figure. A new kind of mother. So the stage is set.

Peasant pas had the same lightness as the lead couple. As if the village were filled with sprites and fairies.

Peasant pas: finally a guy with a charisma and clean tours en l’air:  who is this guy with the lovely deep plié? Axel Magliano from the 11th!  This just goes to show you, never give up on a dancer. Like all of us, we can have a day when we are either on or off. Only machines produce perfect copies at every performance.

Bluenn Battistoni light and balanced and effortless. She’s not a machine, just lively and fearless. That spark hasn’t been beaten out of her by management. yet.

O-B’s mad scene: she’s angry-sad, not abstracted, not mad. She challenges Albrecht with continued eye contact.

Both their hearts are broken.

Act II:

This Hilarion, Florent Melac, weighs his steps and thoughts to the rhythm of the church bells. Never really listened to a Hilarion’s mind  before.

Valentine Colasante is one powerful woman. And her Myrtha’s impatience with men kind of inspires me.

O-B and Germain Louvet both so very human. O-B’s “tears” mime so limpid and clear.

GL: all he wants is to catch and hold her one more time. And she also yearns to be caught and cherished.  All of their dance is about trying to hold on to their deep connection. This is no zombie Giselle. When the church bells sang the song of dawn, both of their eyes widened in awe and wonder and yearning at the same time. Both of their eyes arms reached out in perfect harmony and together traced the outline of that horizon to the east where the sun began to rise. It was the end, and they clearly both wanted to go back to the beginning of their story.

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What would you do, if you could change the past?

« Once you have found her, never let her go. Once you have found her, never let her go. »

The quotations are from the Rogers and Hammerstein Broadway musical called
« South Pacific » from 1949.

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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:

An Ancient Lady, as thin and chiseled as her cane, lurched haughtily into the elevator during 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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