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!”