Archives de Tag: Nutcracker

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.

 

Cendrillon

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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Manfred

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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Zurich, The Nutcracker : Princess

« Vous me faîtes danser, très cher! ». Dessin « Lesperluette »

Nussknacker und Mausekönig, Tchaikovsky-Spuck, Ballett Zurich, December 26, 2018.

In his Nussknacker und Mausekönig for Ballett Zürich, Christian Spuck demonstrates how deeply he understands your greatest regret about having had to grow up: not that ability to consume enormous amounts of candied nuts without getting sick, but your having lost that once unforced openness to magical thinking. It’s been too long since that time when you knew how to look beyond the obvious, when wonder seemed natural and “sliding doors” normal, when your dolls were not “toys” but snarky and sassy and opinionated and utterly real living beings.

Spuck also demonstrates how well he understands our second greatest regret about having had to grow up: realizing that now it’s your turn to take the kids to see The Nutcracker. Most versions of this holiday staple have this in common: cloying sweetness and one hell of a loose and dramatically limp plot. Act 1: girl gets a toy on Christmas Eve, duh, big surprise. People in ill-fitting mouse costumes try to launch a rebellion that gets squashed in three minutes and twenty seconds flat [if you listen to the version by Fedoseyev and the USSR Radio-TV Symphony Orchestra]. Unh-huh. It snows. Well, that can happen in December. Act Two: she dreams of random dances that have something to do with sugar or flowers. Like, wow. Why did anyone think this drivel would ever be of interest to children? When I was small, I came out of this – my first ballet — sorely offended by this insult to my intelligence…and to my imagination.

Spuck’s exhilarating rethinking of this old chestnut returns to the original story by E.T.A. Hoffmann in order to scrape off thick layers of saccharine thinking. Newly told, a real narrative takes us back to a surreal and fantastical realm that is both familiar yet often unsettling and keeps you guessing right up to the end.

But first I must confess that the desire to see one of the Paris Opera Ballet’s many talented dancers “on leave” this season originally inspired my pilgrimage to Zurich. Eléonore Guérineau is alive and well and lived it up as Princess Pirlipat. She has taken to Spuck’s style like a duck to water [or, given the nuts, like a squirrel to a tree]. Her fairy-tale princess read as if her Lise from the Palais Garnier had spent the interim closely observing the velvety perversity of cats rather than the scratchy innocence of chickens. – The way Guérineau adjusted the bow of her dress differently each time added layer upon layer to her character, including a soupçon of Bette Davis’s Baby Jane, totally in keeping with Hoffmann’s sense of how the beautiful and the bizarre intersect. Our Parisian ballerina’s chiseled lines and plush push remain intact, and the two kids in front of me immediately got that she was Marie’s sassier alter-ego (and were disappointed every time she left the stage).

Pirlipat? Are you confused? Good!

Ballett Zürich – Nussknacker und Mausekönig – La princesse Pirlipat(Eléonore Guérineau), sa cour et le roi des souris.
© Gregory Batardon

A central part of the original story was lost when Alexandre Dumas [he of The Three Musketeers] translated – and severely bowdlerized — Hoffmann’s tale into French. As Petipa and Tchaikovsky used Dumas’s version, one can begin to understand why the classic scenario falls so flat and leaves so much dramatic potential just beyond reach. Just why is Marie so obsessed with this really ugly toy? Just because she is a nice, kind-hearted girl en route motherhood? Bo-ring. You see, in the original tale Marie already knows that the wooden toy is not an ersatz baby.

The missing link of most Nutcrackers resides within a tale within the tale, one that Drosselmeier dangles before Marie across three bedtimes, “The Tale of Princess Pirlipat.” As brought to the stage by Spuck, this Princess is Aurora as spoiled 13-year-old Valley Girl. Already grossed-out by four over-eager and foppish suitors who chase her around with their lips puckered and going “mwah-mwah,” Pirlipat’s troubles only worsen when her father takes out a mouse. The Mouse Queen’s curse turns the girl into a nutcrackeress rabidly hungry for nuts, not roses. [As the queen, Elizabeth Wisenberg offers a pitch-perfect distillation of what is so scary about Carabosse] A handsome surfer dude/nerd prince [Alexander Jones, geeky, tender, masterful, as you desire] comes to Pirlipat’s rescue, only to be slimed in turn. Not passive at all, Marie will plunge this parallel universe in a quest to save him.

Ballett Zürich – Nussknacker und Mausekönig – La reine des souris (ici Melissa Ligurgo)
© Gregory Batardon

Everything in Nussknacker und Mausekönig has been has been reexamined and reconsidered by Christian Spuck. The score – jumbled up and judiciously reassigned – emerges completely refreshed and unpredictable: when was the last time you did NOT cringe at what was going on to the music for the “Chinese” dance? More than that (and many times more), Spuck will address the fact that many people can’t get enough of Tchaikovsky’s celesta&harp-driven “Sugarplum” variation [One minute 48 seconds, if you go by Fedoseyev]. Here, before we even get to the overture – placed way further down the line and, oh heaven, that music will be danced to for once — the action starts when a lonely automaton with a bad case of dropsy plays the Sugarplum theme on an…accordion. The same melody will return to haunt the action intermittently, refracted into a leitmotif, rather than sticking out as a sole “number.” By thoughtfully reassigning other parts of the score, the ballet loses some of what now seems offensive: grandma and grandpa use their canes for a slightly-off vaudeville number to the music of Marie’s solo, which makes them seem jaunty and spry rather than creaky old fools [the determined yet airborne Mélanie Borel and Filipe Portugal manage to suggest a whole lifetime in the theater. This sly duo would deserve to have their story told in a ballet all to themselves]; the “Arabian/Coffee” music is scooped up by a whirling Sugarplum fairy replete with tempting cupcake-dotted tutu [Elena Vostrotina, a tad ill at ease] ; instead of that embarrassing Turk with moustache and scimitar you get a horde of mice with whiskers all a-quiver…I think I’ve already blabbed too much. The whole evening feels like munching through a box of Cracker Jacks. Each caramelized kernel tastes so good you lose sight of hunting for the “surprise.”

Spuck takes infinite care to adapt the movement to each specific type of doll or creature. Indeed, at first only Marie (a.k.a. Clara in some versions) could be said to be the one person who dances…normally [the radiant and silken Meiri Maeda, whose face and body act without calling attention to the fact that she is acting]. Mechanical ones, in the vein of Hoffmann’s Olympia or Coppelia, use the beloved straight leg with flexed foot walk and stiff bust that follows, complete with those elbows bent up like pitchforks. That is, until Marie assumes they are real and the sharp edges soften. Raggedy dolls – such as the sarcastic and powder-wigged Columbine (Yen Han, as sly and ironic as the M.C. in Cabaret, but infinitely more elegant) – flop to the ground and then get swept up, crisply bent in two. Fritz’s army of timid tin soldiers wobble dangerously (and hilariously) as if fresh from the forge. Wheels of all varieties will be worn to shape and typify certain characters. (Sorry, I’m not going to spoil any more of these delightful surprises).

Ballett Zürich – Nussknacker und Mausekönig – Clowns (Ina Callejas, Daniel Muligan et Yen Han)
© Gregory Batardon

And Zurich’s Drosselmeier ain’t no harmlessly doting godfather. He is a moody and masterful manipulator. In Hoffmann’s tale, his hold over Marie stems from sitting rather eerily on the edge of her bed every night and enthralling her with fantastical bedtime stories until she can no longer tell the real from the unreal. To translate this, the set design involves a tiny stage within a stage on the stage where all – even Marie’s parents – fall under his spell. His costume evokes some of the more lunatic figures in children’s literature: Willy Wonka, The Mad Hatter, The Cat in the Hat. And so will his movement. Have you ever watched marionettists at work? Their bodies dart and swoop and wiggle without pause. Their fingers are the scariest: flickering as rapidly as bats’ tongues. And Drosselmeier’s fingers are all over the place. As they delicately creep all over the feisty Marie, children and adults alike will judge him in their own ways. He swoops, he scuttles, he drops into second plié and sways it, his legs shoot out in high dévelopé kicks and flash-fast raccourcis. When the “Rat” theme devolves to not only Jan Casier’s hypnotic Drosselmeier but also to the coven of his twitchy doubles, the musical switch makes perfect sense.

 

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The cozy auditorium of the Zurich opera house resembles a neo-Rococo jewel box. Spuck’s sparkling and multi-faceted Nutcracker nestles perfectly inside it.

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