Archives de Tag: Palais Garnier

Onegin : I Can Dream, Can’t I ?

John Cranko’s Onéguine by the Paris Opera Ballet at the Palais Garnier, Feb 14, 2018

For years now, the tall and dark Audric Bezard, with his high cheekbones and furrowed brow, has been typecast as “the other guy,” “the tall guy,” “the bad guy.” It’s time to put a stop to this. This has been going on for so long that I, like everyone else, came into the Palais Garnier on February 14th expecting a spine-chillingly vulpine and vampiristic Onegin along the lines of Rex Harrington. Nyet!

Instead, I witnessed the very incarnation of a complex human being constructed in such a manner that you only finally “get it” at the end: Bezard’s interpretation suggests that the whole story might have been fabricated from his own dreams and nightmares, or even that dream and reality were reversed.

So I must start with Act Three.

In this haunted and haunting portrayal, Onegin appears back in Saint Petersburg still in shock. His clear alarm when he looks up and sees Tatiana is clearly tied to the last time they saw each other. You wonder whether the pistol he used to kill Lensky isn’t lurking in the cloakroom, impatient to finish the job.

As he hallucinates that all the women in the ballroom are the ghosts of former conquests, now completely indifferent to him, Bezard really gave in to letting himself be pushed and pulled in a manner that made it clear that the women were leading the dance. He accepted their punishment in a manner that reminded me of his unusually subtle and sympathetic Hilarion from a while back .

This time, when he lifted hand to brow, slowly walking toward stage left as in Act One, he was clearly no longer posing (if he ever had). Not “ah, poor me” but “oh god I can’t stand this.” He was broken, desperate to find even a single person to forgive him for all the mistakes he has made.

His biggest mistake? Not listening to the little voice in Act One that said “this girl has something. She’s docile, good-humored, maidenly, a very pretty and graceful young woman. Every teenager reads romantic novels. But this one actually seems to be intelligent. She’ll grow out of it.”

Bezard’s approach to the young Tatiana during their walk in the garden almost made you feel as if she were a figment of his imagination. Dorothée Gilbert’s pensive and subdued portrayal furthered this vision. She always seemed lighter than a feather, ready slip out of his arms and float away. Bezard partnered her with utmost care. Each time he lifted her he so carefully returned her to the ground that the movement seemed to be in slow-motion. They were both, then, as if caught up in their own daydreams.

When Bezard’s Onegin solemnly entered Tatiana’s bedroom in Scene 2 of Act I, he seemed not only to be in a dream, but perhaps having one of himself as a tender Romeo. A  “what could be” that will later torture him as a “what might have been” dream.

That you are not quite sure whose dream is happening here will be reinforced at the end, as Bezard in particular makes the echoes of steps, combinations, and images of the first « dream pas de deux » stand out sharply. This Onegin clearly recalls every single detail of what had gone on in her bedroom three years ago. This leads to another surprising thought: not only could Tatiana’s dream have been his, but…maybe he had really been there in the flesh after all? I find this improbability quite tantalizing.

As Prince Gremin, the husband Tatiana has finally settled for, Florian Magnenet calibrated his interpretation in light of this very pensive and poised Tatania, whose thoughts always seemed to be elsewhere. As opposed to his rapport with Pagliero’s Tatania on the 13th, something about the way he was too careful in embracing and partnering Gilbert, made you realize that this wife of his had not told him everything and remains a bit of a mystery. But what man wants to be told to his face that his wife has felt passion only once in her life, and not with him? Better let sleeping dogs lie.

Gilbert shyly kept her eyes almost completely on the ground during her pas de deux with Gremin. She only lifted them to gaze at her husband and smile dutifully during that sequence where their arms interlace as she is on one knee before him. She submits, rather than loves. Wears the dresses, but doesn’t quite believe in her role as “queen of society.” You therefore understand Gremin’s genuine surprise and confusion when later Tatiana abruptly kisses him with passion in an attempt to make him stay. With Pagliero, Magnenet’s body language said “I trust you, I’m proud of you. You will be fine. Don’t despair, my love.” With Gilbert, “I am sorry to see you are not quite well, my dear, but I must go now. We’ll talk later, perhaps?”

As the ballet hurtles towards its end, Bezard rushed in, only to stop dead in his tracks. Gilbert seemed to have been turned into marble by the letter on her desk. Her frozen stillness made you wonder whether she was still breathing. She, too, was in as much pain as Onegin. She is still that good girl. Writing one love letter three years ago had been her first and last moment of élan, of independent action, of breaking the rules. Both seemed to be thinking of the main result of her one moment of spontaneity: not the broken dreams of the living, but the lost future of her sister’s fiancé, dead.

This Onegin had not returned in order to take a mistress, or ask Tatiana to do an Anna Karenina. Reduced to crawling and crumpling, Bezard radiated a desire for something deeper and more elusive: absolution. He also made it clear that he knew how this dream would end.  I have rarely felt so sorry for an Onegin.

For years, Bezard has been in splendid shape as far as ballet technique goes and has repeatedly demonstrated he knows how to act, not merely let his features brood. It’s time to move him out of Manon’s brother and into the skin of Des Grieux, to let him trade in Hilarion for Albrecht, to let him die like Romeo instead of Tybalt, most of all,  finally release him from the endless purgatory of Petipa’s Spanish dances.

“I Can Dream, Can’t I” by the Andrews Sisters in 1949
I can see, no matter how near you’ll be
You’ll never belong to me
But I can dream, can’t I?
Can’t I pretend that I’m locked in the bend of your embrace
For dreams are just like wine and I am drunk with mine

I’m aware my heart is a sad affair
There’s much dis-illusion there
But I can dream, can’t I?
Can I adore you although we are oceans apart?
I can’t make you open your heart
But I can dream, can’t I?


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En Sol/In G Major: Robbins’s inspired and limpid adagio goes perfect at the Paris Opera.

Gérald and Sarah Murphy, East Hampton 1915.

Two nights at the opera, or were they on the Riviera?

May 20th, 2017.

Myriam Ould-Braham, who owned her chipper loose run –the feet didn’t drag behind her, they traced tiny semi-circles in the sand, and the hips swayed less than Marilyn but more than yours should — called all of us (onstage and in the audience) to attention during the first movement. She was that girl in high school so beautiful but so damned sweet that you couldn’t bring yourself to hate her. Mathias Heymann was the guy so gorgeous and popular in theory that no one ever dared try to get close to him, so he ended up being kind of lonely. Both cast a spell. But you sensed that while She was utterly a self, He yearned for that something more: a kindred spirit.

The second movement went off like a gunshot. Ould-Braham popped out of the wings upstage and stared — her body both still and expectant, both open and closed – at Heymann. From house left, Heymann’s back gave my eyes the illusion of his being both arrow-straight and deeply Graham contracted, hit. You know that feeling: “at last we are alone…uh oh, oh man oh man, am I up to it?”

Like two panthers released from the cage that only a crowd at a party can create, they paced about and slinked around each other. At first as formal and poised as expensive porcelain figurines, they so quickly melted and melded: as if transported by the music into the safety of a potter’s warm hand. Even when the eyes of Ould-Braham and Heymann were not locked, you could feel that this couple even breathed in synch. During the sequence of bourrées where she slips upstage, blindly and backwards towards her parner, each time Ould-Braham nuanced these tiny fussy steps. Her hands grew looser and freer – they surrendered themselves. What better metaphor does there exist for giving in to love?

Look down at your hands. Are they clenched, curled, extended, flat…or are they simply resting on your lover’s arm?

May 23rd

During the first and third movements of the 20th, the corps shaped the easy joy of just a bunch of pals playing around. On the 23rd that I was watching two sharp teams who wanted to win. I even thought about beach volleyball, for the first time in decades, for god’s sake.

Here the energy turned itself around and proved equally satisfying. Amadine Albisson is womanly in a very different way. She’s taller, her center of gravity inevitably less quicksilver than Ould-Braham’s, but her fluid movements no less graceful. Her interpretation proved more reserved, less flirtatious, a bit tomboyish. Leading the pack of boys, her dance made you sense that she subdues those of the male persuasion by not only by knowing the stats of every pitcher in Yankee history but also by being able to slide into home better than most of them. All the while, she radiates being clearly happy to have been born a girl.

As the main boy, Josua Hoffalt’s élan concentrated on letting us in on to all of those little bits of movement Robbins liked to lift from real life: during the slow-motion swim and surf section – and the “Simon says” parts — every detail rang clear and true. When Hoffalt took a deep sniff of dusty stage air I swear I, too, felt I could smell a whiff of the  sand and sea as it only does on the Long Island shore.

Then everyone runs off to go get ice cream, and the adagio begins. Stranded onstage, he turns around, and, whoops, um, uh oh: there She is. Albisson’s expression was quizzical, her attitude held back. In Hoffalt’s case, his back seemed to bristle. The pas de deux started out a bit cold. At first their bodies seemed to back away from each other even when up close, as if testing the other. Wasn’t very romantic. Suddenly their approach to the steps made all kind of sense. “Last summer, we slept together once, and then you never called.” “Oh, now I remember! I never called. What was I thinking? You’re so gorgeous and cool now, how could I have forgotten all about you?”

Both wrestled with their pride, and questioned the other throughout each combination. They were performing to each other. But then Albisson began to progressively thaw to Hoffalt’s attentions and slowly began to unleash the deep warmth of her lower back and neck as only she can do. Her pliancy increased by degrees until at the end it had evolved into a fully sensual swan queen melt of surrender.

She won us both over.

A tiny and fleeting gesture sets off the final full-penchée overhead lift that carries her backwards off-stage in splendor. All that she must do is gently touch his forehead before she plants both hands on his shoulders and pushes up. It can be done as lightly as if brushing away a wisp of hair or as solemnly as a benediction, but neither is something you could never have imagined Albisson’s character even thinking of doing at the start of this duet. Here that small gesture, suffused with awe at the potential of tenderness, turned out to be as thrilling as the lift itself.

Both casts evoked the spirit of a passage in the gorgeous English of the Saint James’s translation of the Bible: If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. (Psalm 139). I dare to say that’s also one way to define partnering in general, when it really works.

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Chorégraphes américains à l’Opéra de Paris : beautés diffractées

Thème et Variations. Balanchine.

Thème et Variations. Balanchine.

L’exposition de l’été à l’Opéra de Paris, chorégraphes américains à l’Opéra, se poursuit jusqu’à fin septembre, est presque anachronique, puisqu’elle a débuté à un moment ou la maison tournait de manière précipitée une certaine page américaine.

On la suit à l’aide d’une petite plaquette, plutôt bien ficelée, qui découpe le parcours en quatre périodes : « Premiers échanges » (1947-72), « Expérimentation » (1973-1980), « Éclectisme et Pluralité » (1980-1989) et « Un Répertoire vivant » (1990-2016). Elle apporte un fil conducteur historique utile qui remet certains jalons importants en place : l’arrivée de Balanchine dans le contexte troublé de l’après-guerre, quand la compagnie était encore sous le choc de l’épuration, les transformations structurelles initiées à partir des années 70 afin d’accueillir des créations contemporaines comme celles de Merce Cunningham : création du GRTOP de Carolyn Carlson, « étoile-chorégraphe » puis du GRCOP de Jacques Garnier ; invention du « directeur de la danse » en remplacement du poste de maître de ballet-chorégraphe.

Néanmoins, la dernière section, plus « histoire immédiate », et un peu fourre-tout (« Le répertoire du Ballet de l’Opéra s’est consolidé avec la présentation, saison après saison, de reprises ou de nouvelles pièces de George Balanchine et de Jerome Robbins, parfois parés de nouveaux atours… » Quel programme !), montre les limites de l’option chronologique.

Car ce qui ferait un bon article dans un catalogue ne fait pas nécessairement la cohérence d’une exposition : « Chorégraphes américains », très riche et soigneusement présentée, est, disons-le, à la limite du hors-sujet. Choisissant cette approche chronologico-thématique, elle aurait alors plutôt dû se nommer « Les chorégraphes américains dans la programmation de l’Opéra ».

Dessin préparatoire pour le décor du Palais de Cristal par Léonore Fini (1947)

Dessin préparatoire pour le décor du Palais de Cristal par Leonor Fini (1947)

D’un point de vue accrochage, cette optique ne rend pas forcément palpable la différence entre les chorégraphes qui ont installé un dialogue durable avec le répertoire de la maison et ceux qui n’y ont fait qu’une apparition subreptice, liée aux courants ou aux modes. Une section Balanchine, par exemple, aurait permis de réunir « physiquement » le très joli matériel disséminé de-ci de-là au gré de l’évocation chronologique. On découvre par exemple pour la période 1947-50 un Balanchine qui n’est pas encore monsieur « costumes dépouillés ou de répétition » et qui cède encore à « l’air du temps parisien », acceptant des décorateurs et costumiers qui parent – un peu trop – ses chorégraphies. Pour le spectateur néophyte, les photographies des décors et costumes d’André Delfau pour Sérénade auraient gagné à être confrontées à des photographies ou à une vidéo-maison de la mise en scène actuelle avec tutus longs romantiques et académiques bleutés. De même, on aurait bien aimé voir réunir les costumes du Palais de Cristal de Léonor Fini -éparpillés entre la rotonde de l’Empereur et les espaces publics (dans une vitrine circulaire non éclairée !)-, ceux de Christian Lacroix ainsi que ceux, d’après Karinska, pour Symphonie en Ut (le cousin américain du Palais français) dont on peut voir un extrait filmé dans une autre section de l’exposition. Pour ce jeu de comparaison, une belle trouvaille visuelle de l’exposition, au contenu hélas un peu disparate (elle juxtapose Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude de Forsythe, Signes de Carolyn Carlson et Glacial Decoy de Trisha Brown) aurait pu être employée : les costumes, placés derrières des gazes faisant également office d’écran de cinéma, apparaissent en transparence tandis que l’on projette un extrait de la pièce dont ils sont issus.

Jerome Robbins aurait mérité également sa section au lieu d’être diffracté aux quatre coins de la maison : dans le bassin de la Pythie avec les Seasons de Verdi, au bar des premières loges pour Goldberg Variations,  dans la première salle à gauche de la rotonde de l’Empereur où l’on trouve les délicieuses gouaches d’Erté pour la première production d’En Sol , dans la grande rotonde enfin ou l’on peut admirer le costume féminin du deuxième pas de deux d’In the Night, la tunique bleue d’Opus 19 The Dreamer (îlot central) et le drôle d’accoutrement du mari dans le Concert.

Il en aurait dû en être de même pour William Forsythe. Au passage, on aurait bien aimé voir la juxtaposition des désormais iconiques cerises d’In The Middle avec le très virtuose tutu de Lacroix pour Les Anges Ternis de Carole Armitage. Ces deux œuvres, créées le même soir, dont la postérité a été  inversement proportionnelle à leur coût de production respectif. La confrontation de deux captations des spectacles ne laisse aucun doute sur les raisons du triomphe de l’un et de l’échec de l’autre.

Ce diaporama nécessite JavaScript.

Une autre section dédiée aux autres courants restés exogènes – le Jazz de Gene Kelly (charmants costumes d’André François), le ballet américain (Fall River Legend), la danse moderne avec Graham, Taylor, Ailey, l’expérimentation avec Cunningham ou Brown – aurait enfin montré la large ouverture d’une compagnie que des journalistes paresseux présentent régulièrement depuis le début du XXe siècle comme « poussiéreuse » ou trop attachée à la « tradition ».

Une occasion manquée… Mais, restons positifs. Telle qu’elle se présente, cette exposition présente suffisamment de pépites disséminées pour combler l’amateur de ballet.


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« Le Corsaire » à Paris : English National Ballet

« Le Corsaire », English National Ballet. Palais Garnier. Représentations du 21, 24 et 25 juin 2016

Les Balletonautes ont vu 4 des six représentations du Corsaire données par l’English National Ballet de Tamara Rojo. James, qui avait déjà vu deux fois cette production de l’autre côté du channel en 2013 a décidé d’arrêter les frais après l’indispensable pèlerinage auprès de sainte Alina (le 23 juin) . Fenella et Cléopold sont venus, ont vu, puis ont écrit leur commentaire respectif. Ils se sont montrés étonnés de leur similitude lorsqu’ils se les sont échangés.

Why bother to “Keep Calm and Carry On?” Le Corsaire in Paris by The English National Ballet

Style: "Dance_small"As Emerson says, “A friend is a person with whom I may be sincere. Before him I may think aloud.” After the performance on June 21st, I still needed to explain things to my friend from abroad. His eyes at the evening’s end pleaded: “oh, but how can I admit to you that I just didn’t get it?”

For the ENB’s Le Corsaire was efficiently executed in that most British spirit of downplaying exactly that which we Continentals believe only works if you make it sizzle with nuance and persona. The evening was about endless revolution (like a top, not like the French) without evolution: efficient, clean. One could even say too proficient: it did not sing to me. Time and again I scribbled down notes that later turned out to be merely variations on “facility, regularity, this-that leap/multiple pirouette styled precisely, then repeated exactly.”

Too much uniform maestra of every step all the time in exactly the same vein becomes wearisome. If all anyone wanted from dance was that, I could just tell my friends to stay in bed and just surf the plethora of ballet competitions posted on YouTube.

The piece of fluff plot may be more in the vaudeville tradition (don’t tell Byron), but that shouldn’t mean turning it into the suite of interchangeable bravura numbers you get at a gala. Do the steps here, and the way they are attacked, serve to individuate the characters, personas? Not really. I think many people in the audience confused Shiori Kase’s creamy Gulnare with Tamara Rojo’s creamy Medora whenever one or the other had gone into the wings.

Anne-Marie Holmes’s staging exacerbates this by, for example, this sequence: Medora exits by entering into a house stage left; Gulnare almost immediately exits from said house, dances for a while, leaves; only for us to discover Medora re-entering from across the stage on the right, a goodly distance from the house into which she had supposedly been locked up. How does this help us understand the plot?

Similarly, in act one, four male leads come out and, one after the other, each does his own happy dance. Which happy dance, then, is by the good pirate, the bad pirate, the slave-dealer, the slave? Takes a long while to figure that one out. Why is following the slim plot made so hard to follow?

As the slave Ali – a peculiarly small and yet bouncy role probably left over from the era where the hero mimed and posed while “Benno” did all the partnering — Cesar Corrales owned his glitter pants. But he and the others, each time when spinning out into yet another spotless manège, made me muse about how Prince once made every split a great surprise. By inflecting your movements, the words, you can turn even the dumbest ideas into a song, a poem, a story, something that takes you on a journey before it ends. Not every variation should be danced like a power ballad.

Isaac Hernández as the hero Conrad suffered from the same accomplished milquetoastiness as his slave. Smooth, light, careful, correct. Too poised. Without the one being bare-chested and the other not, you couldn’t tell who was supposed to be Batman or Robin. His Act 3 final “ecstatic” duet with Rojo’s Medora started off on a technically high — and dramatically vanilla — vein of “O.K., now we will once again demonstrate to you out there – as precisely a we had in Act 2 — that we are in love.” Then it continued on but never evolved, developed, grew. Technique should be a means, not an end.

Of all the men Yonah Acosta — as the treacherous pirate Birbanto — did catch my eye. Just a soupçon of ham, an attack, and finally some variety in the way he would treat a step that might be repeated.

Do not assume I am arguing in favor of hambone theatrics. I am trying very hard to forget the once delicious Michael Coleman’s tasteless Pasha, which consisted of allowing his fat-suit to upstage him.

The ENB is in excellent physical shape, the corps nicely in unison, stylistically together, pleasantly accomplished. But perhaps the principals should not be hewing to these same principles. It’s supposed to be a ballet about pirates, not about the perfect 10.


Douglas Fairbanks in a scene from THE THIEF OF BAGDAD, 1924.


*                                             *

Le Corsaire : perdu corps (âmes) et biens…

cléopold2Que font tous ces Grecs qui rentrent en rang serrés côtés cour et jardin pour y danser dans le port d’Istanbul avec leurs donzelles aussi grecques qu’eux ? Comment Medora et Conrad se sont-ils rencontrés? À qui appartient l’esclave Ali, compagnon de Conrad, pour rentrer et sortir à sa guise du caravansérail du marchand d’esclave Lankedem? Tout le monde a l’air, dans ce curieux petit monde, de se dématérialiser mystérieusement. À l’acte 1, Medora rentre dans ce même caravansérail côté cour et réapparaît sur la place, côté jardin. Les humeurs sont tout aussi volatiles. À l’acte 2,  Birbanto, le bras droit de Conrad (le Corsaire. Vous me suivez?) fulmine déjà contre son chef avant même que celui-ci ne libère les jolies esclaves conquises de haute lutte, à la demande de Medora. Tout cela est peu explicable… Mais on comprend vite que le propos n’est pas là. La production semble ne pas chercher à faire sens dramatiquement.

Pour ma part, ma qualité d’amateur de ballet me rend plutôt tolérant pour les arguments légers, voire faibles… Mais je tolère difficilement l’incohérence. Personnellement, la version qui devrait faire référence est celle d’Oleg Vinogradov, présenté par le Kirov à partir des années 80. Elle avait le mérite d’avoir une narration claire (on assistait à la rencontre de Conrad et Medora sur la plage puis à l’enlèvement des jeunes filles grecques par Lankedem) et de bien y enchâsser les passages obligés (Pas de deux de Gulnare et Lankedem, Pas de trois de l’esclave, Pas des odalisques et jardin animé) au milieu d’un décor qui posait un regard amusé sur l’orientalisme XIX e siècle. La scène du marché (acte 1, scène 2) était agrémentée de danses d’esclaves des différentes partie du monde méditerranéen, toutes nostalgiques, résignées ou se cabrant face à leur sort, comme Médora qui exécutait une variation à base de sissonnes bras dans le dos où elle exprimait l’humiliation d’être présentée comme une marchandise. Cette variation était infiniment préférable à celle de la présente production Anne Marie Holmes où, transformée en une sorte d’aguicheuse « esclave en série », Médora lutine un pacha qui frôle le politiquement incorrect tant-il est présenté comme stupide et libidineux.

Or, dans le programme, la version Vinogradov est balayée d’un revers de main par Jane Pitchard

« Une production qui met le ballet sans dessus-dessous, commençant par le naufrage et racontant à peine la moitié de l’histoire dans une production vivante et légèrement second degré. Cela relance l’intérêt pour le ballet, désormais repris dans le monde entier »

Cette production avait en effet de quoi « relancer l’intérêt »… Mais cet avatar actuel ?

Toujours dans le programme, Anne-Marie Holmes dit avoir remonté la « vraie » version du Corsaire qu’un de ses anciens professeurs de Moscou lui aurait demandé de « sauver » après que le Bolshoï en eut changé. Mais cette version « originale » fait en fait référence à  une chorégraphie de Sergeïev pour le Kirov datant de 1973 !

Pourquoi cette version, alors? Parce qu’elle donne quantités de rôles masculins pyrotechniques à danser. Il est vrai que Conrad est sinon mieux, du moins plus souvent servi que dans la production Vinogradov. Force est de constater que cela ne recentre pas l’intérêt du public sur lui. Les deux soirs où j’ai assisté au Corsaire, les applaudissements sont allés à Ali (le mec qui sort avec sa culotte de pyjama) ou Birbanto (le traître tout en rouge). Qu’importe alors si le public s’y perd, il aura tout son soûl de pirouettes à gogo, de doubles révoltades et, si affinités, de triples saltos arrière.

Avec des personnalités bien marquées, la chorégraphie de Holmes peut néanmoins se laisser regarder. Le film de la production d’ABT de 1999 en est une démonstration. Mais la distribution associe intelligemment des danseurs très différents à différents stages de leur carrière : Vladimir Malakov, déjà presque un vétéran sur-joue Lankedem avec délice, Ethan Stiefel dans Conrad venait de faire sa transition du NYCB (dont il gardait l’élégant verni) à ABT tandis que le jeune Joaquin De Luz (Birbanto), qui devait sentir déjà les dangers du typecasting, préparait le voyage dans le sens inverse. Angel Corella, en passe d’atteindre le pic technique et artistique de sa carrière était Ali. Et c’est exactement cet équilibre qui manquait aux distributions de l’English National Ballet où Tamara Rojo a engagé un groupe de très jeunes danseurs aux qualités physiques indéniables, à la technique acrobatique souvent impressionnante mais à la présence scénique somme toute interchangeable. Isaac Hernandez, déjà invité à l’Opéra de Paris pour le Lac des Cygnes, danse à fond son texte chorégraphique avec des qualités saltatoires certaines mais une petite pointe de sécheresse qui lui joue parfois des tours. Cesar Corrales, en plus d’un ballon inusité chez les longs danseurs de son espèce, est doté d’une très belle ligne d’arabesque. Mais ces deux danseurs n’apportent aucune inflexion particulière à leur danse quand on les retrouve deux soirs de suite dans des rôles différents – Hernandez dans Conrad le 24 et dans Ali le 25, Corrales dans Ali puis dans Birbanto. Le jeu est stéréotypé, les sourires formatés et décrochés en mesure avec une régularité effrayante. Les pas de liaison sont escamotés afin de laisser un peu de place à la giration complexe suivante (ainsi les balancés de la variation d’Ali). On se sent convié non à un ballet mais à un gala du Youth America Grand Prix.

Du côté des filles, c’est un peu le même constat. Shiori Kase, nommée principal (première danseuse) à l’issue de la représentation du 25, saute bien, tourne bien mais danse son pas de deux du marché aux esclaves sans la moindre inflexion dramatique. On ignorera toujours si elle déteste son partenaire geôlier où si l’exercice d’être vendue à un vieux gâteux a été le grand frisson de sa vie. Des « trois odalisques » vues sur deux soirées (5 danseuses), seule Ksenia Ovsyanick, avec ses brisés aériens et silencieux et son haut de corps élégant et paisible a retenu notre attention. C’est que sans esbroufe technique, elle laissait la place au rêve au lieu de laisser voir les limites physiques du corps.

Dans le rôle de Medora, la directrice-étoile de la compagnie, Tamara Rojo est un peu de la trempe des danseurs qu’elle engage. Sa danse, directement sensuelle, est plus impressionnante dans la grande technique que dans les moments de contrôle (ainsi dans la variation du jardin animé avec sa remontée de tours à la seconde) mais on se laisse conquérir par sa danse crémeuse et par son énergie inflammable (qui culmine dans les fouettés du grand pas de deux de l’esclave). Tamara Rojo est une grande danseuse.

Avec Alina Cojocaru, cependant, on atteint une dimension différente. Dans cette production qui ne fait pas dans la dentelle, on dirait un Raphaël qui se serait matérialisé au milieu d’une illustration pour Chocolat Meunier. Dès son entrée en jetés, dynamique et suspendue, on sait qu’on va assister à une expérience particulière. Le badinage avec le pacha n’est pas si vulgaire car elle le transforme en un jeu presque enfantin. Dans le pas de deux de l’acte 2, elle sait moduler ses regards ou ses directions pour bien signifier qu’elle danse d’abord avec Conrad (Osiel Gouneo, jamais autant mis en valeur que lorsqu’il est engagé dans un pas de deux avec elle) puis avec Ali. Des suspensions, des petites surprises, des inflexions de ports de bras dans de simples retirés (variation de l’acte 2), vous tiennent comme en alerte. Mademoiselle Cojocaru parvient même à rediriger votre attention sur la musique pour le moins composite du ballet. On se prend à apprécier les accents sentimentaux du duo romantique « de la grotte » avec Conrad ou la force mélodique de la scène du jardin animé (un peu chichement remontée pour cette tournée). Mais Alina Cojocaru est une grande ballerine…

Douglas Fairbanks in a scene from THE THIEF OF BAGDAD, 1924.

Douglas Fairbanks in a scene from THE THIEF OF BAGDAD, 1924.


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Classé dans Humeurs d'abonnés, Ici Paris

Charmatz at the Opéra : “Fate is a foolish thing…Take a chance”*


The evil fairy’s costume from Nureyev’s « Sleeping Beauty, » trapped in a glass case. Her dancer spirit roamed the halls of the Palais Garnier.

20 danseurs pour le XXe siècle. Palais Garnier. September 30th

The public spaces outside the auditorium of the Palais Garnier are designed for circulation, a bit of people-watching, but certainly not for strap-hanging.

I feared getting around Boris Charmatz’s seemingly random collage of dance and dancers would feel like being stuck in the Paris metro. God, another accordionist. You rush to the car behind, but then get your nose crushed against the door. Moments later you find yourself waist-high in a school group. Then, abruptly, it all thins out and you are gawking at two boys rapping and doing back-flips in the aisle. Maybe, with luck, you get to sit.

That’s why I only took one chance on 20 Danseurs pour le XXe siècle as adapted for the Paris Opéra dancers. The Charmatz/Musée de la danse concept sounded borrowed from what has, in the space of twenty years, become a theatrical staple. Actors spread out throughout an a-typical space repeat scenes – fragments of a story – and are gawked at. You use your legs to trace a path, choose how long you want to stand in one doorway, and worry about what’s going on elsewhere. Chances are you will construct a narrative that makes sense to you, or not. I find this genre as annoying as where — just when you start to get into the novel you are eaves-reading – your seatmate hops off at her stop.

I was so wrong. Instead of a half-overheard conversation in a noisy train, here we were treated to an anthology of coherent one-page short stories. It was the hop-on-hop-off tour bus: only a three-day ticket lets you get to enough of the sights. But even one day in Paris is definitely worth the trip.

If, as Fred Astaire’s Guy Holden says, “chance is the fool’s name for fate,”* somehow I was fated (pushed and pulled?) to stopping off at those stations that housed tiny but complete narratives of sorrow. (A Balletonaut has told me I missed much happy, even foolish, fun. Next time, I’m travelling with him).

“How do you do? I am delightful”*

Perhaps the oddest thing for both conductor and passengers is finding themselves face to face. When the lights are out in a theater, the auditorium looks like a deep dark tunnel from the stage…not like these hundreds of beady eyes now within touching distance. And even we were uneasy: one wall had been broken down, but where to put eye contact? We did what we usually do at the end of each snippet: applauded and moved on. Very few dared to actually approach and speak to the ferociously focused dancers. Thank god joining in some kind of conga-line was not part of the plan. Instead:

I stumbled across Stephanie Romberg, loose and intense, unleashing all of Carabosse’s furious curse within the tiny rotunda of the “Salon du soleil.” As in each case here: no set, no costume. It felt almost obscene to be peeping at a body sculpting such purely distilled rage. Think: the crazy lady, with a whiff of having once been a grande dame, howling to herself while dangerously near the edge of the subway platform.

Myriam Kamionka’s luminous face and warm and welcoming persona then drew me over into a crowded curving corridor. Casually seated on a prop bench in front of a loge door, she suddenly disappeared into the folds of Martha Graham’s Lamentations. I wound up experiencing this dance from total stage left. Pressed between tall people, my cheek crushed against the frilly jabot of Servandoni’s marble bust, I felt like someone pretending not to be looking directly at the person collapsed on the station floor. And then I couldn’t stop staring. You could almost feel the air thicken as Kamionka drew us into her condensation of despair. Even the kiddies, just a few feet away, sat silent and wide-eyed and utterly motionless. As they remained for the next story: a savagely wounded swan in pointes and stretch jeans dying, magnificently.

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In search of air to clear my head I wound up behind two visions of Stravinsky’s Sacre. The view from the wrong end of the station, as it were, was so cool: this is the corps’ or the stagehands’ view!

In Pina Bausch’s version, Francesco Vantaggio pushed against the limits of the long and narrow Galerie du Glacier like a rocking runaway train. His muscular, dense, weighted, rounded and fully connected movement projected deep power, unloosed from the earth. When he repeated that typical Pina shape that’s kind of a G-clef – arms as if an “s” fell on its side (rather like an exploded 4th), body tilted off legs in passé en pliant – I thought, “man, Paul Taylor’s still alive. Get on the subway and go barge into his studio…now!” Yet when it was over, as he moved away and sat on the floor to the side to decompress and I was trying to catch my own breath back…I feared making eye-contact. (Forget about, like, just walking over and saying “Hi, loved it, man.” You don’t do that in Paris, neither above the ground nor underneath it).

Marion Gautier de Charnacé. Nijinsky's Rite of Spring

Marion Gautier de Charnacé possessed by Nijinsky’s Rite of Spring

Marion Gautier de Charnacé, on the outdoors terrace, then made the honking horns and sirens accompanying “The Chosen One’s” dance of death seem like part of the score. All our futile rushing about each day was rendered positively meaningless by the urgency of Nijinsky’s no-way-out vortex of relentless trembles and painful unending bounces. Even if she was wearing thick sneakers, I since have been worrying about this lovely light-boned girl repeatedly pounding her feet on a crushed stone surface over thirteen days. Make-believe sacrifice, yes. Shin-splints, no.

Finally I cast my eyes down from an avant-foyer balcony to spy upon Petroushka’s bitter lament of love and loss, as Samuel Murez – making it look as if his limbs were really attached by galvanized wires — let the great solo unfold on the Grand Escalier’s boxy turnabout. A moment of grace arrived. Two little girls framed within the opening to the orchestra level behind him could not resist trying to mirror his every movement. Not for us, but for themselves. As if they really believed he was a life-size puppet and were trying to invite him home to play. The barrier between audience and performer, between real and unreal, the prosaic and the magical, had finally given way. Too soon, it was all over. Time to wave goodbye.


Beyond the rainbow: Samuel Murez conjures Petroushkins.

“Chances are that fate is foolish.”*

Back on the metro the next morning, I got a seat and quietly began to concentrate on my thoughts. But then at the next station that woman got on who still gives us no choice but to endure three stops’ worth of “Besame mucho” whether we want it or not.

* Quotes are from Fred and Ginger’s 1934 The Gay Divorcée, especially as mangled by Erik Rhodes’s enchanting “Alberto Tonnetti”


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Orphée et Eurydice : a plot summary

P1070147An opera by Christoph Willibald Glück (1762)
Staged and choreographed by Pina Bausch (1975)
Sung in German, danced by the Paris Opera Ballet

Orpheus – a musician so gifted that the sound of his lyre and arc of his voice can make rivers change course, wild animals lie down to be petted, and rocks cry — dares to journey to the underworld in search of his beloved wife, Eurydice. This, one of the greatest love stories of ancient Roman mythology, provided the plot for not only the very first opera created in 1607 – Monteverdi’s Orfeo — but has inspired more than one hundred other operas or ballets.

Pina Bausch’s modern and expressive take on Glück’s richly emotional score solves the conundrum of how to return ballet to its rightful place in an operatic evening. Bausch took dance too seriously to provide mere divertissements. Here she blesses each singer with a danced double, as in Glück’s original version: bodies and voices interact and complete each other. This intricate coupling of song and movement creates a symbiosis that you could say resembles a great marriage. One that has, already, lasted much longer than the brief and tragic one of Orpheus and Eurydice…

PART ONE: (1 hour 20 minutes)

Her snowy wedding veil now a shroud, Eurydice had died from a serpent’s bite on her wedding day. In her motionless arms: red roses symbolizing her husband Orpheus’s passionate love. Orpheus, devastated by grief at the loss of his turtle-dove, refuses to be consoled by the nymphs and shepherds who mourn with him.

But Orpheus is the greatest singer on earth. Despite daring to speak of the cruelty of the gods, his cries of despair sound so beautiful that they soften the hearts of these very same gods. Love arrives with a message: Orpheus will be allowed into Hades. If his music can disarm the guardians of the gates of Eternity, then he might be able to do what no living being had ever done: bring his wife back from the realm of the dead.

But there is one condition. Should he succeed in wrenching his wife from the arms of death, Orpheus must not look at her – nor explain why — before they have returned to this earth.  Orpheus is suddenly worried for he has never lied, or been less than utterly honest, to Eurydice before.

Orpheus enters a horrible dark and smoky cave by the river Styx, where the waters of woe pour into those of lamentation… and soon dissolve into the stream of oblivion. His wife just beyond reach, Orpheus must confront the three-headed guardian of the Underworld, the hound Cerberus (three male dancers in leather butcher’s aprons) and a swarm of Furies. You may be surprised that these screeching female avengers destined to torment sinners move about more like merely nervous and tired souls yearning for rest. That is because in Ovid’s vivid description, Orpheus proves the only mortal to make the implacable Furies not only relent, but weep. So if at first sight the Furies scream “no!” they do finally allow Orpheus to pass, swayed by how his beautiful music embodies the power of such loving devotion.

Orpheus and Eurydice are reunited in the Elysian Fields, that exquisite and peaceful meadow in paradise where “blessed spirits” enjoy an eternity free from those violent human emotions that make us suffer so in mortal life. (The French term for this place is Les Champs-Elysées). Having already taken a drink from the river of forgetfulness and feeling rather blissed out, Eurydice is startled by how Orpheus seems both panicked and utterly cold at the same time. Did he come all this way only to turn away from her? Why, then, should she abandon this new « life? »

INTERMISSION (20 minutes)

PART TWO: (30 minutes)

As she is being led back to earth Eurydice, unable to understand why Orpheus stubbornly refuses look at her, can only imagine that it must be because he no longer loves her. In that case, she would rather be dead. Her despair grows, and Orpheus struggles to maintain his self-control.

This situation always makes me think of a very long car ride, where you are stuck in the back and wind up wanting to strangle the driver, there, in the front, with his back to you, who has been feeding you monosyllables for hours. Even if that means wrecking the car in the middle of Idaho. And I’m not the only one who feels this way. Now is the time for you to re-view Jean Cocteau’s dark-hearted film.

Alas, unable to stand it any longer, Orpheus suddenly turns to face Eurydice, to reassure and embrace her. At that very instant she falls dead, this time forever. Orpheus loses the will to live, even to move. In a poignant and emotionally raw final tableau, he allows death to take him too.


The opera’s libretto provides a happy end, where human frailty is forgiven and love conquers all. Bausch decided to cut Glück’s last two scenes. Her somber finale, with music from the lament we heard at the outset, is probably more suited to our pessimistic times, and rhymes well with the choreographer’s feral sensitivity to the complexity of life and love.  Her company in Wupperthal was/lives on as a coven of strong women who make big statements, most often in clad in those dresses that swish and swoop and make you move differently from normal – one way to signify the female in all her power.  Her men embrace extremes: clad in suits, or leather, or almost nothing at all.  They are either grindingly dominant or utterly fragile.  Bausch understood how, while we like to dream of love, too often we suffer from the urge to tear each other (and ourselves) apart. The Paris Opera Ballet is the only company outside Bausch’s own to have been deemed capable of doing justice to not just one but two of her masterpieces — the other being her pungent and loamy Rite of Spring, which will hopefully soon return to the repertoire.


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