DAY TWO: BORDEAUX (matinee, October 26th)
“Men,” said the little prince, “set out on their way in express trains, but they do not know what they are looking for. Then they rush about, and get excited, and turn round and round […] “With a hint of sadness, he added: ‘Straight ahead of him, nobody can go very far…”
What a weird and startling experience. To all of the Dr.Who guys from the Nerd Bars in Brookyn: prick up your ears! Not going to ballet explains why you still haven’t found what you’re looking for. An ancient legend of just what happens when you try to fly too high in the sky with invented wings, merged with violent and multi-colored percussion, plus sets and costumes by Picasso in his most Jean Cocteau (as in, let’s do this in bold, iconic, yet ironic, strokes) phase, is what you need.
Most at this matinee audience were already atwitter about how Bordeaux’s director, Charles Jude, had already drunk from the fountain of both Lifar (therefore Diaghilev) and Nureyev (therefore everyone). We knew this matinee would serve up great goblets of more beautiful dancing.
This ballet is sooo Ballet Russes that it seems all about the sets and costumes and lights and music and philosophy and …you. The dance seems to just grow out of all this: I’d never seen the ballet before, but cannot imagine it existing in another way.
It’s incredibly hard to describe the atmosphere it creates. A bit cubist (those Ikea wings that — as you would expect, screw on, sort of, but don’t hold fast and then inspire your angry dance across the room — became Igor Yebra/Icare’s), a bit Expressionist (a gesticulating lost father like Lifar’s in the original Prodigal Son, but also a Daedalus awakened, Ludovic Dussarps, a Faust-like enabler, utterly “on”) and a bit of something other: graceful choral groups, male and female, all Art Deco curves and profiled angles. And all along, the music forcing you to bounce along in one-two-three-four (and other) phrasing. Boom cha che whoosh!
FAUN (Lifar/Debussy/who the hell did the decor?)
“Little golden objects that set lazy men to idle dreaming.” […] “Ah, you mean the stars?”
This version, carried forward from Nijinsky to Nijinska to Lifar, turns out to be a solo. Be gone the nymphs, me here, yo. So it’s the After That Afternoon, where I – Alvaro Rodriguez Piniera — lie about in my primitivo-naif rain forest décor and um, revisit that experience without even needing actual nymphs. Because, and that is what astonished me, a great artist can concentrate your mind into actually seeing what he sees. A split second hit where I started to feel inarticulately overwhelmed by the intensity of the mood he created alone out there. I thought, OK, sit up and quickly look around in order to make sure you are not insane. I saw: an entire audience, leaning forward, all sitting with mouths hanging open. I swear, it was a glimpse at a cave of bats hanging upside down! What an actor!
I’d always wondered what was so special about Nijinsky. Maybe here I finally caught a glimpse. Concentration, conviction, release with utter control. Where all lines and the smallest gestures confirmed a deeply-felt inner logic. Rodriguez Piniera made a guy in a spotted costume and gilded horned wig swooping around an abandoned scarf seem like the only way to go. A ballet that would always be modern. For what is otherworldly, if brought to life, can turn into an evident truth.
SUITE EN BLANC (Lifar/Lalo/well, yes, obviously no decor and arty costumes here)
“This is only his box. The sheep you asked for is inside.”
Everyone loves “Etudes.” But not enough people know this other ballet about ballet that held the stage in Paris before Harald Lander imported his masterpiece from Copenhagen. The best difference between these two roller-coasters which have no other story-line other than letting the audience in on just how high you can ride on technique? In Etudes you have a massively functioning corps de ballet and three stars. Yet all seem to be equally committed to one task: demonstrating how the struggle against one’s recalcitrant body leads to a larger kind of, ah that word again, inner perfection. In Lifar’s Suite en Blanc you have smaller groups and, by giving each one of them so much to do, he crafted each section into a constellation of stars each shedding its own light.
Nathan Fifield conducted the overture with such force and delicacy you could hear the stars and planets begin to twinkle as blown into place by the winds.
In swooping long tutus, Emilie Cerruti, Marie-Lys Navarro and Aline Bellardi, set the stage in the opening “Siesta”: softly romantic, powerfully in control, well-coordinated as a trio yet each individual never felt faceless (alas, I don’t know these dancers by heart yet, so I fear attributing attributes to the wrong name!)
Then Vanessa Feuillate wholeheartedly led Samuele Ninci and Ashley Whittle in a grand trio. All three played to the audience in a good way, with confident flair, utterly committed to the steps and without irony: let’s just hit this “invitation to the dance.” The audience, kind of still reeling after the “Faun,” responded. Delicate and precise, Mika Yoneyama then soothed us with her smoothly poised balances in the “Serenade.”
According to legend, one of the “baby ballerinas” of the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo – I think it was Tatiana Riabouchinska – used to take men’s class as well. I always am reminded of that when I see the relentless “Pas de cinq,” where one girl challenges four boys in echapés and cabrioles and sheer energy. And can do all the « girly » things, too. The score gets terribly bombastic here and can, if listlessly played as is wont in Paris, drag the poor dancers down. Here dance and music bounced merrily along together. Sara Renda, despite a tutu, definitely proved to be one of the boys. With her four impeccable partners, they even made this all look easy and fun, which is absurd. And enchanting.
All bourées and asymmetrically-timed-and-positioned passés and careful flutterings, “La Cigarette” (in the long-lost first stage version of this flute-filled music from 1866, Rita Sangalli waved one around) should create the impression that the soloist floats and never comes off pointe. I found the solo a bit too strongly danced by Oksana Kucheruk, the crowd-pleasing pirouettes almost harsh in execution (the “I’m now going to let my face go blank and nail this step” variety). Etude-y. This may have been one little moment when I actually missed the way Paris’s dancers can merge precision with sometimes too much chic and nonchalance. Later on, in “La Flûte,” I had the same impression: Kucheruk is an impressive technician with natural lines who can indeed do almost everything…except go a little easier on herself. A bit like the rose with four thorns. I kept wanting to tell her: « you’re fine! Don’t force it, don’t keep the mirror in your mind, just enjoy the steps, will you?! »
But, in the meantime, Roman Mikhalev had used the grand Mazurka to grant me a little wish: what if the Poet in “Les Sylphides” could have broken out of that droopy melancholy solo? He’s in a mosh pit of girls, for god’s sake! He’d think big and jeté and turn and leap all over the place, while never losing his dignity. Nice, bold, manly, tasty. In the Adage, Stéphanie Roublot and Oleg Rogachev at first seemed beautifully in-synch, yet then something went cold. That was a pity, because the great advantage Suite en Blanc has over Etudes is that it’s not about just getting it to work in an empty studio. It’s about negotiating dancing all together. Most of the choreography is given over to partnering and interacting and sharing the stage.
Yes, that’s the major difference between Etudes and Suite en Blanc: the first focuses on challenging the deep part that lurks in dancers’ minds – you facing the mirror, and that annoying person just in front of you at the barre, whose every perfection is pissing you off…the stuff audiences don’t really understand — the second on how the excellence of each rare idiosyncratic talent contributes to forming a real community. More than a challenge, this ballet remains an homage to every one on stage. You each face us sitting out there in the dark, but are not alone. Suite en Blanc recognizes that we are all in this together: you dancers, us in the audience, even the musicians in the pit (who actually cared to look back at the stage at the end and applaud…hello, Paris?)
“What is a rite?” asked the little prince. /”Those also are actions too often neglected, “ said the fox. “They are what make one day different from other days, one hour from other hours.”
I found these different days in Bordeaux and Toulouse. My eyes still hear golden peals of laughter.
[Just in case: all citations, and many bit of inspiration, came from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s « The Little Prince » from 1943, in its translation by Katherine Woods].