“Surprised by joy – impatient as the wind/I turned to share the transport.” (Wordsworth, “To Sleep”)
La Sylphide at the Palais Garnier on closing night.
Just getting to see just one of Amandine Albisson’s first Sylphides [bless your pointy little head, director of sales at the Opéra de Paris, for NEVER letting us know who will dance when tickets go on sale] occurred by chance. A Balleto d’or for “best led game of bait and switch” should go to management for trying to prevent the core audience from seeing the casts they wish to see.
“Though nothing can bring back the hour/Of splendour in the grass, or glory in the flower.” [“Ode, Intimations of Immortality.”]
On almost all these nights of the Paris Opéra’s run of La Sylphide, I have had the privilege (nuanced with regret, for he could still dance James) of enjoying the splendid stage presence, timing, and almost inhuman musicality of Stéphane Phavorin’s inexorable Madge. He’s always been a one-man-band (what the French call more aptly un homme-orchestre), ever able to create glorious music out of the crap which the completely undisciplined Paris Opera orchestra constantly throws out into the auditorium, seeming to think nobody will notice. [Note to the orchestra: we don’t just hear your flubs. Those in the front box seats get to admire your sophomoric antics as well]. The entire quacking wind section should be retired, not this verray parfit gentil knight.
Phavorin is only dancer I’ve ever witnessed who to managed turn the role of Paris into a most elegant and dignified model of masculinity – rather than the embarrassed post-it of a man you always get. I do not understand why he retires — obviously in great shape — stuck in character roles, having never been given a stab at Romeo. During his adorably diffident curtain calls on the night of his forced retirement [age 42.5 according to law], Phavorin seemed as encumbered by his bouquet (bringing them on proves a rarity on the Paris stage) as an unwilling bridesmaid. He kept trying to hand them off to Albisson, perhaps hoping that she will never get her wings clipped like so many others have.
“A lovely apparition, sent/To be a moment’s ornament/ […]I saw her upon nearer view,/A spirit, yet a woman too! […]And now I see with eye serene/The very pulse of the machine;/A being breathing thoughtful breath,/A traveler between life and death” [ “She Was A Phantom of Delight.”]
Amandine Albisson, my Sylphide on the closing night of the season, is one of the few dancers at the Paris Opera who seems to be on the way to having a normal career. So far. She’s steadily been given roles, freed to catch the light and our attention. Her regal yet lithe and emotionally fragile Venus proves the only thing (besides the appalling sets and costumes) I remember about Ratmansky’s forgettable “Psyché” last year. [Scheduled to be paired with “Dances at a Gathering” next year. Don’t get me started on the management’s choices for mixed bills]. Juicy and tart in Roland Petit, too, especially as the vicious gypsy in “Le Loup.”
Skinny as any other dancer, she projects an unusually plush physical centeredness. A tallish one, she can sometimes seem a bit languorous. For these very reasons some disliked her calm aplomb in the recent revival of Forsythe’s “In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated.” While I’ve enjoyed these qualities each time I’ve seen her dance I had started to worry that she getting ready to be typecast unimaginatively as “always a Myrtha but never a Giselle.” Certainly, she has proven she can do queen or goddess. Princess? Not a far stretch. And now…
On July 15th, Albisson still chomped at the bit at first like a young racehorse, anticipating the music. But once she settled down, she harnessed her qualities and tweaked them: yes, a woman who dances, yet sprightly too. Neither cloyingly feminine nor overtly carnal, her Sylphide – while definitely female and seductive – emanated the oddest aura of…old soul. I’ve never seen a Sylphide have such pity infuse the looks cast at her Effie: “poor child, you are very pretty for a humanoid. But you really don’t have the slightest chance, my dear.”
“I have felt/A presence that disturbs me with the joy/Of elevated thoughts ;a sense sublime/Of something far more deeply interfused,/Whose dwelling is he light of setting suns […]and dwelling is in the mind of man.” [from “Tinturn Abbey.”]
Imagine the imperious yet vulnerable Maria Casarès using her velvety voice to lure Orphée away from his life/wife and to his death in Cocteau’s film. Albisson seemed to galvanize Florian Magnenet’s James. Never have I seen a James fuss so much about his engagement ring, and never has that ring made more sense as an anchor, a lifeboat, a magnet. Magnenet/James wasn’t an impetuous lad like Chaillet, nor a Byronic and dreamy poet like Heymann. His James could have been narrated by Alexandre Dumas, Jr. This hot-blooded Scot has just returned to his native village after quite a disappointing time in the big city. He’s vowed to give up fast women and big ambitions. He’s hoping Effie can save him from all his addictions. But it quickly becomes clear to us that even without Albisson’s witchcraft, soon Magnenet/James would be cheating on his virtuous and virginal wife in any case.
I could just hear Wordsworth natter on:
“O’er rough and smooth she trips along,/And never looks behind;/And sings a solitary song/That whistles in the wind.” [“Lucy Gray”]
Now, honestly, how could any man resist the allure of the yet-unbroken spirit of a ballerina like Albisson?