Archives de Tag: Sylvia

Sylvia in London: Genuine Fake

The Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House, London, December 16th matinée, 2017

I hate being a bitch – even when required — but as this matinee wore on and wore me down, all I could think of were bad musicals (especially parodies of them). Sir Fred, who adored the golden years of the silver screen, would have been appalled at the eye I was casting on “his” work. I hope what I write here about my experience of “Sir Frederick Ashton’s” three-act Sylvia will pass under your radar and end up little read. Just as I hope you won’t have the misfortune of seeing the production live.

Remember that scene in The Bandwagon, where “a modern version of Faust” lays a great big egg? This retelling of the Renaissance tale by Tasso, um, doesn’t even add at least some mayonnaise to said egg. Act One proved somewhat bearable and with a bit of charm at first: as with a stuffed bird in an antiques shop, at first you don’t quite notice how it’s about to fall apart in your hands. There’s always Yuhui Choe’s limpid line to follow around with your eye, as she glimmers out from anywhere she is placed in a crowd. Why is she still too often limited to roles such as “one of Sylvia’s eight attendants?”

Christopher Newton’s revisited and re-imagined staging from 2004 seems to have been a labor of love. He threw himself into reviving a ballet of which anybody who had been around in 1952, including Ashton (whose centenary of birth was to be celebrated) — couldn’t quite remember much. But Newton’s disingenuous statements in the program sound like those of a disingenuous shopkeeper: “I have not re-choreographed it, simply embellished what was there. I’d hate anybody to think I’ve got pretensions of being a choreographer. Where there are extra steps they are typical Ashton steps.” Remember the last time you bought an over-restored Leonardo, convinced by the expert certificate?

But before we get to the dance, what was scoured up from the archives of the work of the original designers, Christopher and Robin Ironside, fell flat. “My stars,” as Bugs Bunny would say, the helmets for Diana’s nymphs in Act One are straight out of Bugs on Mars. Orion’s paltry two manservants are dressed like, and given worse steps to do than, the two gangsters in Kiss Me Kate. The best part is the mobile set of the Second Act. It turns out that its de Chirico surrealist charm has nothing to do with the Ironsides at all: the set is a de post facto pastiche « in the style of. »

Sylvia : only for Vadim

At least the costume for Vadim Muntagirov’s shepherd Aminta, madly in love with a vestal servant of Diana/Artemis — the titular Sylvia — caused no harm. His softly expansive and expressive body, gentle demeanor, and the light touch of his feet on the floor made all the jolly elderly ladies in the Amphitheatre sigh. Alas, he wasn’t given nearly enough dancing to do. He made yearning gestures, and then progressively got to lift Sylvia up/right/center/hoist her onto his shoulder and sometimes pose her upside down. He got to twirl himself around a bit, did some cabrioles. But while Muntagirov looked lovely and strong, all the steps he had been given simply could not arouse interest. Perhaps intentionally, as the motive for creating this ballet was about highlighting Fonteyn. Yes, her again.

I have my own deeply felt convictions about the role of Sylvia, as gleaned from literature and from the Neumeier version that I got to know in Paris. She must combine unselfconscious charm and femininity with a joyously unconscious killer instinct. For her the hunt is about liberty, the freedom to run through the forest with her virgin sisters. Chickens not allowed, this squad flies higher than that. Girls so fleet of foot and heart that even if they ran carelessly over a nest the eggs wouldn’t crack.

Alas, Natalia Osipova made me think more of a G.I. than of a nymph. And more of a schizophrenic than of a young woman slowly discovering what it feels like to fall in love. The mood shifts are abrupt in the choreography, I’ll grant you that, but this merely led to a lot of grimaces of various shades, visible even when you put down the binoculars. She was originally scheduled to dance with Federico Bonelli, a more macho presence than Muntagirov, and maybe Bonelli might have balanced the heavy earthbound force she kept applying to everything, in spite of ferocious ballon. But as I saw it, only a masochist could have been fascinated by such a creature in the first place. And that makes the story sillier and rather off-putting instead of romantic.

V&A Museum

Don’t even talk to me about the meagre leavings of Act Two. Sylvia has been kidnapped by the lascivious Orion and taken to his lair. Orion can only afford to keep two female and two male servants (the Cole Porter gangsters mentioned above) when he owns an entire Mediterranean island? For added value, Orion and his minions get to dance and mime crude sub-Nutcracker “Chine-easy” and Arabic stereotypes. Even a dealer in real antiquities hides the most blatant of his orientalist stash nowadays. The choreography for Act Two was apparently totally lost. I just cannot imagine that even in 1952, Sir Fred would have gone for such a leaden level of stingy (the number of dancers) and tacky (the dances).

And so on to Act Three, where we are served more scrambled eggs instead of a chocolate soufflé. Could this possibly have been intended as an homage to oh so many of the last acts of the Petipa blockbusters? I felt as if I were being forced to stare and – and ooh at — a fake Fabergé egg. In any case, it was exhausting, as the memories fly at you from right and left. Anna Rose O’Sullivan made for a surefooted goat in fussily irritating choreography, and I bet she’s the one who gets typecast as Puss in Boots’s main squeeze every time Sleeping Beauty comes around. Persephone and Pluto were stuck channeling Little Red and the Wolf, etc. (I hate “etcetera” both as a term and as a fact). Sylvia and Aminta get a bit Swan Lake-y. And yada-yada-yada.

Just when you think/hope/pray that this is finally over 1) Orion shows up and his confrontation with Aminta looks like a brief sketch from the early days of World Wide Wrestling . 2) Diana/Artemis makes a so-what fist-shaking cameo, adding about ten minutes to the proceedings. Only then was I finally allowed to leave the premises.

There was an old man of Thermopylae/Who never did anything properly:/But they said, “If you Choose/to boil eggs in your shoes,/You shall never remain in Thermopylae.” Edward Lear (1812-1888), One Hundred Nonsense Pictures


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Joyaux : « comment te dire adieu… »

Opéra Garnier – soirée du 23 septembre 2017

Il y a d’abord la surprise de la lumière : on ne se souvenait pas, dans Émeraudes, d’un éclairage si cru. On voudrait de l’ombre et de la demi-teinte, au lieu de ce plein-phares. On s’étonne ensuite de l’interprétation. Laëtitia Pujol, qui tire sa révérence en ce début de saison, est appréciée pour son talent dramatique. Pour ne prendre que ses incarnations les plus récentes, on l’a aimée en Manon, pleurée en Marguerite, on a tremblé à sa Lizzie et fondu à sa Chloé… mais dans Émeraudes, elle déçoit par une danse trop volontaire et appuyée. On attend dans la Fileuse des bras tout liquides, un mouvement fluide, irréel, comme coulant de source – et d’une source autre que la volonté de la danseuse –, et on ne voit au contraire que maîtrise, métier, contrôle. Pour l’impression aquatique, on repassera. La musculature d’arbre sec de la ballerine n’aide pas, mais plus fondamentalement, c’est l’option interprétative qui pèche : Mlle Pujol sourit trop, n’insuffle ni mystère ni mélancolie à sa partie, au point de priver d’enjeu son partenariat avec Mathieu Ganio. Les choses ne s’arrangent guère avec la Sicilienne d’Eleonora Abbagnato. La première soliste a cru qu’il lui fallait danser le rôle d’une réjouie, la seconde qu’elle était une princesse. Double mauvaise pioche.

Dans Rubis, Léonore Baulac – pourtant tout élastique dans Forsythe – est peu chaloupée et trop maniérée, et elle semble trop souvent confondre vivacité et brutalité (notamment dans les battements-cloche). Paul Marque, qui l’accompagne, n’a rien d’un marlou. Cela donne un pas de deux cruellement dénué de charme. Au lieu d’un voyage à New York, on se retrouve dans l’ambiance factice d’un des burgers branchés de la rue Rambuteau. Il y a heureusement Alice Renavand qui, dans le rôle de la grande soliste, fait preuve de plus d’abattage. Et aussi des garçons (MM. Gaudion, Madin, Stokes, Valastro) qu’on aurait envie de revoir dans Agon.

Et puis viennent Hugo Marchand et Amandine Albisson dans Diamants. Leur pas de deux est un délice de conversation complice. Les deux danseurs habitent un temps suspendu. Marchand ose des mains d’une préciosité surannée. Ses variations, toujours soignées, sont irisées d’une grisante insolence.

Après l’entracte (à l’occasion de ces adieux, on a vu Joyaux tout d’un trait), on retrouve Laëtitia Pujol, qui danse avec Manuel Legris le pas de deux de la Sylvia de Neumeier. Un choix qui met en valeur les qualités dramatiques de la danseuse, et évoque autant retrouvailles que départ. Le défilé du ballet clôt la soirée. L’école et la troupe restent sur scène tout au long de la séquence des adieux. Souvent mains sur les hanches – posture assez peu élégante, qui fait pointer les épaules – Laëtitia Pujol rechigne à saluer seule, ignore résolument les confettis, met en avant avec modestie partenaires, anciens et mentors venus l’embrasser. Pour ces adieux très personnels, la danseuse a préféré la réunion de famille à un dernier rendez-vous solitaire avec le public.

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On Ballet and Pop Culture Part III: The Eleventh Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Bore The Audience

The ballet season after BS premiered, NYCB and ABT both pricked up their ears and decided it would be an opportune time to perform Swan Lake. They were right, and actually there were sold out performances. Obviously, this is a short-term solution. Natalie Portman is NYCB’s honorary spring gala chair this season and so far the reaction I’ve heard can be summed up as “eh.” This brings us to the big question: can ballet companies take this upswing in interest and translate it into new ballet converts before everyone stops caring? If so, how?

On March 22 The Royal Ballet did something absolutely brilliant: they live streamed their entire day of rehearsals. They also included interviews with dancers, musicians, the artistic director and costume/scenery archivists as well as archived rehearsal videos. The interviewers even asked questions from people watching from Facebook and Twitter. THAT is how you advertise. I didn’t care too terribly much about the Royal Ballet until that day. Sure I knew who Cojocaru and Kobborg were (again, guest stars), and Marianela Nunez, of course, but beyond that… not a thing. Now I consider myself a fan. I watched all day, and it was fascinating. Yes, I had to do work at this thing I call my “job” where I get “paid” so I can, you know, live, but the RB was in my ear all day long, even if I was forced to use the computer screen to do other things. I saw rehearsals for Alice in Wonderland, Polyphonia, a new Liam Scarlett ballet, Sweet Violets, as well as Pagoda and Romeo and Juliet. (Now I really want to play with swords.) After seeing the Alice rehearsal I immediately bought the DVD on Amazon and am so excited to watch it. As an aside, it’s been like two weeks. Where the heck is my DVD, Amazon?! The day concluded with an exclusive look at a rehearsal of Wayne McGregor’s new collaboration with musician Mark Ronson, Carbon Life, followed by a Q&A session. The lesson that should be taken away from all this? The program made me sincerely care about this company. And there it is: the key to my generation’s collective heart is, apparently, access. In a world of Facebook and Twitter, the idea that ballet is a world unto itself simply can’t fly anymore. On one hand, this makes me a bit sad. I love the mystical aspect of ballet, the idea that dancers are just so far removed from this world that they could never be touched by something as mundane as YouTube is beautiful, romantic and sad (Sylphide anyone?). But I have to say, Ashley Bouder posting her backstage Instagram pics on Facebook and laughing about her falls on Twitter makes me care more about her; it makes me want to buy tickets to see her, and more tellingly I have. Programs like this make ballet accessible to the unwashed, unlearned (aka uninitiated) masses. They make it far less scary, and they make what seemed to be a boring leisure activity reserved only for rich snobs, absolutely enthralling. THIS WORKS. I want to see almost everything they rehearsed, I want to follow them avidly, and I really hope they tour here so I can see them in person. I would even consider taking a side trip to London if I could get tickets.

That said, let’s talk about attempts to appeal to a new and younger audience that do not work. All of them can be summed up in a single word: pandering. Let’s begin with a general example. You’re a painter and you really want people to look at, appreciate and buy your paintings because hey, it’s art but you still need money to survive. Do you A) explain to people why you paint the way you do, what it means to you, and a bit about your technique or B) start to paint pictures of bunnies because, really, who doesn’t love bunnies? The answer is A, right? So why, why in God’s name would any company try to sell a ballet based on anything other than the quality of the ballet itself? I’m going to start with McGregor’s new piece, since I just finished watching that rehearsal. Now, since I haven’t seen it, I can’t say if it’s good or bad, it may even be great! However, most of the marketing surrounding Carbon Life has been about the costumes and music, so I feel pretty justified in saying that I do not care, at all, that the costumes were designed by Gareth Pugh. Sorry. I also don’t care that Mark Ronson did the music. Since they’ re trying so very hard to be young and cool by using a punk designer and popular music, the audience might initially be large and maybe even made up exclusively of 20 year olds; I don’t know what’s going to happen. What I do know is if the piece is bad overall, no ungodly fashion budget will save it. None. Because here’s the flip side to this social media thing: if something is bad, everyone will know in a matter of seconds. Personally, I don’t want to see this ballet. The choreography looked like everything McGregor has already done (and everything that Forsythe did before that).

Another great example of really obvious pandering is NYCB’s recent flop Ocean’s Kingdom. Music was by Sir Paul McCartney (they got a freakin’ Beatle!) with costumes by Stella McCartney. Choreography was by Peter Martins, of course, but somehow no one cared about that part. To very quickly sum up: the music was obvious, the costumes were cracked out, and the choreography was utterly forgettable. I wrote a review if you’re interested which you can see here, but really, all you have to do is watch this and you’ll have an idea (fair warning, I will use literally any excuse to show that clip because it makes me laugh so hard I cry… I am apparently 5 years old. However, it really does work here if you check out Daniel Ulbricht’s outfit ).

To be clear, I’m not against costumes, and I don’t think that every ballet should be danced in a black leotard and pink tights. If I thought for a second that I could get away with it, I would wear a tutu to go grocery shopping, or more accurately, just never take it off. I spent weeks looking for Sylvia’s dress for a special event (still looking, if you find it please message me. I will love you forever). When costumes (and music and setting) actually enhance the ballet and not distract from it, those extra details can make a production go from good to absolutely magical. Take the Paris Opera Ballet’s recent production of La Source: Jean Guillaume Bart’s choreography was riveting on its own, but when you add Christian Lacroix’s costumes and the set design… just wow. Every aspect of the ballet, choreography, music, costumes and scenery merged beautifully to create the finished product. You don’t even have to stick with tutus! Look at John Neumeier’s version of Sylvia: You can dress your nymphs in leather vests and helmets and put your goddess in a tuxedo; it gets the point across without being flashy and the dancers can move. Costumes are important and ideally help tell the story and set the mood, but they should never be the point. We have fashion shows for that.

So finally, here’s what I think needs to happen if we want to keep this ballet wave going: education. If we can show why ballet merits attention, I honestly think people will go and appreciate it, but once there’s an audience there has to be great ballet to watch. Essentially: explain why ballet is awesome and then prove it.


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Classé dans Blog-trotters (Ailleurs), Humeurs d'abonnés, Voices of America