Gala d’ouverture. Paris Opera Ballet. Digital Season 2021

Paris Opera Ballet’s 2021 opening gala began with Le grand défilé, a defining item for the Paris company in which simply attired dancers from across the ranks of the ballet company, along with students from the Paris Opera Ballet School, proudly present the company and school to an audience. I have discussed the origins of the grand défilé in an earlier post (see this link). But on this occasion all the dancers wore masks; the beautiful Palais Garnier was completely empty of an audience; and the dancers made their reverences without applause of any kind. It was a shock to begin with, but ultimately it was such an incredible statement on how events have shaped our lives over the past year. I am sure the footage of this unusual and remarkable défilé will speak forcefully to future generations.

The défilé was followed by Victor Gsovsky’s Grand Pas classique danced by étoiles Valentine Colasante and Hugo Marchand, both wearing elegant, sparkling, deep blue costumes designed by La Maison Chanel. This grand pas followed the Petipa structure of pas de deux, variations and coda, which we know so well. But it was especially interesting to see it because Gsovsky’s choreography was uniquely his own with beautiful balances in a range of positions for Colasante and magnificent combinations of beats for Marchand. There was also a strong emotional connection between Colasante and Marchand, even when they took their applause-less curtain calls.

Following the Grand Pas classique there was an inspired performance of Jerome Robbins’ In the Night, with its three pas de deux exploring three different kinds of male/female relationships. In the first, danced by Ludmila Pagliero and Mathieu Ganio, we saw a couple in the early stages of a relationship. So much of their young love was expressed with Robbins’ choreography for the arms. They touched, reached, enveloped, moved in unison, always lyrical. But there were of course some gorgeous lifts and individual moments of expressive dancing.

The second section of In the Night, with Léonore Baulac and Germain Louvel, showed a couple secure in their love for each other, confident in how they acted together, proud even of their relationship. Baulac was especially impressive with her poised upper body and beautifully placed arms. Anthony Dowell’s brown/gold costumes added a special glow to this section.

Alice Renavand and Stéphane Bullion danced the third section, in which the movement was less lyrical and more strident. Here was a couple about to break up, although did they end up separating? More than once they parted, then returned to be together onstage. Arguments and reconciliations? Their relationship was tempestuous and that feature was shown well in the choreography and in the performance of it.

We met them all again in the finale when they acknowledged each other, sometimes performed the same steps, but eventually left separately. But for me the mystery of the third couple remained. Great work from Renavand and Bullion to maintain the mystery of this relationship.

Hannah O’Neill in William Forsythe’s The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude. Paris Opera Ballet, 2021. Photo: © Julien Benhamou/OnP

Completing the program was William Forsythe’s The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude danced by three étoiles, Amandine Albison, Ludmila Pagliero, and Marque, and two premiers danseurs, Hannah O’Neill and Pablo Legasa. It was just plain exciting to see this work again with its fast-paced choreography that focuses on bringing every part of the body into play, and with its fascinating, ever-changing groupings of just five dancers. And what a thrill it was to see O’Neill so at home in the company and dancing so incredibly well.

I loved the selection of short works that followed Le grand Défilé. It showed such a beautiful range of balletic choreography, from the classicism of Gsovky’s work, to the lyricism and emotional underpinnings of Robbins’ approach, and on to the contemporary exploration of classicism by Forsythe. Congratulations to POB’s director, Aurélie Dupont, for her foresight and of course congratulations to the stunning POB dancers who presented the program so magnificently and to the orchestra, especially the solo pianists for In the Night, for their musical support.

Michelle Potter, 11 February 2021

Featured image: Valentine Colasante and Hugo Marchand in Victor Gsovsky’s Grand Pas classique. Paris Opera Ballet, 2021. Photo: © Julien Benhamou/OnP

Roméo et Juliette. Paris Opera Ballet

20 May 2012, Opera Bastille, Paris

Sasha Waltz’s production of Roméo et Juliette, originally made for the Paris Opera Ballet in 2007, is about as far from other danced interpretations of those ‘star-cross’d lovers’ that I can imagine. In program notes for the 2012 staging Waltz herself said that the only production with which she was familiar was that of Maurice Béjart but that she never thinks about other productions when making a work. She simply draws on herself for inspiration. Whether this is possible or not is a matter of contention but, from the point of view of an audience member, it is close to impossible not to situate a work with the title Romeo and Juliet within the context of one’s previous experiences in the theatre.

In her production, Waltz reduced the named characters to three: Romeo, Juliet and Friar Laurence. She then focused on the links between love and death and the redemptive power of the death of Romeo and Juliet for their feuding families. She maintains that her work is not a narrative work but an emotional one. Yet the chorus sings a narrative. Not only that, it is more than tempting to interpret the roles taken by some of the dancers—those without specified roles—as other characters in the story (and the ballets) we all know. And there is very clearly a ballroom scene (more a party in this case) that is quite literal with dancers (women in tutus, men in shiny suits) miming eating, drinking and other party-going activities. So, for me, the question of is there or isn’t there a narrative was never really resolved.

That said, Waltz’s Roméo et Juliette was a breathtaking, highly theatrical production in many ways. Set to the Symphonie dramatique of Hector Berlioz, it employed three soloists and the chorus of the opera company―mezzo-soprano Stéphanie d’Oustrac was outstanding―as well as twenty-two dancers from the ballet company, including on the night I went two étoiles, Aurélie Dupont as Juliet and Hervé Moreau as Romeo. It was the Paris Opera machine at its best, utilising its stars from both the opera and ballet companies to produce a collaborative work of magnificent proportions.

The work was quite spare visually, and effectively so, with the set attributed to Pia Maier Schriever, Thomas Schenk and Sasha Waltz. It appeared to be two large white quadrilateral-shaped platforms, one placed on top of the other but with the top one overlapping the bottom one in some sections. But as the work progressed the top platform was pulled upwards and it was eventually apparent that the two platforms were hinged and they opened into a single, huge quadrilateral platform. The dance action largely took place on these platforms in their various stages of unfolding. Occasionally the singers appeared there too, but mostly they performed at the side of the set. Costumes, by Bernd Skodzig, for singers and dancers were for the most part black or white and emphasised Waltz’s focus on a duality between life and death.

But in many other ways the work was a huge disappointment. While there were some beautifully fluid groupings of dancers, and times when the wide sweep of the body through space was exciting to watch, I found Waltz’s choreography repetitive and often unbecoming with its frequent karate-style movements and its angularity. The pas de deux between Dupont and Moreau was perhaps a highlight. But to tell the truth, while it was flawlessly executed by two exceptional dancers, the choreography seemed cold to me and only rarely allowed Dupont and Moreau to show their humanity and their vulnerability.

Scenically and musically this Roméo et Juliette was spectacular. As ever the dancers of the Paris Opera Ballet were also a joy to watch. But so much of the way the show was conceived and choreographed did not support the exceptional qualities of the dancers and singers and production personnel. In the end it seemed like an evening of missed opportunities and mixed messages.

Michelle Potter, 22 May 2012

Jewels. New York City Ballet

27 February 2010, David H. Koch Theater, Lincoln Center, New York

What a pleasure and a luxury it is to those whose home is not New York to see the full length Jewels. Made by Balanchine in 1967, each of its three distinct sections—’Emeralds’, ‘Rubies’ and ‘Diamonds’—is set to music by three different composers, Fauré for ‘Emeralds’, Stravinsky for ‘Rubies’ and Tschaikovsky for ‘Diamonds’. Many have suggested that Jewels is also in homage to three different countries—’Emeralds’ to France, ‘Rubies’ to Balanchine’s adopted homeland, America, and ‘Diamonds’ to Russia. But in the end, Jewels is an evening of delicious and diverse dancing.

‘Emeralds’ is at once moody and mysterious, romantic and sombre, and sometimes like a whisper in a forest glade. ‘Rubies’ is all sass and neon. Diamonds is pure and clean, a dance in an arctic cave filled with cool yet intricate ice carvings.

The structure of ‘Emeralds’ calls for two leading couples. On this occasion Abi Stafford and Jared Angle were a gracious couple, transcendent in their pas de deux, while Sara Mearns and Jonathan Stafford showed breathtaking expressiveness and expansiveness of movement. Robert Fairchild was impressive as the male member of the pas de trois of soloists, showing his courteous partnering without losing his own strong presence.

‘Rubies’ showcased a pert and prancey Janie Taylor and a boisterous Benjamin Millepied. They were more than ably supported by Savannah Lowrey and a strong corps de ballet whipping off the clean, fast footwork, flicking wrists and eye catching head movements of this section.

The big disappointment, however, came with ‘Diamonds’. There were some uplifting moments—a polonaise for the corps de ballet that was just joyous Balanchine, for example. But Wendy Whelan and Philip Neal lacked attack in their pas de deux and so the brilliance and strength that should characterise this act was lost. And Whelan seemed hugely uncomfortable in her 1960s style ‘powder puff’ tutu.

New York City Ballet’s Jewels could well do with a redesign in my opinion. While choreographically it remains as modern as today, as the French ballerina Aurélie Dupont has remarked, both Karinska’s costumes and Peter Harvey’s scenery for New York City Ballet are fussy and look outmoded. Christian Lacroix and Brigitte Lefèvre have made the Paris Opera Ballet’s staging of Jewels a cut above that of New York City Ballet. Lacroix’s scenery verges on the minimalist and his costumes, while they recall those of Karinska, have a more contemporary feel (especially the tutus for ‘Diamonds’), which to my mind allows the choreography to maximise its ‘as modern as today’ image.

Michelle Potter, 13 March 2010