Lyon Opera Ballet Fall 2004 Tour
Posted 22 September 2004 - 10:02 PM
The program opened with Second Detail by William Forsythe to an electronic score by Thom Willems that Stephane Lebard's program notes describe as, "deliberately grating on ears and teeth, sounds like a hurdygurdy and creates a mechanical momentum, but with a humorous approach." That high-fallutin' descriptiveness was also applied to the choreography, which Lebard misrepresented as "a pure dance work, on pointe for the women, with a classical line reminiscent of Balanchine, where one can see a theme and variations on the one hand -- or possibly the stripping down to the basics of a machine, examined minutely wheel by wheel." (Huh?)
In the first part of the piece, 14 dancers, in light blue-grey leotards, alternately stand, dance, and sit in a row of chairs at the back of the stage in groups of various sizes. My seat was in the front row, from which I missed a lot of patterns in this piece. (And I heard a lot of breathing ) The musical phrases were the same length as in the Michael Torke scores that Peter Martins used in his leotard ballets for Heather Watts; although Forsythe's was more accomplished and less mannered, the corresponding dance phrases were likewise limited, although, in Forsythe's case, that may have been deliberate.
The dancers' range, on the whole, also seemed limited, and I wasn't sure if this was the choreography or the dancers themselves. There were only two dancers that caught my eye in a good way: there was a woman who looked a bit like the late Carolyn Bessette, with a touch of Darci Kistler, and a man with dark, wavy hair, both of whose movements were open and free. A (dyed) redhead with a short haircut received a big ovation; I thought she had a lot of energy, but she didn't grab me though arc or phrasing. Another woman, who received the biggest ovation, was very tall -- a la Muriel Maffre of SFB -- and she danced a solo and pas de deux, but her facial expressions were awful; her face never stopped contorting for a second she was moving, and in my opinion her body didn't reflect that same involvement in the dance.
What was jarring about the piece was when a woman entered from upstage center in a white toga that looked like it was made from disposable hospital gowns, with hair down, and bare feet, doing choreography that was very much modern dance in the middle of the ballet people. I wondered if this was supposed to be Forsythe's version of The Rite of Spring, and she was the maiden being sacrificed to the Big Bad Ballet Machine. Or something.
The opening of Russell Maliphant's twelvetwentyone looked like the end of my Feldenkrais class, with six men on the floor, rolling slowly and twisting from side to side. Gradually, to music by Mukul, the men rose and were joined by six women; soon the women were doing slow balances against the men and all were alternating between slow rises and falls. (A lot of the movement in this part of the dance could have been choreographed by Mark Morris, except that the music Morris would have chosen would have demanded different development and emphasis.) A long solo for a man followed, and it was mesmerizing in the changing planes and directions. The solo was followed by three couples who performed duets of alternating intertwining and parallel arms, a wonderful dance of the upper bodies.
A couple then entered, where the woman did lots of leans against the man alternating with lateral, shoulder level lifts. A second man joined them, as the woman was shifted slowly between them, and then as a third man joined, gender distinctions started to fade and were gone by the time the fourth entered the movement. Then the rest of the dancers joined, and the movement because a bit more intense, in which a bit of the undulating character of the piece was lost. This piece was danced beautifully by the Company, and, for me, surprisingly the most satisfying piece, despite a bit of fall-off toward the end. So much for coming with pre-conceived notions.
The last piece turned out to be Jardi Tancat. (I was hoping for Arenal, which I had never seen live.) The comparison to PNB's performances of the dance was not good for LOB, for the piece is very earthbound, and requires deep plies and pliant backs, which the dancers, who were so genuine in the attempt to convey the world in this piece, did not have, with the exception of the man in red.
In Second Detail, they looked like a a modern dance company that was forced to take ballet class, with a few members of an opera ballet whose members spent most of their time vamping as Egyptian slaves in Aida and faux Spanish dancers in La Traviata. On the other hand, in Jardi Tancat, they looked like ballet dancers trying hard to perform modern ballet. Only in twelvetwentyone, a modern dance piece, did the dancers looked like they were in their skins; it was the only "juicy" dancing of the night. Unfortunately there was no casting insert, and even at close range, I couldn't tell if this was a matter of casting, or if this is really a modern dance, not even a modern ballet, company.
Posted 23 September 2004 - 10:34 AM
Thanks for the review, Helene. Actually, even though I live in France (and haved lived in Lyon for three years, and then live there again since last month) I have had very few opportunities to see the Lyon Opera Ballet: they don't perform much in their hometown, and most of their tours are outside France.
You asked about what kind of company is it: well, as far as I know the dancers are supposed to be ballet-trained, but their repertory includes almost only modern works (for example, this season they have performed works by William Forsythe, Russell Maliphant, Christian Rizzo, Angelin Preljocaj, Philippe Découflé, Trisha Brown, Sarah Michelson and John Jasperse). It used to be a ballet company until the 1980s but under the direction of Yorgos Loukos (since 1988, I think) its repertory has become entirely modern dance- so, alas, there is no more ballet company in Lyon, France's second city. And that's quite typical of what happened, or is going to happen, in most French cities. I guess the problems of style you noticed probably are the result of that bizarre policy (ballet-trained dancers dancing nearly no ballet works), and unfortunately we're going to see more and more of it in France (and there are rumors that the Ballet de Marseille is going the same way )
It seems that Loukos is quite influential in the world of French dance (he also is the director of a dance festival in Cannes) and quite good at PR, but I'm not convinced by his artistic choices.
There is no hierarchy in the company, and most of the pieces they perform have rather "anonymous" roles so that nobody really stands out, and actually I couldn't name a single dancer from the company.
I saw them once in Forsythe's "Second detail" four or five years ago during a tour to Martigues, and I remember thinking that it looked a bit like some kind of fashion defile, especially because of the coldness of the whole piece (and I didn't understand what the woman in the white toga was supposed to mean either).
I had also seen them in "Jardi Tancat" once in Lyon, and hadn't noticed the same problems as you, but I had never seen that work on stage before (only on video), and also it came after such a boring work by Andonis Foniadakis that it was a kind of relief to see it...
Posted 26 September 2004 - 12:29 PM
I was at the same performance, though I think I liked much of it better than Helene, but I was wondering about the director, Yorgos Loukos. There was nothing in the program about him, or about the history of the company -- could you tell me a bit about his background, and about the background of the ensemble.
Posted 26 September 2004 - 09:06 PM
He started studying ballet quite late (his biography said he was an architecture student, so it probably means he was older than 18) and danced with the Casino de Paris (not a ballet company...), then the Théâtre du Silence (a small modern company founded by Brigitte Lefèvre, now the POB's artistic director, and the late Jacques Garnier, both former POB corps de ballet dancers), then the Zurich Opera Ballet, then the Ballet de Marseille (as a dancer and then as a ballet dancer). He became the Lyon Opera Ballet's associate director in 1984; its co-director in 1988 and director in 1990.
He also is the director of the Cannes Dance Festival since 1992.
Posted 26 September 2004 - 11:49 PM
Posted 27 September 2004 - 12:24 PM
Given the audience reaction, I'm not surprised. (I seemed to be the only contrarian in the audience.) I don't know how much of that was the view from the first row, which STG seemed to think was a prime seat. (If the rest of my subscription tickets are there, I'm going to exchange them.)
I was at the same performance, though I think I liked much of it better than hockeyfan
Did you review this piece for publication? If so, I'd appreciate it if you would (re-)provide a link or list the publication and issue. If not, it would be great if you woudl post your review -- I'm really interested to know what you thought of the performance.
Posted 28 September 2004 - 12:56 PM
I wasn't able to review the program -- my paper doesn't want to run reviews unless the program is still on when the paper comes out, so I'm very limited in my review opportunities.
Some random thoughts.
I've liked the Forsythe I've seen so far, but am curious to see some of the "not for export" work -- I understand it's very different than the works he's made for other companies. Second Detail seemed a bit more conventional than some of his more recent work set on other companies, but I was pleased to see it. I'm still trying to reconcile the stage work with the information on his CD-ROM, but I do think he's working in a particular kind of post-modern response to neo-classical ballet.
This was the first time I'd seen anything by Russell Malliphant, and although he seems to have real skill at making movement phrases, I had trouble following some of the overall development of the work. I'd like to see it again, though.
The Lyon performance of Jardi Tancant felt more grounded and harsher than the last time I saw it with Pacific Northwest Ballet, though that could be partially because it was a last-minute substitute for the Kylian Symphony of Psalms. It felt a bit less dancey and more personal, and makes me wonder what it looks like on Duato's own company.
On a more petty level, I was peeved that there wasn't any casting information in the program -- I wanted to know who was dancing what. I also thought it was odd that there wasn't any information about the company itself or the director, but the presenter works with a significant number of different groups over the season and it's probably more than they can handle to get into more detail for any one event.
Posted 28 September 2004 - 01:45 PM
I once sat behind the conductor during an ABT performance, and bad as my seat was, you definitely had it worse than I did. I only realized at the end of the performance how many empty seats there were for the grabbing in the back of the Main Floor.
"Harsher" is a great description of the Company's Jardi Tancat -- their soil was a rockier and less fertile than in PNB's version. Duato's company hasn't recorded Jardi Tancat, as far as I know, but they did release Arenal on DVD, to more (just as beautiful) music by Maria del Mar Bonet. The dancing in that ballet by Duato's Company more closely resembled PNB's Jardi Tancat in the fluidity of the movement, but while the two pieces are in the same general family, Arenal has more of a supernatural element, and his direction of Jardi Tancat might be very different.
Posted 28 September 2004 - 03:28 PM
Posted 28 September 2004 - 03:51 PM
Thanks for the heads-up on this -- I'll look for the DVD.
Duato's company hasn't recorded Jardi Tancat, as far as I know, but they did release Arenal on DVD, to more (just as beautiful) music by Maria del Mar Bonet.
Posted 28 September 2004 - 07:08 PM
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