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Bel/Lander/Robbins


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#1 Naoko S

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Posted 26 September 2004 - 12:36 PM

I saw the first night on the 22nd. It was really a mixed bag of a programme - that's my impressions.

The highlight for me was "Defile" (it always unfailingly uplifts your spirit!) and "Sonatine" (that was the only thing I could call "art" among the four pieces). "Etudes" was ok - if you could indulge yourself in watching all the hard work displayed on the stage and simply enjoy a battle of technique. (Indeed, perhaps the idea of having this piece to kick-off the new season was well grounded - no one, particularly Corps dancers, could escape from showing their commitments to their vocation, very hard; "Vacance is over - work, work, more work!") It also gave me a strange feeling, or a kind of deja vu - Is Olympic not over yet? It's more a competition between the dancers, and the dancers looked more like athletes than artists in this ballet - Ok then, who won the competition? Well the gold medal definitely went to Jose Martinez - his immaculate, clean and elegant dancing really saved the entire fare.

I don't want to offend anyone but found the last piece, "Glass Pieces" absolutely dull & uninspiring. It depends - if you could recall a slice of the cultural side for the decade of 'me-ism' with a fond memory or even have nostalgia, you'd love the piece, as it's so "80's" in its presentations (I'm not talking about the ‘spirit’ though). That bunch of dancers in NY studio, that body-tights, that synthe-music - Ouch! But my problem mainly was with the choreography - I couldn't find anything outstanding or interesting in it.......

About the only new creation presented that evening, "Veronique Doisneau" - not being a French speaker I'm afraid I cannot comment much. That's a one-woman-show, starring a company's Sujet, Veronique Doisneau. She came on stage in a humble leotard and spoke, danced and watched the other dancer danced in the space of good half an hour. The monologue part was rather long and if you couldn't comprehend what she had to say, you would surely miss a certain aspect of the work. (I'm very much interested in knowing what she said about dancing as Corps for Act 2 adagio in Swan Lake - could someone kindly tell me roughly what was all about? Ta.) That said, I had this impression that she tried to present a sort of a comedy-drama, titled: "My Life as a Corps dancer". Not totally uninteresting work, perhaps, but I couldn't help but be amazed that this work graced the stage of Palais Garnier. My astonishments were largely in a lack of new choreography - is the creator, M. Jerome Bel not choreographer, I wondered. (Perhaps he's not - on the cast sheet he was credited for 'conception', not for choreography.)

"Sonatine" was the main reason I was there that night, and my expectations were not betrayed. Here the music and the choreography were never apart - they stuck together, beautifully, and so did the dancers (Legris & Dupont). Ravel's music was very fluid, and the movements of the two dancers were like ripple - it's as if you looked at ever-changing flow of water and was quietly overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of it. (It's really a shame this was a bonus piece only for the first night - that's something worth for repeated viewings......)

So. I wonder what other BalletAlerters thought?

#2 Estelle

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Posted 26 September 2004 - 02:01 PM

Thanks for your review, Naoko !

I saw that program twice (on the 24th and on the matinée of the 25th- unfortunately not the premiere with the defile and "Sonatine" :( ) More comments later, as I have to go to bed, but to answer your question about what Véronique Doisneau said about "Swan Lake": mostly that she hated that kind of corps de ballet work, as the swans have to stay still for such a long time and it can become exhausting. Like you, I was wondering about the interest of showing such a piece on the stage of Garnier, as it hardly says more than what most dancers say in an ordinary interview, and there isn't a single bit of original choreography (Bel is a choreographer, but so far I've mostly heard about various "scandals" about his works, for example having a dancer urinate on stage or things like that :( ) Also, it must be indeed quite frustrating for the non-French speaking audience- usually people don't expect to suffer from language problems when they attend a dance performance (I do remember a similar problem when seeing a work performed by the Ailey Dance Company in Lyon, whose sountrack included a long text in English: I could understand some of it, but it was often a bit too fast for me, or with an unfamiliar accent, and understanding the text required too much concentration for me to pay attention to what happened on stage... Choreographers should be conscious of such problems.)

#3 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 26 September 2004 - 09:04 PM

Maybe this is just because I was a dancer, but . . .dancers like ballets with lots of dancing. They don't like ballets with very little dancing. I guess I'm just not fascinated by that fact.

#4 Naoko S

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Posted 27 September 2004 - 11:57 AM

Estelle, many thanks for your quick feedback. So, she moaned over a tiring job of just standing still while a leading ballerina (i.e. Odette) takes her time & relish the meaty choreography..... My sympathy is with her, but surely that job is NOT an unrewarding one, is it? At least for us audience, in a ballet like Swan Lake, Corps dancers really are a backbone and soul of the ballet - it's more than just sad but apocalyptic if Corps dancers see themselves a mere wall paper in classical works!

Also thanks for your corrections on M. Bel's profession - that he indeed is a choreographer - my apologies. Good luck to him, but I sincerely hope he would not use that sort of obscenity you mentioned as 'nouvelle' language of dance - it's absolutely unnecessary!

Leigh, I'm not a dancer, but it's not difficult to imagine dancers prefer roles with lots of dancing. The sad truth is that not every one can be in the limelight (in fact majority of them cannot)....... Oh and since you're a New Yorker, may I ask a question please. Jerome Robbins's "Glass Pieces" - is the work highly regarded in his native city?

#5 Helene

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Posted 27 September 2004 - 12:20 PM

In Winter Season, which I haven't read for many years, I seem to remember Toni Bentley describing being a new corps member at NYCB, and being given the classic new corps girl role: fourth movement of Symphony in C. If I remember correctly, she described dancing up a big storm for the beginning of the movement, but then having to stand still and hold a position on the side of the stage while the principals and demis from the other movements danced and while her standing foot throbbed in pain. I'm afraid I think of that everytime I see a big corps in a big ballet standing still while the Principals dance.

#6 Estelle

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Posted 27 September 2004 - 02:01 PM

Maybe this is just because I was a dancer, but . . .dancers like ballets with lots of dancing.  They don't like ballets with very little dancing.  I guess I'm just not fascinated by that fact.

Well, I didn't find that surprising either. The only "interesting" aspect of that part for me was that it was an opportunity to really see what the corps de ballet got to do in one part of Swan Lake act 2, as she did dance it on stage alone, but even that was a bit too long.

Also I remember talking with a former POB corps de ballet dancer, and she mentioned some corps de ballet parts were especially hard, for example she especially disliked some parts of "La Bayadère" as it was easy to get some cramps... On the other hand, she said that she did like most of Balanchine's corps de ballet parts.

About the rest of the program: "Etudes" made me think about some sort of Olympics too... but well, for me it's in the "guilty pleasures" category, a bit like the Défilé. :( I was quite disappointed by the music, which isn't especially interesting, and was played especially badly by the Orchestre Colonne (which sometimes sounded rather like the Fanfare Municipale de Trifouilly-les-Oies, or Dry Gulch Civic Orchestra- I've been told that they were booed in one of the following performances). But I really enjoyed the two casts that I saw: Manuel Legris, Jean-Guillaume Bart and Laetitia Pujol on the 24th and Nicolas Le Riche, José Martinez and Agnès Letestu on the 25th. All of them were brilliant (and they do look great with those white costumes :( ), in the first male role Bart was a bit more restrained than Martinez but both were great, and in the second role, while Manuel Legris doesn't jump as high as Nicolas Le Riche, he has a special joy and musicality that are so unique and so enjoyable... I had found Pujol a bit disappointing last season in some works, but that kind of "technical" role suits her well. Also it was an opportunity to see the good shape of the corps de ballet, with quite a lot of sujets which have been the "backbone" of the corps de ballet for years, like Nathalie Aubin, Laure Muret, Laurence Laffon, Sandrine Marache, Christophe Duquenne, Emmanuel Thibault, Stéphane Phavorin...

However, I think that there are some other works in the repertory which also would have been an opportunity to display a large corps de ballet, like for example "Suite en blanc" (or "Palais de cristal", but it was danced last year), with an infinitely better music...

Naoko, no need to apologize about Jérôme Bel's profession, actually the program notes were a bit confusing, and indeed there was about zero real choreography in that work!

Unlike you, I didn't dislike "Glass Pieces" (and indeed it was pleasant to see some real dancing after the Doisneau piece). As you wrote, it does look a bit dated. But I liked the choreography, especially in the last part with the male corps de ballet and the way it is used to form ever changing patterns on the stage (it did look much better on the 24th when I saw it from the amphitheatre than on the 25th from the 1eres loges de côté). Also I liked the second part with the corps de ballet moving in the background, as some sort of Egyptian bas relief (I don't remember the English word), and its hypnotic music. And my husband liked it so much that for once it was him who insisted that we should get some tickets for a second performance :(

#7 Naoko S

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Posted 28 September 2004 - 12:23 PM

>>>Also I remember talking with a former POB corps de ballet dancer, and she mentioned some corps de ballet parts were especially hard, for example she especially disliked some parts of "La Bayadère" as it was easy to get some cramps... On the other hand, she said that she did like most of Balanchine's corps de ballet parts.

Hmm.... if a majority of POB's Corps dancer felt the same way as she did, it really would give me a gloomy picture for the company's future..... Easy to imagine she liked dancing Balanchine works, which is just fine, but to hear she DISLIKED doing Bayadere gives me a big chill - and what an irony as we ballet fans go to a theatre to see THEM in this particular ballet.......

>>>About the rest of the program: "Etudes" made me think about some sort of Olympics too... but well, for me it's in the "guilty pleasures" category, a bit like the Défilé.

Oh I love the way you describe the work - "guilty pleasures"! And I guess I can understand what you meant by that ..... For me watching "Etudes" is fun, but for no apparent reasons I always have some uneasiness for taking pleasure out of it!

And thanks for your thoughts on other casts - I really envy you for having seen Legris in the ballet. Are you going back to see more of this programme? If so, please let us know how Mathieu will have tuckled this nightmarishly demanding role....

>>>Also I liked the second part with the corps de ballet moving in the background, as some sort of Egyptian bas relief (I don't remember the English word), and its hypnotic music. And my husband liked it so much that for once it was him who insisted that we should get some tickets for a second performance

Yes, yes, I remember that - "Egyptian bas relief", exactly. I found that rather amusing...... Perhaps that "hypnotic" music was guilty for making me terribly drowsy (particularly in adagio part - it's a shame I couldn't enjoy Gillot and Belarbi very much because of the drowsiness....). Good to hear your hubby loved the piece - and that you two enjoyed the programme together!

#8 Estelle

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Posted 28 September 2004 - 01:31 PM


Hmm.... if a majority of POB's Corps dancer felt the same way as she did, it really would give me a gloomy picture for the company's future.....  Easy to imagine she liked dancing Balanchine works, which is just fine, but to hear she DISLIKED doing Bayadere gives me a big chill - and what an irony as we ballet fans go to a theatre to see THEM in this particular ballet.......


To be precise, it was not the whole ballet that she disliked, but just some parts of it which were quite hard physically (especially when they had to dance it tenths of times in a row).

And thanks for your thoughts on other casts - I really envy you for having seen Legris in the ballet.  Are you going back to see more of this programme?  If so, please let us know how Mathieu will have tuckled this nightmarishly demanding role....


I don't live in Paris any longer (we moved to Lyon), so I won't be able to see some other performances. I hope some other posters will be able to see it and will post their comments... And yes, it will be a very demanding role for Mathieu Ganio, so shortly after his promotion !

#9 carbro

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Posted 28 September 2004 - 03:17 PM

Hmm.... if a majority of POB's Corps dancer felt the same way as she did, it really would give me a gloomy picture for the company's future.....  but to hear she DISLIKED doing Bayadere gives me a big chill - and what an irony as we ballet fans go to a theatre to see THEM in this particular ballet.......

Very few people are lucky enough to have jobs where they enjoy 100% of the work 100% of the time. Most of us must perform duties we consider onerous :unsure: and from which we derive no satisfaction beyond, "Well, that's out of the way." But those are the things we're paid to do, and doing them well and ungrudingingly is what it means to be a professional.

I can't imagine the frustration of devoting one's days to mastering technique and art and then spending most of the evening merely going from one B-plus to the other. :yawn: Not that that's so easy . . .

#10 Helene

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Posted 30 September 2004 - 11:00 AM

Oh and since you're a New Yorker, may I ask a question please.  Jerome Robbins's  "Glass Pieces" - is the work highly regarded in his native city?

I'm popping in as another New Yorker: I don't live there now, but I did when Glass Pieces premiered, and I was a the first performances. Some background on the piece: Deborah Jowitt, in her recent biography of Robbins, Jerome Robbins: His Life, His Theater, His Dance (pp. 463-465) wrote that the choregrapher was first interested in Glass' music after seeing a performance in Paris of Einstein on the Beach and meeting Glass; according to Jowitt, his strong recommendation influenced Jane Hermann at the Metropolitan Opera to schedule it for a few performances at the House. Glass wanted Robbins to direct the new Akhnaten, and when this seemed like a done deal, Robbins got permission from Glass to use the music that became the third movement of Glass Pieces. (Robbins later had to cancel because of Balanchine's final illness. Whoever directed the production at New York City Opera in his place staged one of the most original and gratifying second acts I've ever seen on an operatic stage.) Both Jowitt and critic Arlene Croce both noted the influence of postmodern choreographers on Robbins' thinking, if not the choreography; Croce and Jowitt both note Lucinda Childs, whose Dance Robbins had admired [Jowitt]. The postmoderns used much "minimalistic" music (by Glass, Reich, et. al.) in their work. That places Robbins' concept firmly in the time in which it was created, which is why it might appear dated now.

The early audiences gave the ballet huge ovations. Jowitt wrote,

"Glass Pieces was a tremendous success, and he came to value it ("What do I know?")...The influence of Childes and another postmodern minimalist, Laura Dean...was noted by certain critics but not disparaged.  This was hardly copycat work.


Croce, the influential critic at The New Yorker, didn't like much of Robbins' work. I've re-read her review from 6 June 1983, reprinted her review compilation Sight Lines, many times, and I'm still not sure what she really thought of it. While some of her descriptions seem positive, she couldn't resist a dig at Robbins, the Broadway musical director:

"Rubric" [1st movement] and "Facades" [2nd movement] are the most seductive tracks on Glassworks [the album from which the music came], and for Robbins they work together as classic audience psychology--stir 'em up, quiet 'em down. 

She goes on to describe how the first two movements are a little deeper than that, in the ways they depict the rushed, urban New York environment: "Rubric" in it's "rush hour melee" into which three pairs of "aliens" intermittently drop, and "Facades" in the way urban dwellers repeat mundane patterns and ignore true beauty as it surrounds them and even intersects their world. I've always agreed with her assessment of the last movement of the ballet:

The pounding drums of the Akhnaten excerpt, to my ear, cross that borderline [into convention] and end deep in jungle-movie-soundtrack territory.  And the entended finale that Robbins has devised to that music is the weakest part of the ballet.



#11 Naoko S

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Posted 02 October 2004 - 03:45 PM

I'm so glad you've stepped in, hockeyfan228, as a former New Yorker - thanks so much for taking time digging out some historical documentation from archives! It's so exciting to hear from someone who witnessed the premier performance of "Glass Pieces" - were you among the ecstatic crowds then?

As a Londoner my chances to see Robbins's works are so limited - in the last couple of years I only managed to see "Concert" (by Royal Ballet; Guillem as the lead) and "Faun" (by POB; Le Riche as the lead). Frankly both works didn't have a lasting impression on me, neither "Glass Pieces" – maybe it’s only that Robbins is not my thing! (But then in my case it usually takes at least several patient viewings to get used to someone’s style, so not all hopes are lost yet! Once I saw brief excerpts of “In the Night” and “Dances at a Gathering” – at a quick glance they looked very appealing, and some day I hope to be able to see them in their entirety.)

In my original post I did comment that the exterior of the piece reminded me of the time the work was created – that it had a strong 80's feel but not particularly reflected the "spirit" of the time. I take that back - in retrospect, ambience or mood the work provoked - a peculiarly closed world with uneasy stuffiness to it - had a certain similarity to what I used to feel about works by American minimalist writers, back in the 80’s. Maybe it’s got something to do with why I couldn’t appreciate the piece that much; maybe it’s the current I personally do not enthuse to have now, or in the future.

#12 Helene

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Posted 03 October 2004 - 12:04 AM

It's so exciting to hear from someone who witnessed the premier performance  of "Glass Pieces" - were you among the ecstatic crowds then?

I remember liking the first movement, loving the second and just hating the third: I felt the third movement was a mundane let-down. I'd never seen Childs or any of the post-moderns who used minimalistic music when I saw Glass Pieces, but I'd seen the film Koyaanisqatsi with its Glass score, and because of the movie, I associated his music with visual imagery, movement, and the contrasts of man-made/natural, creation/destruction, and attraction/alienation. On a smaller, more personal scale, I thought the first two movements of Glass Pieces picked up on the third set of contrasts.

I hope you do get to see the Robbins Chopin piano ballets, Dances at a Gathering, In the Night, and Other Dances -- they are very different from Glass Pieces, The Concert, or Afternoon of a Faun. It's too bad the Royal Ballet doesn't perform Dances at a Gathering much anymore.

#13 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 03 October 2004 - 04:56 AM

Going back a few posts, I should qualify that it really is possible to get hideous injuries from classical corps de ballet work. A friend got a very serious case of plantar fascitis that lasted more than a year from 40+ performances of Swan Lake. If you're in the front of the line and have to stand stock still with your foot pointed meticulously for fifteen minutes, and then you suddenly have to dance . . .

I've seen Glass Pieces several times but it's not a work I go to see deliberately - I'm not fond of the genre. The first movement is from the High Aerobics period of the 1980s (Flashdance headbands and Milliskin unitards! Ooooh!) and my fondest memories of the final movement come from the day the orchestra didn't begin playing the Akhnaten. Well, Cornell Crabtree, not knowing why there was silence, came jogging out with airplane arms anyway after a suitably long and embarrassing pause, and someone in the pit yelled up to the stage (I think) "You can dance if you want, but there's no light in the pit!". So he reversed direction and jogged back offstage to applause. They fixed the problem and finished.

Robbins handles best the problem of what kind of ballet exactly to make to the music in the second movement by creating the long fluid pas de deux that happens in the front with the walking, repetitive corps de ballet in shadows in the back.

#14 Naoko S

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Posted 03 October 2004 - 02:39 PM

Thanks for a further feedback, hockeyfan228. I didn't know RB had Dances at a Gathering as the repertoire! (Though I'm sure about POB - they did it some years ago.) Let's hope they will revive the work in the not so distant future......

Leigh, you've made me laugh with the episode - thank you!

#15 Amy Reusch

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Posted 09 October 2004 - 09:37 AM

I understand that some people were unfuriated by Jérôme Bel's work (though it seems to have been well received on most evenings) as it is rather ill-suited, to my opinion, to the large stage of the Paris Opera. And surely it must have been a bore for your parents if they don't understand French.

What do they think of the rest of the program ? And of the Palais Garnier itself ?


Thank you Estelle, I scanned the headers for "opening night" before posting, but should have looked a little further.

I believe they thought the piece was all right but went on a little long and their French wasn't strong enough to understand everything that was being said. They seem to have enjoyed the rest of the program and the theater itself very much.

I had a friend once talk of a warm-up room behind the stage... my parents were amazed at how deep the stage was. Would that warm-up room be just the back of the stage when it's curtained off to normal depth? He talked about portraits hanging on the walls of the famous dancers who had performed there.


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