Paris Opera Ballet in Beijing 09.17.05
Posted 26 September 2005 - 12:11 PM
I saw both matinee and evening performances of the POB in Beijing on the 17th. On the whole, I was very pleased with the dancing but quite disappointed with the choice of works presented. All French choreography (well, Lifar is half-French) evoking the colors of the French flag--Suite en Blanc (white), L'Arlesienne (blue), and Bolero (red).
Suite en Blanc was the highlight for me. I thought it was the work that best showcased the company--near perfect positions, beautiful line, clean, crisp, unshowy dancing. While the opening pas de trois (La Sieste) was a bit out of sync both times, the rest were, by and large, finely rendered. Two dancers in particular seemed a cut above the rest: the premiere danseuse Melanie Hurel in the Pas de Cing and the etoile Aurelie Dupont in the Adage, with Karl Paquette, and in La Flute. In what looked to me like fiendishly difficult and exposed choreography, both effortlessly drew shapes in space. Moreau (replacing the injured Jose Martinez) was also impressive in the Mazurka, fluid and elegant, though at the evening performance he seemed to tire towards the end. With her long, limpid arms and warm presence, Emilie Cozette in La Cigarette (likewise replacing an injured etoile, Agnes Letestu) was a hit with the matinee crowd.
I know that Petit and Bejart are considered pillars of French dance, if not the rest of the world, but I have to say I just don't get it. Is Bolero considered a major work? Is L'Arlesienne?
I'm sure it's just me.
If the 45 minutes that was Suite en Blanc felt like four, the 38 minutes of L'Arlesienne felt like an eternity. I thought it had a certain charm in parts, and the final solo by Frederi was certainly dramatic, but it was much too long, and much, much too hokey. Benjamin Pech danced his heart out. Isabelle Ciaravola (mat) and Clairemarie Osta (eve) were both convincing actresses, with Osta being the more articulate dancer. The corps de ballet looked like they were enjoying themselves.
Ravel's music is so familiar that I suppose I was hoping the choreography would let me hear it in a different way. Alas, there was just a lot of pelvic thrusting and very little actual dancing. It's a real pity that they brought a dancer of the calibre of Marie-Agnes Gillot all the way to China only to have her rock on the balls of her feet, swing her hips, do a few splits, and show us how high she can jump. Don't get me wrong, she did it with admirable focus and conviction--a star turn if I ever saw one!--as did the twenty-odd bare-chested men on stage with her. It just all seemed a little, well, less then what these dancers are due. The un-dynamic playing of the Orchestra of the National Ballet of China, under Vello Pahn, didn't help much.
All three works were warmly received especially during the evening performance. In general, the audience--predominantly Chinese but with lots of expats as well with their very young (and noisy) children in tow--were decorously appreciative. No standing ovations. Some "bravos" (actually, more like "whoas") at the expected moments--Dupont's perfectly centered, whiplash-quick pirouettes and soaring jetes, Moreau's cat-like barrel turns, and of course, Pech's desperate dive through a window. Sustained clapping and cheering at the end of each piece.
Oh, and this was the first time I'd ever seen people eating popcorn at the ballet. How about that!?!
This is my first ever attempt at a ballet review so...caveat emptor
Posted 26 September 2005 - 12:40 PM
I'm a bit surprised at the choice of "colors" for that program: while white clearly is associated to "Suite en blanc", and one can understand the "red" for "Boléro", it's not clear to me why blue should be associated to "L'Arlésienne"...
It is interesting to see that two of those three works haven't been performed in Paris recently, as far as I know: the last time the POB performed "Suite en Blanc" was around 1997 (and unfortunately Lifar's repertory was much neglected, and the 100th anniversary of his birth completely ignored ), and I don't even remember a performance of "Boléro" in recent years (though it was in the company's repertory in the 1970s and early 1980s, with dancers like Patrick Dupond, Charles Jude, Sylvie Guillem or Florence Clerc), but it will be performed by the company next July.
I think that "Boléro" is one of Béjart's best known works, and probably considered as one of his major works. However, it probably depends a lot on the main dancer... Also there have been several versions of it: the first one, created in 1961, was with a female soloist (Douchka Sifnios) and male corps de ballet, but later it was also performed with a male soloist and either a female or a male corps de ballet (and it was one of the most famous roles of Jorge Donn, he can be seen in that role in a movie by Claude Lelouch "Les uns et les autres"). I suspect that it can easily look dated...
I don't think that "L'Arlésienne" is considered as a major Petit work, his most famous works were those he created in the 1940s and 1950s like "Le jeune homme et la mort" or "Carmen"... "L'Arlésienne" was created much later, in the mid-1970s, and I think it depends a lot on the main male soloist. I saw it once with Manuel Legris and found him absolutely mesmerizing from the beginning to the end (but well, I admit being a Legris fan and have seldom been disappointed by him) but the corps de ballet choreography isn't very interesting in my opinion, and with a less exceptional dancer than Legris I guess that it can become a bit boring.
Posted 26 September 2005 - 08:14 PM
Thanks a lot, Estelle, for providing some historical context.
Too bad POB doesn't do much Lifar these days. Wasn't he a former company director and the man responsible for the Defile in its present form?
I'm trying to imagine Sylvie Guillem in it. Frankly, I don't see how she could have improved on Gillot, who could match her hyperextension for hyperextension and who has charisma in spades. It was about as good a performance as one could expect from a classically trained dancer. Perhaps the piece needed a different breed of interpreter altogether?
I suppose what I'm trying to say is that I can be enthralled by extraordinary dancers without thinking much of what they're being asked to dance.
Posted 27 September 2005 - 10:44 AM
Posted 02 October 2005 - 06:39 AM
Posted 05 October 2005 - 07:31 PM
I am happy to report, however, that few of my co-viewers felt compelled to munch away while I was working to take in both the action and the supertitles.
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