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Europa Danse, Paris, Aug 13

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#1 Estelle


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Posted 14 August 2000 - 05:39 PM

Most French cultural festivals, including those dealing with dance, take place in June or July, so that August nearly is a cultural desert here. Moreover, most of the dance festivals feature only modern dance. So I was quite happy to see that the small Paris summer festival "Paris quartier d'ete" included some dance performances in August, and with ballet dancers.

"Europa Danse" was in fact a dance summer program for young dance students (between 17 and 21) from various European countries (this time Austria, Estonia, France, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Spain and Sweden), taking place in Grasse (a city of the South of France near Nice). As far as I know, the program was created by Jean-Albert Cartier, a former administrator of the POB and of several other French ballet companies. The dancers worked with various professors (including the former POB principal Monique Loudieres) and choreographers, and performed in Grasse, then in Paris, outdoors, in the gardens of the Palais Royal. Unfortunately, the program notes said nothing about the training of the dancers, but I recognized the names of two French male students, one from the POB school (Romain Schott) and one from the Conservatoire de Paris (Franck Laizet).

The content of the performance was quite typical of the trend to mix ballet pieces with "hybrid" ones: works by Marius Petipa, George Balanchine, Ohad Naharin, John Butler, Blanca Li, and Mats Ek (a work of John Neumeier was announced in the festival's brochure, but cancelled later).

The performance began with Georges Balanchine's "Allegro Brillante", staged by Susan Hendl. I appreciated the beautiful choreography, but the dancers looked a bit nervous, especially at the beginning of the performance (one could hardly blame them, given the difficulty of the choreography). The main female soloist (probably Sara Ricciardelli- the program notes aren't very clear) was quite charming, with a nice pointe work.

It was followed by a short work by Mats Ek: "Pas de danse" (1990-1992 [sic]), for two couples of dancers, on some traditional Swedish music. It began with a striking, somewhat melancholic, solo for a male dancer in a brownish green suit, who was later joined by a female dancer with a blue dress for a somewhat melancholic pas de deux. Then two other dancers (a man in blue and a woman in green) joined them, and started dancing a far more joyful and lighter pas de deux, on some waltzing music (sounding a bit like some valse musette on an accordion), and it gradually became a pas de quatre.

While that work had little to do with ballet, it was for me one of the most enjoyable of the evening; all four dancers (Wendy Paulusma, Kristina Oom, Mauro de Garcia and Jaime Garcia) looked very at ease with Ek's expressionistic style, and the joyful atmosphere of the end was quite communicative.

While brevity was one of the qualities of Ek's work, it wasn't exactly the case with the following piece, "Central station", by the Spanish choreographer Blanca Li (created in 1994, but never performed in France before). I wasn't familiar at all with that choreographer (whose recent works for her company have been quite successful in France), and my first impressions were rather positive, especially thanks to the nice choice of music (Concerto for Piano and Orchestra by J.S. Bach), and the clear steps and well-structured ensemble movements for 10 dancers (5 couples) with short, navel-showing white costumes. But after a while, it became so repetitive that I started feeling somewhat bored- as my boyfriend said, it looked as if we were caught in the middle of a never-ending work... Some parts which looked humorous at first view became tedious when repeated two or three times, there was no real differences between all the roles, and the steps were more or less the same in the
adagio parts and in the allegro ones (giving a somethat frenetic feeling). For me, cutting half of it would have been better- at least, it would have left me less time to notice all what I didn't like... Posted Image

After the intermission, we saw the first minutes of John Butler's "Itineraries" (1970). I hardly had enough time to notice that the costumes reminded me of Bejart's "Rite of Spring": the sky had become greyer and greyer, and some drops of rain started falling. It was not enough for the audience to be excessively disturbed, but the dancers had to leave the stage for security reasons. Everybody waited for about 20 minutes, and then the performance resumed, but the organizers decided to skip two works: Butler's piece, and also, unfortunately, the Swan Lake pas de deux (act II, Nureyev's version, staged by Monique Loudieres) which was supposed to follow. That was disappointing, and I felt sorry for the dancers (all the more that there were only three performances of that program, and that the "Swan Lake" cast of that evening was supposed to dance it only once).

The last two works were, in my opinion, the weakest ones of the evening. "Les Jambes" (the legs) was a short excerpt of Blanca Li's piece "Stress" (1997), featuring four young female dancers (Melodie Masset, Nathalie Dupouy, Maria Seletskaja, Djamilla Samad), each of them holding a sort of plastic leg, which was used for various acrobatic steps, and also as if it were a weird hat, a phone, a golf club, etc. It was very superficial, but at least light and humorous, and, unlike Li's other work, had just the right length.

The last work, danced by all the students (30 dancers), was Ohad Naharin's "One, who knows" (1990). The scenery looked quite similar to his work "Axioma 7", with a half-circle of chairs facing the audience- but I found it infinitely weaker than "Axioma 7", and in fact it is the emptiest dance piece I've seen in a while. It began in the dark, with some roaring music from the movie "Pulp Fiction"; one could barely make out silhouettes with dark suits, white shirts and black hats. Then the lights went on, and a recorded voice said a quote- something about beauty, actually it almost sounded as if it had been written automatically by a computer, and I couldn't manage to see its link with the piece. Then the dancers, who were sitting on the chairs, started singing (in Hebrew, so I didn't understand the lyrics) a loud and very repetitive song, while doing some sort of "ola" (as in sports stadiums) from left to right. And they did it again and again. Nearly nothing else happened (one dancer abruptly left the stage, another one stood on his chair, the rightmost dancer repeatedly fell flat on the ground). At the end, during the last few "waves", the dancers took off their clothes, so that everybody (except the rightmost dancer) wore only grey underwear- and that was all. If there was anything
to feel or understand in that piece (except some brutal energy, mostly because of the music), I failed to get it.

On the whole, I was glad to have an opportunity to see dance students from many European countries, and enjoyed "Allegro Brillante" and "Pas de danse" quite a lot, but also felt a little bit disappointed, partly because of the rain, and partly because of the choice of works.

[This message has been edited by Estelle (edited August 14, 2000).]

#2 Alexandra


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Posted 14 August 2000 - 07:15 PM

Thanks very much for posting that, Estelle, and for your patience (as always) in writing in such detail. I've seen a Naharin piece with a different title -- full evening work -- that also featured dancers sitting (then doing dreadful things to) chairs. I have a vague memory of dress and undress, and the male star dancing, singing and talking in a red dress. It reminded me of videos I've seen from the '60s, although not quite as imaginative.

I haven't heard of several of the people you mentioned, so I'm doubly glad of your report. You might be interested to know that Susan Hendl has a very good reputation (at least among the several NYCB dancers I've talked to) as a Balanchine stager and coach.

#3 Estelle


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Posted 14 August 2000 - 07:23 PM

Thanks for the comments, Alexandra.

I had seen "Axioma 7" about 5 years ago, when it was performed by the Ballet du Grand Theatre de Geneve (which had premiered it) at the Aix festival. It had a half-circle of chairs too, but if I remember correctly it was quite different from the work I saw yesterday (I don't remember a man in a red dress, but well, my memories aren't very precise. I remember Leigh had written some comments about it a long time ago in alt.arts.ballet, perhaps he remembers it more precisely than us?) Anyway, that short work was far less interesting than "Perpetuum", which was danced recently by the POB- not a masterpiece in my opinion, but at least it had some humor and imagination...

Thanks for the information about Susan Hendl.

By the way, Jean-Albert Cartier seems to be an interesting person, from what I've read. For example, if I remember correctly, it was him who was the administrator of dance at the Paris Opera at the beginning of Dupond's directorship, and who suggested to add works such as Massine's "Le Tricorne" or Nijinska's "Le train bleu" to the repertory.

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