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POB dance school, Bart/ Fokine/ Bejart, May 3

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#1 Estelle


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Posted 22 May 2000 - 11:10 AM

The Paris Opera Ballet school, which has existed continously
since the period of Louis XIV, has presented some public
performances since 1977, featuring mostly the oldest students
of the school, usually likely to enter the company on the
following season.

The "repertory" of the POB school includes old works of the POB repertory
which aren't danced any longer by the company (for example Lichine's
"Graduation Ball", Skibine's "Daphnis et Chloe" and "Le prisonnier
du Caucase", Lifar's "Suite en blanc", "Le chevalier et la demoiselle"
and "Entre deux rondes", Aveline's "Les deux pigeons"...), some
works created especially for the students (by Claude Bessy,
Violette Verdy, Gigi Caciuleanu, Serge Golovine...) and some
works staged especially for them, some of which would really
deserved to be danced by the main company (Bournonville's
"Sylphide" and "Konservatoriet", Balanchine's "Western Symphony",

"Le tombeau de Couperin" and "La somnambule"...)

This year's program included three works:
a new work by Jean-Guillaume Bart, "Peches de jeunesse";
Fokine's "Firebird" staged by Pierre Lacotte, and
Bejart's "Seven Greek Dances".

Jean-Guillaume Bart, 28, is a former dancer of the POB school who entered
the company in 1988, and became an "etoile" (principal dancer) in January
2000 (and is, in my opinion, one of the most gifted and elegant male
dancers of the company). His career as a choreographer is quite recent: he
created mostly a few works for the "Dancers- choreographers" programs of
the POB in 1997 and 1999, and some pas de deux for the Jeune Ballet de
France and for some POB dancers in galas. His style definitely
is classical, and in the program notes, he quoted Balanchine,
Robbins, Cranko and MacMillan as his models (I was a bit surprised
to see Cranko in this list, since his works are danced very
rarely in France; as far as I know only his "Romeo in Juliet" was in the POB's repertory, and they haven't danced it since the early 80s...)

Claude Bessy, the director of the POB school, chose to commission
him a work for the POB students (the main company itself doesn't
seem to support much the choreographic activities of its dancers...)
It was on a larger scale than Bart's previous works: an
abstract ballet for 22 dancers (two couples of soloists, three
couples of demi-soloists and a corps de ballet of six couples),
lasting about half an hour, set on some excerpts of Rossini's
sonatas for string (n.1, 3, 4, 5). There were no explanation for
the title ("Sins of youth"- often meaning "Easily forgiven
youth mistakes") in the program notes, and it seemed to have
little to do with the ballet itself.

This ballet, clearly influenced by Balanchine's style, was quite charming

and well-structured, with the elegance and cleanliness which also are
characteristic of Bart's dancing. There were some weaker parts,
sometimes because the young dancers still had a few technical
problems with the ensemble parts, sometimes because the choreography
became a bit repetitive, but on the whole I found it very promising
(and young choreographers firmly using classical vocabulary
aren't very numerous in France nowadays- it is worth noticing
that in his program notes, he said that he insisted on using
some steps of petite batterie characteristic of the French
school which are now disappearing from the repertory).
The most interesting parts, in my opinion, were some of
the solo variations for the four main dancers, Claire
Bevalet (musical, with strong feet, and definitely an
"allegro dancer" in Leigh's terminology), Ninon Raux,
Adrien Bodet and Cyril Mitilian.

The next work of the program was Fokine's "The Firebird" (1910),
which had already been staged by Pierre Lacotte for the POB school
in 1991. Since I had never seen this work before, I have no idea
how authentic the reconstruction is, but I found it very nice and
pleasant. However, there was one major disappointment: the sets
and costumes were not after Golovine and Bakst, but after those
made by Georges Wakhevitch in 1954 for Lifar's production at the
Paris Opera. And they were surprisingly poor and uninteresting:
almost no sets, excessively simplified costumes with flashy
colors... There was such a big contrast between Stravinsky's
evocative music, and the almost bare stage that it almost
broke the atmosphere of the ballet- and one couldn't help
remember the nice photographs of Karsavina and Fokine in
that role, or the painting of Jacques-Emile Blanche...

The dancers were technically bright, but most of them looked a bit cold
and were lacking expressiveness, especially Dorothee Gilbert (as the
Firebird) and Gregory Dominiak (as the Prince- however, he had a wonderful
line); on the other hand, Aurore Cordellier, as the Princess, was very
soft, graceful and elegant, and Cedric Lambrette was a frightening
Sorcerer Katschei.

The last work of the evening was Bejart's "Sept danses grecques" (Seven
Greek dances), created in 1984 by Bejart's Ballet of the XXth Century,
on some Greek music by Mikis Theodorakis. I'm not a big fan of
Bejart in general, but that work was not among his worst ones, by
far: no pseudo-philosophic texts, no endless program notes, no
bizarre symbolism... It was a plotless work, with a mixture
of classical vocabulary and Greek folk dancing, and on the whole
it was rather pleasant to watch. The main roles were for male
dancers: Audric Bezard and Sebastien Bertaud, both bright,
and in smaller roles Cyril Mitilian and Gregory Dominiak
(in a male duo), Ninon Raux being the only female dancer
in an interesting role (in a pas de deux with Josua Hoffalt).
The audience was wildly enthusiastic at the end of this piece,
even more than at the end of the other pieces, and David
Coleman (who was conducting the Orchestre Colonne) and
Claude Bessy herself briefly joined the young dancers on
stage at the end.

The POB school will perform that program in Italy in July,
at the Nervi Festival.

#2 Manhattnik


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Posted 22 May 2000 - 03:30 PM

Welcome back, Estelle, and thanks for the great review, as usual. I must confess I can't for the life of me picture French dancers doing Western Symphony, although I'm sure I'd enjoy it on one level or another.

#3 Estelle


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Posted 23 May 2000 - 04:29 AM

Well, after some further thinking, perhaps it's better to have it danced only by the kids of the POB school (I haven't seen them dancing it, but they do look very cute on photographs...), they are less likely to take themselves seriously than the dancers of the company! Posted Image

What about "Le Tombeau de Couperin"? It used to be in the repertory of the company, they danced it once or twice in the mid-70s, but forgot it later. I've never seen it, but the photographs looked very nice, and I love so much that music that I'd really like to see it.

#4 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 23 May 2000 - 08:47 AM

Tombeau is a ballet that looks very beautiful on young dancers. It was created for the corps de ballet; I don't have my books here, but I know some of the corps was quite young at the time of creation, Judith Fugate was in its original cast.

At the last SAB workshop it was done by the students and though a touch awkward, had a special luster for it.

Leigh Witchel -dae@panix.com
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