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Nureyev the Director and POB


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#1 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 15 March 2001 - 10:49 PM

I was reading a critic's appreciation of the Royal Danish Ballet in 1982, arguing that it placed in what he called the "Big Six"; the Kirov, Bolshoi, NYCB, ABT, the British Royal Ballet and the Danes.

This was a very respected critic in the mainstream of opinion at the time it was written. No mention of Paris Opera at all, even as a contender.

How times have changed in two decades flat.

As Isabel Guerin says in the current Dance View about Nureyev, "his choreography can be discussed" but I think we'd have to lay the rise of the company back into world renown at his feet (and also at Claude Bessy's)

It seems that a style and tradition can go into eclipse, but if the institution is there, it can be rehabilitated. The POB sounds less like it was a shambles and more like a sleeping princess.

What went into POB's rehabilitation? How did Nureyev contribute to it, and what can we learn from it?


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#2 Estelle

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Posted 16 March 2001 - 08:08 AM

Actually, I'd like to know more about it. I started being interested in dance around 1992, after his departure from the POB, and the only POB dancer I know as a friend had entered the company in 1989, shortly before he left. I'd be really interested in knowing the opinion of people who regularly saw the company before and during Nureyev's direction.

And it's one of those problems which don't look the same "from inside" (one's country) and "from outside": I think that whatever the period, the French critics always ranked the POB among the "Big Six" (or "Big Any Number"), all the more as many foreign companies rarely toured to France (I think that for example the Royal Ballet never came to France in the 60s, 70s and 80s) and so the audience had not many opportunities to compare. And I think that the critics' opinions about Nureyev varied widely during the period of his directorship (especially at the end, when he was often absent- there seems to have been an atmosphere of crisis). Also, I'd like to add that some French critics now seem to have such an "idolizing" attitude towards Nureyev (for example Rene Sirvin and Patricia Boccadoro) that it's hard for me to feel totally confident about what they write.

Perhaps a few dates would be useful for the rest of the discussion (especially for the people who are not very familiar with the POB):

-Nureyev was the POB director of dance between 1983 and 1990.

-the previous directors were: Rosella Hightower (1980-1983), Violette Verdy (1978-1980- she had to resign earlier than the normal date because of a strike of the dancers which was motivated by the fact that the direction wanted Nureyev and somebody else (Schaufuss? I'm not sure) to dance with the company in a tour as guests, and the dancers refused, arguing that there already were enough good principals in the company),
Raymond Franchetti (1971-78). The period around 1970 seems to have been very messy, with several directors being appointed for a very short period (including Claude Bessy and John Taras), a bizarre plan of triumvirate with Roland Petit, Maurice Bejart and someone else (which never worked)...

-Claude Bessy became the director of the POB school in 1972.

-If I remember correctly, the principal dancers of the POB at the arrival of Nureyev were:

*four principals chosen by Rosella Hightower: Francoise Legree (b. 1957, named in 1983), Monique Loudieres (b. 1956, named in 1982),
Jean-Yves Lormeau (b. 1952, named in 1981),
Elisabeth Platel (b. 1959, named in 1981).

*one principal chosen by Violette Verdy: Patrick Dupond (b. 1959, named in 1980)

*twelve principals chosen by Jean-Pierre
[correction: Raymond] Franchetti or before: Claude de Vulpian (b. 1952- 1978), Florence Clerc (b. 1951- 1978), Charles Jude (b. 1953- 1976), Jean Guizerix (b. 1945- 1973), Ghislaine Thesmar (b. 1943- 1972), Patrice Bart (b. 1945- 1972), Michael Denard (b. 1944- 1971), Jean-Pierre Franchetti (b. 1944 1971), Georges Piletta
(b. 1945- 1969), Wilfride Piollet (b. 1943- 1969), Noella Pontois (b. 1943- 1968), Cyril Atanassoff (b. 1941- 1964). There might have been also Nanon Thibon (b. 1943- 1965).

(Wow! I realize that there were far more principals back then! Piollet, Thesmar and Pontois retired in the same period as Nureyev's arrival, but they came back from time to time as guest dancers at the beginning, especially Pontois). Dominique Khalfouni had become a principal in 1976 (aged 25) but had left the company in 1980 to join Roland Petit's company.

-The principals chosen by Nureyev were:
Sylvie Guillem (b. 1965- 1984), Isabelle Guerin (b. 1961- 1985), Laurent Hilaire (b. 1962- 1985), Manuel Legris (b. 1962 [correction: 1964]- 1986),
Elisabeth Maurin (b. 1983- 1988), and
Kader Belarbi (b. 1962- 1989).



[This message has been edited by Estelle (edited March 19, 2001).]

#3 Alexandra

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Posted 16 March 2001 - 09:56 AM

Estelle you are, as always, invaluable Posted Image Thank you so much for taking the time to post that. (It was Schaufuss, and Nureyev, as planned guests.)

I became interested in dance in 1975, and that year I took my first dance history course taught by Victoria Huckenpahler, who was in the process of writing Verdy's biography. When we talked about the Paris Opera, she gave what I later learned was the conventional wisdom: it was in severe decay but was still on its way down; it hadn't bottomed out yet, and the rebuilding process really couldn't begin until that happened. (I don't have the details for what she meant.)

I think part of the problem was that POB didn't tour -- it's easy to be left of the Top list when nobody sees you -- but the last time the had come to New York and London they had been in "shocking disrepair," according to one friend. Terrible repertory, sloppy sloppy dancing, several very good stars, but the company as a whole -- it was held up as the Bad Model of European Civil Service Dance.

As Guerin says, Nureyev's ballets can be discussed, but he galvanized that company, groomed dozens of dancers -- not just young stars, but young soloists, worked with the corps, really turned the place around. I've talked to directors who feel that the company is still living off what Nureyev did. (He also brought in several extraordinary coaches. Bart, definitely, and I think Patricia Ruanne. I've never talked to anyone about working with her, but the stagings that had her name on them were damned fine.)

#4 Marc Haegeman

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Posted 16 March 2001 - 12:30 PM

How did Nureyev contribute to the rehabilitation of POB ? If you would ask this question to many of the dancers, the answer would be, simply, "by being around". Posted Image

#5 leibling

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Posted 16 March 2001 - 08:08 PM

I have heard stories from friends who danced with POB during the Nureyev reign- they would say that he just knew everything about ballet, and he could communicate what he wanted. The first time I really became aware of Paris Opera was with the PBS broadcast of Nureyev's Cinderella, and Sylvie Guillem was not the only dancer that I would watch over and over. Each of the soloists in the seasons- the two stepsisters... I felt then that I was watching the greatest company in the world. Anyway, it sounds to me as if he ruled with a stern hand- demanding nothing less than the best one could do... but he told his dancers HOW to do it.

#6 ORZAK

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Posted 16 March 2001 - 08:34 PM

I remember when I first heard that Nureyev was going to be Artistic Director of POB, - I thought finally the company has met its match. The temperaments are evenly matched. He is as strong as that entire company. And, it proved so. Basheva

#7 Alexandra

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Posted 16 March 2001 - 09:38 PM

leibling, I think you've nailed it Posted Image Nureyev's tenure is one of the great illustrations of "one man can make a difference."

#8 Kevin Ng

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Posted 17 March 2001 - 11:02 PM

And Nureyev is lucky in that his achievements during his directorship have been consolidated and built upon by his successors - Patrick Dupond and Brigitte Lefevrre. The Paris Opera Ballet deserves praise for continuing to be one of the top companies in the world 12 years after Nureyev ended his tenure as artistic director in 1989.

#9 Françoise

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Posted 18 March 2001 - 04:11 AM

Just two corrections for you Estelle,
The director was Raymond Franchetti (father of Jean Pierre) who nominated etoile his son, and Legris is born in 1964 not in 1962.
Nureyev raise up POB level but now it fall completely.
It was shocking when Nureyev was in the backstage, corps de ballet was perfect, when he wasn't here, corps de ballet didn't care and was good, but it was not the true line, they was not together. I think Nureyev choosed the more important etoile who will stay in Dance History book except Pontois or Thesmar. He gave a luck to all the young dancer, and now it's impossible.
Nureyev made the POB what is it today.

[This message has been edited by Françoise (edited March 19, 2001).]

#10 Estelle

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Posted 19 March 2001 - 09:04 AM

Francoise, thanks for your corrections! I'm sorry for the typos.

leibling: I don't like much the choreography (and even less the sets) of that "Cinderella", but yes it has a great cast (Jude and Guillem, and the stepsisters are the principals Monique Loudieres and Isabelle Guerin, one of the soloists of the seasons is Carole Arbo...)

One thing which seems to appear in nearly all the comments of POB dancers about Nureyev is that they all admired his dedication to his work, and the fact that, even at the end when he was in a very bad health condition, he still took company class and always tried to do his best. He was very demanding from them, but also with himself, and his example seems to have increased very much the dancers' motivation.

#11 Mme. Hermine

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Posted 19 March 2001 - 09:15 AM

i supered with the national ballet of canada in the '70s with 'sleeping beauty' and one of my memories of nureyev is that even though he was dancing in every performance, he would spend every moment he wasn't on stage going from wing to wing to watch every solo, and give corrections to people when they left the stage. he never rested!

#12 Estelle

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Posted 19 March 2001 - 10:49 AM

Originally posted by alexandra:
I became interested in dance in
1975, and that year I took my first dance history course taught by
Victoria Huckenpahler, who was in the process of writing Verdy's
biography.  When we talked about the Paris Opera, she gave what I later
learned was the conventional wisdom:  it was in severe decay but was still
on its way down; it hadn't bottomed out yet, and the rebuilding process
really couldn't begin until that happened.  (I don't have the details for
what she meant.) I think part of the problem was that POB didn't tour --
it's easy to be left of the Top list when nobody sees you -- but the last
time the had come to New York and London they had been in "shocking
disrepair," according to one friend.  Terrible repertory, sloppy sloppy
dancing, several very good stars, but the company as a whole -- it was
held up as the Bad Model of European Civil Service Dance.


I've
just had a look at Ivor Guest's excellent book "The Paris Opera Ballet".
It was published in 1976, and includes a lot of information which is very
difficult to find elsewhere (for example, a list of all the principals and
ballet masters since the 17th century, and also a complete list of the
repertory from 1776 to 1976). A new version is supposed to be published
very very soon- I hope that it contains some chapters about the period
between 1976 and now, and am really looking forward to reading it! About
the foreign POB tours: Alexandra, do you know exactly when they took
place, and with what kind of repertory?

When reading Guest's book, one has
the feeling that the worst crisis period was in the 60s and early 70s.
Lifar had been forced to leave the directorship of the company in 1945 for
political reasons, he came back from 1947 to 1958, and created quite a lot
of new works, but it seems that his authority had decreased a little bit,
and also other companies were developing and became strong competitors for
the POB (Roland Petit's successive companies, the Ballet du Marquis de
Cuevas...) When Lifar left in 1958, he had no real successor. The
following directors were:

-George Skibine (1958-61), who doesn't seem to
have done anything especially striking, except perhaps choosing to stage
Bourmeister's "Swan Lake" (that was the first full-length version in the
POB's repertory)

-Michel Descombey (1962-69), a premier danseur of the
company. He was quite young and unexperienced (b. 1930), and his own works
seem to have been unsuccessful (also he staged a "renovated" version of
"Coppelia", which was the oldest preserved ballet of the repertory, and
Guest doesn't seem to like his version at all). The most important points
of that period were the staging of four Balanchine works in 1963
(including "Concerto Barocco" and "the Four Temperaments"- I'd be curious
to know what Balanchine thought of the company then), and some Bejart and
Petit works (most notably Petit's "Notre-Dame de Paris" in 1965).

After
Descombey's departure there was a period of real crisis, with John Taras
leading the company for a very short time, then some attempts to appoint
Roland Petit as the director, but he refused, then a refusal from Bejart
(who had declared in an interview that a complete reform would be
necessary, needing for example to suppress the hierarchy, and talking
about a three-headed direction by Roland Petit, Erik Bruhn and himself.
I'm a bit surprised by the presence of Erik Bruhn there- did he have any
connection with Bejart or with the POB then?) The Claude Bessy was
appointed as ballet master for a short while (70-71), the Opera Garnier
had to close for renovation... Well, that seems to have been a troubled
period.

Raymond Franchetti, a former dancer of the company and teacher at
the POB school, became the company's ballet master between 1971 and 1977.
Franchetti doesn't seem to have been an especially striking personality,
but from Guest's book, it seems that in that period the company was in a
"re-building" period rather than "going down", at least in terms of
repertory. Alonso staged a new version of "Giselle" in 1972, Lacotte
staged his reconstruction of "La Sylphide" on the same year, and later a
reconstruction of "Coppelia" (I wonder why that one didn't stay in the
repertory?), in 1974-75 Balanchine and Robbins staged quite a lot of
works, mostly for a Stravinsky programmeand a Ravel programme, Alonso
staged a version of "The Sleeping Beauty" in 1974 (it wasn't in the
repertory before...), also Nureyev staged the Shades Act of "La
Bayadere"... Most of the media then seem to have paid much attention to
modern experiments, especially Cunningham's "Un jour ou deux" in 1972, and
Carolyn Carlson's group.


There are a lot of details I'd like to know about the way Nureyev's
improved the company's level- but I've no idea how to find it... For
example, was there much renewal among the corps de ballet dancers when he
was there, as there was among the etoiles? (Most of the dancers of the
"old generation", like Atanassoff, Pontois, Thesmar, Piollet, Denard,
Franchetti, etc. left during his directorship). Whom exactly did he
appoint as ballet masters or repetitors? He gave opportunities to dance big roles to young dancers, it proved successful for some of them (Guillem, Legris, Hilaire, Guerin...) but were there some failures too? Did he choose himself the dancers who entered the company?

#13 Amy Reusch

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Posted 29 March 2001 - 01:13 AM

Originally posted by Estelle:
*four principals chosen by Rosella Hightower: Francoise Legree (b. 1957, named in 1983), Monique Loudieres (b. 1956, named in 1982),
Jean-Yves Lormeau (b. 1952, named in 1981),
Elisabeth Platel (b. 1959, named in 1981).


Estelle, please pardon my ignorance, but I'm curious about what you mean when you say "named".... Does that mean "named 'etoile'" or does it have something to do with taking a professional stage name?

#14 Estelle

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Posted 29 March 2001 - 04:35 AM

Hi Amy! Nice to see that you're back!

In fact I should have said "promoted" instead of "named", but I wrote "named" because in French people often use the verb "nommer" ("elle a été nommée étoile") in that context... So that's just a translation problem

#15 Alymer

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Posted 31 March 2001 - 05:17 PM

Can I add to the discussion about the Paris Company. I saw them first in about 1968/9 and they had some really impressive dancers, but the theatre was generally very troubled. There were endless labour problems, strikes, etc and good as the dancers were no one could have described it as a disciplined company, and most of the rep was, frankly,awful.
When Andre Malraux (excuse my spelling) was made Minister of Culture he decided to do something about the house. Rolf Lieberman was appointed general director with a much enlarged budget and the house was closed for a year, partly I believe for renovation and partly so that new working agreements could be put in place. Lieberman was an extremely cultured man, he had been director at Hamburg, and had a reputation as a composer.
Raymond Franchetti was a very popular teacher - not at the Opera although many of the company went to him for class - and he was given charge of the ballet, but my impression was that he dealt with the day-to-day running of the company while Lieberman and his assistant, Huges Gall, had a very considerable input into both repertory and casting. (Incidentally, I should stress that young Franchetti certainly deserved his nomination to etoile.
The first Lieberman season opened with ballet programmes including Giselle with Maximova and Vasiliev and I remember the Wilis as amazing - every girl a star with slightly different hair and make-up. Then came a production of Gluck's Orfeo which finished with the ballet choreographed by one of Lieberman's close friends - George Balanchine. To my lasting regret I didn't see it, but I'm assured it was breathtaking and beautifully danced by Thesmar and Denard in the leads.
Gall put together some really interesting and memorable programmes, and the quality of the dancers was amazing, but the reputation of the company was still such that first-rate choreographers were reluctant to work with them. The exceptions were Balanchine and Robbins - POB got a complete Ravel programme shortly after the Ravel Festival - I believe that Lieberman helped with negotiations with the Ravel Estate for the music.
In a way it was Rosella Hightower who finally made the company manageable. She managed to get permission for regular seasons at the Theatre des Champs Elysees and I actually heard her say "I'll keep them so busy they won't have time to plot".
By the time Nureyev arrived a lot of work had been put in and I guess the company was ready for him to take it to heights it had never previously dreamed of. In a word, he was both intelligent, (he judged what both the dancers and the audience needed), and he was inspirational. I could perhaps argue more strongly for the merits of his productions of the classics, but I think I've already gone on far too long.


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