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Fille Mal Gardée - Paris Opera School


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#1 katharine kanter

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Posted 17 April 2002 - 01:15 AM

Saturday night, April 13th, La Fille Mal Gardée (choreo. Claude Bessy, based on a Dmitrii Roumanoff version from 1972), and Western Symphony (Balanchine).

The performance served to confirm what the entire world already knows: were dancing only in the legs and feet, the rest of the world's schools could pack up and leave for the Bahamas, because there is nothing, anywhere, like the footwork of the POB School.

Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately for our art form, there are one or two other minor details that count, such as épaulement.

The Roumanoff-Bessy choreography for La Fille Mal Gardée is feeble, but the subject is of course perfect for children between the ages of 14 to 16. There are a great many steps, all admirably executed by these outstanding youths and girls, bearing in mind that they have been taught in an épaulement-free zone and cannot be blamed for what they do not know - although the youths are noticeably better in this respect, than the girls.

Many of the steps, seen at foot-level, are those of the early 19th Century. Therefore, going by the book, they should, seen at eye-level, look like Bournonville. But fear not ! They don't ! All one has to do is eliminate épaulement, and the trick is turned !

One cannot fault the lovely little girl dancing La Fille, Mathilde Froustey. Although, physically, she is one of the School's little clones (pinhead, etiolated limbs etc.), she is a calm, clear-headed child, plays with the music, and is clearly remarkably talented. To boot, she has had excellent instruction in mime. The mime scene with the Mother, danced by the adorable étoile Carole Arbo, opening Act II, was the prettiest thing in the ballet.

The sixteen-year old has apparently already been accepted into the POB for the next season, and who could blame them ! Her Suitor, Vincent Chaillet was terribly weak. It may have been nerves, and the less criticism levelled at children of that age, the better.

Maxime Thomas, dancing the madman Colas, was excellent, although he had been instructed to open his mouth and gape in the midst of difficult jumps, ALWAYS a mistake.


In order to avoid an outbreak of intense hostility on this board, I shall refrain from commenting in detail on "Western Symphony". Suffice it to say that I beg to differ with Mlle. Bessy's choice of ballet for child-dancers. I do not believe that 13 to 16 year-olds should be playing Hooker and Client in a Saloon, with the girls demonstrating peculiar specialities in ways that may not be obvious to those in the audience who, to put it delicately, have had little commerce with the opposite sex. Such as the cheering five and six year-olds come to watch their brothers and sisters on stage.

But that's Balanchine !

#2 Terry

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Posted 17 April 2002 - 03:33 AM

I too saw the school's "Spectacle" and was delighted to see the young students of the POB. I found Mathilde Froustey's theatrical abilities fantastic, but the quality of her dancing needs polish. (Still, she is only 17, so I need to give her a break!) Froustey resembles an doll -- her porcelain body and her adorbale face are so perfectly proportioned-- physically, she is unbelievably beautiful. I would have liked to see Claude Bessy dance Widow Simone instead of Carole Arbo; Arbo doesn't have the 'character dance' experience for this role, she is too young, and her acting looked superficial. Other students did not impress me much, which is odd, because I was much more impressed when I saw them in class during the school demonstration, even Mathilde herself. I think there's often a disparity between the classroom and the stage, which can be disappointing at times. However, a few girls in the corps for Western Symphony stood out, including Aubane Philbert, who I believe is only 13. I look forward to seeing Mathilde after her entrance to POB!

* Just a note Katherine, c'est Aubane Philbert et non, Philibert. Merci. :cool:

#3 katharine kanter

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Posted 17 April 2002 - 04:48 AM

Was Aubane the tiny little girl with a high, nervous jump and incredible vitality, second or third from the left in the first line of the Western Symphony chorus, as we shall henceforth delicately call it ?

#4 aubri

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Posted 17 April 2002 - 04:49 AM

Thank you Terry for this review, for once it is a constructive one.

[posted edited by Alexandra; sentence deleted]

#5 Estelle

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Posted 17 April 2002 - 06:29 AM

I saw that program yesterday evening, with the same cast. I liked Mathilde Froustey too, and especially her excellent mime (however, as Terry, found her not really polished- but at her young age it's normal). As for Vincent Chaillet, perhaps he was just nervous on Saturday, or perhaps our tastes differ, but I found him really good as Colas, in his solos as well as in his partnering. Maxime Thomas was great as Alain (and very funny).

I was happy to see Carole Arbo back on stage, especially after her especially unfortunate farewell performance last season (she wasn't even given a full-length work to dance, and her last ballet was in the middle of a mixed bill...) I have never seen Claude Bessy in that role, and so can't compare, but liked Arbo's performance. Clearly she must have looked younger than Bessy (as she is almost 30 years younger), but after all her age probably is more realistic as Lise's mother (she's 41 and Froustey is about 17), and they interacted very well.

That version of "La Fille" had last been danced by the POB school, in 1993- some of the dancers in the main roles were the now premiers danseurs Jérémie Bélingard and Laetitia Pujol (by the way, Pujol was seated a few seats away from me) and the NYCB soloist Sébastien Marcovici.

What made me feel a bit ill at ease about "Western Symphony" was the fact that some of the girls in the corps de ballet looked extremely young, with tiny, prepubescent bodies, and the costumes really looked weird on them. I had only seen "Western Symphony" once before, dance by the NYCB in Edinburgh in 2000- is my memory failing, or were there decors in the NYCB version? Considering the youth of most performers, and the fact that they've not been brought up in the Balanchine style, I found the performance very good (the work had been staged by Violette Verdy). The main roles were danced respectively by Laurène Lévy and Vincent Chaillet (who hadn't had much time of rest after "La fille"...) in the Allegro section, Laura Hecquet and Josua Hoffalt in the Adagio (I liked a lot Hecquet's humor and style), Emilie Hasboun and Cyril Chokroun in the Rondo, and I don't know who was the extra couple who appeared in the finale.
The corps de ballet was especially precise and well trained, and when watching the impressive finale, I thought that the POB school teachers had every reason to be proud of their students.

As last season's program, the program included both a classical story ballet ("Coppélia" last season) and a more modern one (last year's Neumeier's "Yondering"), but I found that this year's program offered more soloist roles (and there were two casts, with Marie-Laetitia Diederichs, Josua Hoffalt and Mehdi Angot in "La Fille" in the other cast). And actually, it is a bit worrying to think that the number of available positions in the corps de ballet in July might be quite low, while there are a lot of potential candidates.

By the way, I think it's better not to put too much pressure on Mathilde Froustey's shoulders: clearly she is a very talented young dancer, but she still is very young, and the first years in the company often are very hard, as the quadrilles are given very few roles (I have not heard at all of Charline Gienzendanner or Claire Bevalet, who entered the company last year, for example) and some yeard the possibilites of promotion are very scarce. But I'm keeping my fingers crossed for her (and for her schoolmated too)! By the way, I don't think that she's already been accepted in the company: there is a competition which takes place in July every year, and I think that she'll have to take as as the other students (but of course there always are rumors about which students are the most likely to be chosen).

#6 katharine kanter

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Posted 17 April 2002 - 06:37 AM

I meant Vincent Chaillet as Colas !

#7 Alexandra

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Posted 17 April 2002 - 08:04 AM

Thanks very much for the reviews, Katharine, Terry and Estelle.

We've had a prohibition on reviewing student performancess, which Katharine couldn't have been aware of, as the discussions about it preceded her coming to the site. We're also reviewing the prohibition -- my reason for it was the journalistic rule that children are not reviewed as professionals, but since the NY Times and NY mag, and others, regularly review the SAB workshop, we may decide to allow that this year, with some restrictions. (The history on this site is that, about 3 years ago a student using not only another name but another identity reviewed a workshop and very harshly criticized his/her classmates, writing descriptions of them that were quite cruel. Rather than fight the battle post by post, and having someone decide what was on the line and what was over it, we just said No Student Workshop reviews.)

I would like to put in a word about reviewing student dancers that I got from a Danish coach. "There's something I don't understand that critics don't understand," he began, and went on -- I can't quote exactly -- that he didn't understand how people could expect a "17-year-old to dance as though she's 30." He was referring to very harsh reviews of a 19-year-old Danish Aurora and said, "When you're that young and take on a big role, there is so much to do, it is not possible to do it all the first few times no matter how good you are. Just getting through it, the technique, the partnering, the pacing, is so difficult. So of course they often look cold, or frightened, or there is something about the head or the arms that aren't right. That comes in time."

I think he had a good point, and that it's worth remembering.

#8 Helena

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Posted 17 April 2002 - 08:34 AM

I should have thought that a school like the POB one would expect to be reviewed in the press, as the Royal Ballet School performances are. At that level the children are more or less professional. Obviously, one should have respect for their youth and inexperience. I suppose the problem with the Internet is the one you mention as the reason for the ban - you can't be certain who is posting, and you can't be certain people will be....well, not kind, but positive.

I love reading about school performances, as I love going to them. I have really enjoyed reading these comments.

#9 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 17 April 2002 - 10:07 AM

On Western Symphony -

Estelle, Western has both a costume and a set (A Western town and saloon) but it did not get them until a year after the premiere - there wasn't the money. We're going to get to see those students in NYC in May, so it will be interesting to compare impressions with the very varied ones here.

I think I'll find the Balanchine especially interesting; Western is one of those works that is so specifically American in outlook, it will be interesting to see how it looks on French teenagers with Verdy's coaching. Costumes issues aside, their youth might be an analogue for the sort of innocence that work needs to be "put over".

Katherine, really. Sometimes a chorus of showgirls is just a chorus of showgirls.

#10 dirac

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Posted 17 April 2002 - 11:18 AM

I disagree, Leigh. It's about time someone blew the lid off those shameless Balanchine strumpets to show them for what they really are. :)

#11 Estelle

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Posted 17 April 2002 - 11:32 AM

Actually, I think that for the kids watching the program, it will probably remind them of the "Lucky Luke" comics (very popular series of French-Belgian comics which started in the 1950s, by Morris and the late Goscinny, taking place in a caricatural Far West, with the cow-boy Lucky Luke and its talking horse Jolly Jumper. Suitable for all ages :) Actually it's in that comics that I first heard about Sarah Bernhardt, for example!)

PS: here's an example of picture from "Lucky Luke":
http://www.geocities...915/lucky40.jpg

#12 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 17 April 2002 - 01:43 PM

Estelle -

Yup, Lucky Luke looks like he comes from a similar place in the imagination as Western Symphony. The girl in the picture might even be a Shameless Balanchine Strumpet - dirac, is that protected by service mark along with Balanchine Style(SM) and Balanchine Technique(SM)?

I know I've read comics by Goscinny, but I can't recall what. Was he the author of the Asterix series?

#13 Alexandra

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Posted 17 April 2002 - 01:48 PM

Lucky Luke was gone by the time I clicked on him, unfortunately (I got a 404, File Not Found).

I think Balanchine's cowboys and dance hall girls were very much of their time -- the 1950s and cowboy movies. I remember the TV series "Gunsmoke." Miss Kitty was a dancehall girl in every sense of the term, but I had no idea of that until I was quite grown up.

I'd like to see the dancehall girls be a little sexy, actually. Usually the complaint about Balanchine is that he's "just the steps" and, since I missed LeClercq, I've never seen the wit and the hint of allure that must have been in that ballerina role, at least, at the beginning.

#14 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 17 April 2002 - 01:59 PM

Leclercq's performance has survived on film (ironically enough, filmed in Paris when NYCB was there ca. 1956 - sadly, I believe that it was probably the last filming she was able to do.) Her Western is fascinating, and in some ways, a lot of that specific role (the soloist in the Rondo, the final movement) has to do with Karinska, who gave her That Fabulous Hat to wear. One of the most surprising things for me, though, being used to later interpreters, is how the diagonal of extensions to the side and in arabesque has changed in empasis. Leclercq did her arabesque out at 90 degrees rather than up past 90, which is what became standard. In fact, the role seems to be cast now on the height of the ballerina's extension. Some of her sparkle and mischief comes across on the video, but I wish I had been around to see it live.

#15 Alexandra

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Posted 17 April 2002 - 02:06 PM

Thanks for mentioning the extensions. What impresses me about the LeClercq film is that that leg went OUT, quick and straight, like an arrow. I remember watching the video of the Balanchine celebration -- and really liking Jaffe and Hubbe in that section. But, remembering that there's always the remote chance that older can be better :) I got out the older film and, yep. I think this is definitely a place where skykicking is a misreading.

We are getting away from Paris -- did anyone else go? Any other comments? Is this a very good year (the famous wine analogy?), a so-so year? I feel I should mention that Claude Bessy is generally very highly regarded among teachers, at least the few I've spoken with. I don't mean to dismiss Katharine's view, and I'm all for bucking the conventional wisdom, but I think it should be noted that the general take on Ms. Bessy's effect on the school is that she turned it around and is responsible for turning out very fine pupils. If they don't turn into etoiles, I think that may be due to the ballet masters in the company.


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