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Paquita - a frigid pastiche of Auguste B

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#16 katharine kanter

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Posted 25 January 2003 - 09:58 AM

POB – “Paquita” (Pierre Lacotte), Friday January 24th 2003


Throw away that lemon you've just bitten into folks ! This was one of those nights when one leaves the theatre smiling fondly upon the individual who has just violently trodden on one's toe in the crush.

Whether it was the euphoric reception everyone got during the Défilé in Nureyev’s honour on Monday night - the audience made it blindingly clear that through thick and thin, they stand 100% behind their troupe - or perhaps the upbeat news that someone has been rattling the cage at the School - this is the first performance I’ve seen in six or seven years here, where the entire cast was dancing as though their life depended on it.

As yours truly wouldn't like Pierre Lacotte to think that one writes rude things about the choreography without ever actually taking the trouble to see it, this was actually the fifth or sixth time in the run I've been to “Paquita”. Well, close acquaintance does not seem to make the choreography any better, BUT…

Last night, the company got their teeth into the thing, and ripped off a chunk. Went like hellfire ! And more power to them ! There was fire, there was enthusiasm, they reached out to those Strangers out there in the Great Darkness. As this does not often happen here in what was formerly the City of Light, save perhaps those nineteen seconds per evening where the unfortunate M. Thibault is allowed out of his cave, allow me to report it. In the hope that it will happen More and More Often.

If I'm not mistaken, this must have been Mlle Pujol's first performance as Paquita. Readers of these pages will know how prejudiced this writer in the young lady's favour. Might one hope that, in her own individual way, she may turn out to be a reincarnation of Elisabeth Maurin ?

Mlle. Pujol has made up her mind that every movement in a story-telling piece such as “Paquita”, has to TELL THE STORY, which again, is unusual enough to be worth reporting. So she sets out to tell the story. Rough-edged, but the girl is bursting with joie de vivre, her kindly little soul is simply irrepressible. I was, so to speak, glued to the screen, and quite forgot that I was standing on two very sore feet behind a column for three hours.

Technically, Gang, there seem to be one or two thing to work on here.

So far as I can understand it, though it is perfectly acceptable - at least in my book - to “pull a Lis Jeppesen”, i.e. “throw away” the plastique of a movement in passages that would qualify, dramatically, as a sheer pas d’action, the rest of the time plastique IS of the essence. Mlle. Pujol’s actual dancing is a touch choppy: if one looks closely at the small connecting steps between one “major” step, and another, there are gestures that would frankly qualify as ungraceful.

Now, this may sound odd, but I don’t buy too much PHYSICAL grace. There are occasions when an overdose of physical Beauty can tip right over into mental Ugliness, which is why I don’t go in for this super-legato, sickly-sweet stuff, the exponents of which still on active duty, shall not be cited by name here. That is no danger in Mlle. Pujol’s case: a dramatic dancer who also likes to jump, some work on the “singing” line would do no harm.

But who could resist the adorable Pujol ? the girl who has even got our Manuel Legris to unlock his chains ? He was excellent – is the man EVER anything but excellent ? – but last night, he was definitely Outside the Shell. One can see why the girls queue up to work with such a partner, as M. Legris knows precisely how to bring to the fore the best in other people. Having had another fortnight or so to think it through, Gil Isoart as the evil Inigo, essentially a mime role, has now got it down pat. When mime is done this well, one simply cannot get enough of it.

One question to Pierre Lacotte though: Paquita sinks to her knees as Inigo is about to stab her beloved. Why ? I’d bolt forward to strike the knife from his hand ! Every cast has gone straight off the music and fudged it, because it makes no sense. Might we ask you to change this ?


Fresh from seeing Miteki Kudo, and that flame-haired scorcher Fanny Fiat in the pas de trois, one is a trifle biased, even when faced with first-rate dancing from others amongst the ladies, last night Mlles. Daniel and Wiart. As for M. Thibault, tell, is there a sculptor in the house ? We need a statue to the fellow in the main square before the Opera, so that a couple of centuries from now, as people file in to judge the Concours, it will be forcefully recalled to them that Mob Rule ain’t Never got us Nowhere, neither in art, nor yet in politics. The man has been pretty damn good – that’s an understatement folks – throughout this run, but last night – well, why wreck it with too many words ? I would just say that, in forty or so years in the trade, I do consider myself extremely lucky to have seen three or four dancers – such as this gentleman - who, as Bournonville put it:

“lift one up from this earth”.

Bournonville was speaking about Marie Taglioni, incidentally. Anyway, being a mere mortal nonetheless, there was a snag or two. As a non-professional, might I ask whether, in that old-time step which is, I think, called Sissonne-Perrot, it be wise to allow the working leg to fly up where it likes, rather than holding it firmly ? What is difficult, is that the step being beaten, the feeling in the body is somehow in-between a cabriole and a sissonne, and one has got to reconcile the vertical impulse one needs to beat, with the OUT ! and HOLD ! for the sissonne. As a result, there is a faint, but perceptible thud on landing. Hello, knees. Allow me to quote here Henning Kronstam (from the new biography by A. Tomalonis):

“If I had kept on with Mr. Lander, I would have been finished at twenty-seven. My knees would have been gone. The plié is essential because it is the landing from a jump that is so beautiful. It is not enough to hang in the air, you have to come down. And you should not come down with a bang.”

More generally, in this age where everyone has had it drummed into them that Tall is Beautiful, that Tall is a Prince, etc., all medium-height people tend to dance a little too large, i.e. outside their own natural radius of action, nor is M. Thibault entirely free from this flaw. Perhaps help from someone like Niels Kehlet or Flemming Ryberg would be in order ?

In Act II, the children in the Polonaise, who have to dance flat out, appear to be winding down, as the run is probably rather too long for them, lasting as it does, almost two full months.

Otherwise, allow me to salute the entire cast for what was a truly outgoing, generous performance, one that gave something from the soul to the audience.

As for the choreography, we’ll leave that cliff-hanger to the next instalment…

#17 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 25 January 2003 - 10:28 AM

He won't eat it, he hates everything.

He likes it!  Hey, Mikey!

This probably won't make any sense to our non-American BalletAlertniks (with my apologies), but I'm going to find a big bowl of Life Cereal now.

Katherine, there is nothing more lovely then hearing that you actually had a wonderful time at a performance. Is the POB the "Life Cereal" of the ballet world?

#18 Alexandra


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Posted 25 January 2003 - 10:33 AM

Katharine, Katharine, are you all right? :)

Seriously, that was fun -- and nice -- to read.

#19 Estelle


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Posted 25 January 2003 - 12:46 PM

Err, Leigh, where does your quote come from?

Katharine, I'm going to see "Paquita" next Thursday with the same cast (Pujol and Legris), and I'm really looking forward to seeing them!

You might try to go again next Tuesday, it's basically the same cast but Miteki Kudo will be dancing in the pas de trois (with Hervé Courtain- I wish he had more roles) :), or on the 31st (Thibault again- and Phavorin as Inigo)- well, at least if the information on the POB web site is accurate!

About the euphoric reception for the Défilé: well, I think that it's always like that for the Défilé! Which makes me regret more and more that it's been scheduled so rarely since Brigitte Lefevre became the director of dance.

#20 liebs


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Posted 25 January 2003 - 01:50 PM

I had the pleasure of seeing the performance on Tuesday, Jan. 22. It was my first look at POB in over a decade and mostly I was impressed - very impressed.

It is hard not to love the Palais Garnier and I had a wonderful seat in the first loge. Ballet Heaven!

Paquita certainly has the silliest plot and some of Lacotte's choreography is servicable at best but it holds the stage. The sets and costumes were lavish and beautiful.

Paquita was Claire Maria Osta, partnered by Bart. She was lovely and dances beautifully, no real flaws that I could see. Although, I felt that the tempo in her variations in the Grand Pas was simply too slow to allow a shorter dancer like her to fill out the musical phrase. Her characterization was charming but there was not a strong connection between her and Bart. He didn't seem to be madly in love with her.

It is hard to say anything bad about Bart as a dancer. Excellent technique, very tall and handsome with w refined manner. He can do everything but is not a show off like Ethan Stiefel. My only objection is that he seems a little cold.

I thought the female corps was stronger than the men. None of bullfighters landed a double tour in a clean fifth. I very much enjoyed the characterizations of the villaious governor and Lucien's parents. All well thought out and detailed with clear mime. Something we rarely see here at ABT.

It is impossible to judge a company or a dancer on a signle viewing but what I saw made wish I could see the company on a regular basis.

#21 katharine kanter

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Posted 25 January 2003 - 03:56 PM

The "bullfighters" are not happy about their costume, or about having to play with that ludicrous cape, which gets put down and picked up and put down and picked up, and so on, ad infinitum.

Not to speak of the times people have got tangled in it.

Indeed, possibly the only adult men on this planet who have not yet figured out that other adult men look GROTESQUE tricked out as a bullfighter, are bullfighters. (I decline to discuss that sport here, save to say that it ain't no sport).

Never want to see another adult man tricked out as a bullfighter in my entire life. And especially not a classical dancer.

#22 Viviane


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Posted 04 February 2003 - 02:17 PM

"Somehow life tastes better when I dance" Rudolf Nureyev said once, and I can't help it : everytime I enter the Parisian operahouse Garnier some little voice inside me whispers : Life tastes better when you go and see dance :)
So about two weekends ago I was thrilled to be there for two performances of the brimming "Paquita".
Although fate had strucked again, this time disguised as late cast-announcements so that I found myself with a ticket for the Letestu/Martinez cast that I rather wanted to avoid !
Never mind, despite the poor plot and some 'cosmetic' problems, I adore this ballet ! Raving reviews (Jeannie's was one of them !) made me even travel to Paris -without ticket (!)- a couple of years ago. What can go wrong with a ballet full with sparkling dancing, amazing scenery, crowdy tablaux and gorgeous costumes ?

My ballet-treat started on the 24th.January with Laetitia Pujol as Paquita and Manuel Legris as Lucien.
I you have ever seen Pujol, you easy can imagine with what kind of enthusiasm she tackles this role. Although I'm still convinced that her nomination as Etoile can be discussed (the same with some of the other recent nominations !), I love this dancer : quick and witty with a solid technique (apart from some careless points).
And it was hardly a surprise to discover what an amazing good actor she is ! I found myself smiling at the 'hide behind
cupboard-scene', laughing when she clashed the dish onto the ground in an overenthusastic way....
Her mime-play with Legris was fantastic, I had no complaints about 'non-projecting into the auditorium', comments I heard afterwards.
She was a convincing Paquita and no money on earth could prevent her from protecting her Lucien against all bad intrigues.
I did saw the Pujol/Legris - 'Don Q' too some months ago, and these dancers really make a perfect match.
A pity the casting of Inigo missed all effect : Gil Isoart seemed more to be Inigo's little brother and not a resolute, brute leader of the gipsy's.

My greatest surprise of the evening came with the famous 'pas de trois', better to say : with the male dancer of this trio : Emmanuel Thibault. Even more elegant than his accompanying ladies (Nolwenn Daniel and Géraldine Wiart), this dancer really impressed me.
And so was the audience : spontaneous applause and cheers in all ranks !
Afterwards, my excitement turned into disbelieve when I had to search for his name somewhere in the sujets-ranks :)
I had just seen -after a long while- a dancer with an incredible 'ballon' : his jumps are from another world (!), an artist with a massive 'projection' to the audience...and -for some reason- someone behind the scenes in Paris, considers his shortcomings more important than the positive sides of his dancing ? I would travel to Paris to see only him in the 'pas de trois', time and time again... !

Don't worry, in my enthusiasm for Thibault I don't forget about Manuel Legris ! He is one of my favourites : a stirring performer, a real artist who put his character on stage with conviction...the joy he had himself from dancing the role of Lucien, sparkled onto the audience ! Why oh why is applause so 'measured' in Paris ? After one curtaincall the lights are inexorable : that's it, you can go home !

On the 25th, I was pretty well surprised by Letestu/Martinez this time.
There could not be a greater contrast with the performance I saw the evening before, but that's life :)
Being partners in real life too, I haven't seen a better dance-partner for Martinez so far.
First of all, Letestu has a lot of personality and she added so much detail in her dancing ...hmm...that's why she's a real "étoile" ?
The difference with Pujol's reading of the role was obvious. Letestu's gestures were very refined, complex and so was her Paquita...refined and (a bit) reserved ?
A reserved Paquita, that's not how I dream this role ;) but it was a perfect match with Lucien, a very noble prince : dignified... but where was the joy for life ???
As much Agnes Letestu surprised me with her dancing, so much I was disappointed by her acting. On this point her performance failed completely : she really needed some better coaching in this !?
Karl Paquette's Inigo came closer to my view of the character. He was -at least- a better actor than Isoart the night before, but it puzzles me that POB seems to have difficulties to fill-in this cast as it should ?!.
Not an exceptional pdt this time, but again the male dancer was -far out- the better one.
Italian-born Alessio Carbone danced with vigour and his everlasting enthusiasm is always exciting ! I have fond memories of his dancing in Copenhagen, last September. Someone to watch : he's going up the ranks effortless.
This Paquita ended as it started : with a lack of emotions ! Even when the principal dancers received their applause at the end, one could wonder if it bothered them :( They seemed so very distant. Such artists, but on emotional-level : completely blank ? Maybe it's just me, what did I missed here ?

Overall I loved the performances I saw, everytime a good opportunity to see other -not so welknown-dancers (and finally learn their names !). Paquita is a gratefull ballet for this : the villagers-dances, gipsy's and spanish dancers, the dances at the Ball with some familiar names of the Paris Opera Ballet-schoolperformance last year. The Polonaise, immaculate danced by the (very young !)children of the school and the Grand Pas, with an outstanding Miteki Kudo !

Oh dear I'm already getting nostalgic about it ...I only can hope to be in Paris again soon, always in search for the 'perfect' performance :)
To end : coincidence served me a little treat (to make goodbye less difficult ?) : just before I left I was able to see some extracts on TV of the Nureyev-gala : bits of Hilaire and Leriche, Sylvie, the Corps in Swan Lake and a glimp of the famous "défilée" (oh dear : once, I have to see this in real !). Who said "Life tastes better when I dance" ? ;)

#23 Alexandra


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Posted 04 February 2003 - 02:53 PM

Thank you so much for taking the time to post this, Viviane. We love long, detailed reviews. We're jealous, but we still love to read them :)

#24 Estelle


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Posted 04 February 2003 - 03:20 PM

Viviane, I saw the Pujol- Legris cast too, on Jan 30th, and have little to add to your comments. Legris was wonderful (as usual, would I say), and Pujol was quite convincing as a young, naive Paquita. I had only seen that ballet once before, two seasons ago with Gillot and Martinez (a last-minute cast, as Gillot was supposed to dance with Bart and Martinez with
Letestu but both got injured); while the plot really is far-fetched and the choreography might not be a masterpiece, I had found the whole work very pleasant- and at least it was an opportunity to see much of the corps de ballet, and to see a lot of real variations (more interesting, in my opinion, than most of the new works premiered by the POB in recent seasons). I agree that Martinez was a bit cold, on the other hand Gillot was quite moving. This time, the partnership Pujol- Legris worked very well (it's the first time I see them together in big roles)- and who wouldn't dream of a partner like Legris, so kind and elegant? The only shortcoming I could find is that in my opinion, the costumes were a bit less suited to the blond-haired Pujol and Legris than to the brown-haired Gillot and Martinez, but that's really a detail.

Inigo was danced that night by Stephane Phavorin, who was excellent in that role (and made me regret once more that he's rarely cast), both in the acting (what a bad guy!) and the dancing department. Jean-Marie Didière was Don Lopez, and looked totally villainous (especially with his shaved hair), perhaps a bit over the top sometimes, but so enjoyable (I wish some choreographer would create a role especially for him before he retires in a few seasons, he's so great in all the "senior" roles like Don Quichotte, most bad guys, etc.) Hervé Courtain danced the pas de trois, and was absolutely charming (I'm glad he finally decided to come back from Boston- he's one of the most interesting sujets of the company in my opinion), his partners were Géraldine Wiart and Muriel Zusperreguy, both good but not as sparkling as Fiat and Osta that I had seen in those roles two seasons ago.

The final part was a joy to watch, with so much enthusiasm from the corps de ballet- and a lovely grand pas danced by Isabelle Ciaravola, Caroline Bance, Miteki Kudo, Muriel Zusperreguy, Céline Talon and Marie-Solène Boulet. I didn't find the applause so "restrained" that evening, to me it sounded very enthusiastic!

#25 Alexandra


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Posted 04 February 2003 - 03:30 PM

Here's a photo Estelle took of the curtain call of Paquita -- Estelle, please edit and add details :)

Edited by Estelle:
from right to left: Muriel Hallé as Dona Serafina (I'm not sure), Guillaume Charlot as an officier,
Stéphane Phavorin as the Evil Inigo, Laetitia Pujol as Paquita, Manuel Legris as Lucien d'Hervilly, Nicolas Paul as another officer, Béatrice Martel as the Countess (Lucien's mother) and Jean-Marie Didière as the evil Don Lopez de Mendoza. Missing is Cyril Fleury, as the Count of Hervilly, at the left of the picture.

Of course the guy in black is the orchestra conductor, David Coleman.
I think Miteki Kudo is the dancer with a blue tutu behind Manuel Legris, but am not sure (the dancers with the blue tutus are those of the grand pas).

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#26 Viviane


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Posted 06 February 2003 - 06:12 AM

Estelle, I didn't meant 'restrained' applause (maybe I've put it wrong ?). On the contrary the audience was very enthusiastic, as most of the times I've been in Paris (always a lot of tourists too !).
I'm not so happy about the fact that someone backstage decides -often too soon- to close the curtains and turn-on the lights as if one is limited in the allowed applause-time !?
Most artists 'lives' from the applause too, don't they ? Although Letestu and Martinez didn't seem to care much about it, one should allow the public to express their enthusiasm.

The picture -with the man in black :)- recalled me of one of the topics of my 'post-performance talk' : some members of the orchestra were talking and laughing the whole way through the performance... I'm not used to sitting so close !
I saw it as a lack of respect for the conductor ! :(

#27 Marc Haegeman

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Posted 06 February 2003 - 09:42 AM

I think what Viviane means is that the curtain calls at the POB are far too orchestrated. I often felt like in a shop where it is near closing time: when a certain amount of bows have been done, the curtain stays closed and there are the houselights - the hint is clear, it's time to go home, no matter the enthusiastic response of the audience.

There is indeed quite a difference in the way Legris and Martinez acknowledge the ovations, undoubtedly related to personality. With Legris it's obvious that he stays in the role and enjoys the curtain calls as much as the act of performing itself - for him they are part of the performance. Martinez is well in the role during performance, but at the curtain calls he seems a totally different character: polite, but distant and cool.

That said, I thought that Martinez and Letestu (both very tall dancers) gave a marvelous example of partnership in the "Paquita" I saw. Their duets had (except maybe for a slight misunderstanding during the final shoulder lift) a fluency, a common sense of purpose, an innate rapport in movement not seen with Legris-Pujol.

#28 Estelle


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Posted 06 February 2003 - 11:20 AM

Thanks Marc and Viviane for the explanation! I had misunderstood Viviane's initial comment, and I agree that often the management "stops" the applause too soon (but it seems to vary a little bit depending on the performances), and it's a pity. I wonder why they do that- "Paquita" isn't even a very long ballet?

Marc, perhaps Pujol and Legris need more time: Letestu and Martinez have been dancing together for many years (and they are a couple in real life- it doesn't always make great partners on stage, but probably it means at least that they work a lot together), while the partnership between Pujol and Legris is more recent (ah, to see him again with Monique Loudières...)

#29 su-lian


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Posted 06 February 2003 - 01:28 PM

Indeed, it seems that the length of the curtain calls are a bit short, although they do vary, and the ones after the Hommage to Nureyev were very long. It seemed that the audience and the dancers wanted it to continue. Concerning Paquita, I have seen the same cast two years ago, and nearly the same on the 1st of february this year, the only difference was in the pas de trois which was danced by Miteki Kudo, Alessio Carboneand Muriel Zusperreguy. I know one shouldn't only look at the technique, but I was really impressed by Laetitia Pujol's triple fouettés in the Coda of the Grand Pas. One of my favourite Sujets were nearly all dancing that evening: Isabelle Ciaravola, Guillaume Charlot, Nicolas Paul. I had good seats, in the 1st loge, just next to the stage, so it was very interesting to ba able to see everything from so close. My only regret was to arrive late because of the RER strike, but I only missed about ten minutes, and the rest was so enjoyable that even without the begiining, it was probably one of my best evenings at the opera (even if I got back home at two in the morning because of the same problem), the cast was a very good one. The Grand Pas was certainly very entertaining,but I found the polonaise preceding it a bit too long, but it is only my opinion.

#30 Alexandra


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Posted 06 February 2003 - 01:29 PM

Welcome, su-lian! Your opinions are most welcome and I hope we shall be reading more of them :(

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