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miliosr

2016-2017 Season

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I guess I'll point out the elephant in the room: WHAT French tradition in classical ballet? It started with Marie Taglioni but the POB performs a vague reconstruction by Lacotte. Their Giselle is heavily based on the standard Petipa version that ... pretty much every company performs. Their Coppelia ... do they even perform that anymore? Their Fille mal gardee is by Ashton. The rest of their "classics" are by Nureyev, who was hardly French in training, background, or aesthetics.

The works created on the POB in the 20th century include a lot by Bejart and Petit. They are hardly classical. In fact I wouldn't even call Bejart "ballet" in terms of the fifth position standard. George Balanchine created one notable work on the POB, which was the Palais de Cristal (later Symphony in C). Serge Lifar's ballets are certainly not what you'd consider 5th position classical, either.

The only thing about French ballet that's special is their training and their famous company hierarchy. Their upright backs and necks, their straight 90 degree arabesques, their aristocratic and slightly stiff port de bras. But that is their training, their school. Their company repertoire has no great founding father, it's a mishmash of different choreographers.

And that's why I can't help but feel this whole "uproar" against Millepied's vision is somewhat hysterical. Nureyev was certainly a far lesser choreographer than Balanchine. And some of the contemporary theatrical spectacles commissioned in recent years really didn't stand the test of time. So what's wrong with Millepied introducing some of the finest ballet choreography from the second half of the 20th century and some of the most thoughtful of the early 21st to POB? I don't see any "tradition" harmed by that.

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So what's wrong with Millepied introducing some of the finest ballet choreography from the second half of the 20th century and some of the most thoughtful of the early 21st to POB? I don't see any "tradition" harmed by that.

If I'm being fair to Millepied, I don't think there was anything wrong with his attempt to diversify the company's repertory by bringing it in line (within reason) with dance as he understands it, which would mean trends at the New York City Ballet and the San Francisco Ballet, aspects of the Royal Ballet repertory (i.e. Wayne McGregor) and aspects of his own LA Dance Project (i.e. Merce Cunningham). Where I think he went wrong was with the degree to which he implemented the changes. He may have had a mandate for change from Stephane Lissner but he need not have exercised the mandate to the degree that he did. If he had been 25% less ambitious, and programmed French heritage works as a good faith demonstration that he wasn't trying to obliterate what came before, he might have gotten more buy-in from the company (rather than a faction within it), and he might still be the troupe's director.

The other thing to point out is this: What kind of company does the Paris Opera Ballet want to be in the 21st century? Millepied stated that he thought the POB was world's foremost contemporary dance company and I'm inclined to agree with him. (In 2016, the POB probably dances Pina Bausch better than her legacy company does.) But what kind of classical company does the POB want to be? Millepied had a vision but that vision didn't necessarily square with the one Rudolf Nureyev laid out 30 years ago when he decided that the POB would go "all in" with the great classics. In effect, Nureyev was saying that the business of a classical company is to dance the great classics and to dance them frequently and to dance them at the highest possible level. (Whether the productions were the best is another discussion entirely.)

Based on the fact that Millepied only programmed two classics for 2016-17, the impression left is that the POB is hard-pressed to keep pace with its peers who also perform the great classics -- ABT in New York, the Royal in London and the three great Russian companies -- the Bolshoi, the Mariinsky and the Mikhailovsky. Even if Millepied had lasted as director, I think he would have come to great grief over this eventually. The POB's sense of itself as one of the greatest ballet companies in the world (if not the greatest) and one that can dance the classics as good as, or better than, any other company would have eventually come into conflict with Millepied's vision for the company.

In any event, all of this is like an autopsy now -- the patient rejected the transplant. It's Aurelie Dupont's company and we'll see in a year what she has in store. Based on her public comments so far, it would appear she wants to move the company back into the direction of Nureyev. But only time will tell.

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If I'm being fair to Millepied, I don't think there was anything wrong with his attempt to diversify the company's repertory by bringing it in line (within reason) with dance as he understands it, which would mean trends at the New York City Ballet and the San Francisco Ballet, aspects of the Royal Ballet repertory (i.e. Wayne McGregor) and aspects of his own LA Dance Project (i.e. Merce Cunningham). Where I think he went wrong was with the degree to which he implemented the changes. He may have had a mandate for change from Stephane Lissner but he need not have exercised the mandate to the degree that he did. If he had been 25% less ambitious, and programmed French heritage works as a good faith demonstration that he wasn't trying to obliterate what came before, he might have gotten more buy-in from the company (rather than a faction within it), and he might still be the troupe's director.

Ah, you put a finger on it with "dance as he understands it." Millepied is, despite his early life, an American-bred dancer/director. That is his aesthetic home, and the source of his decisions.

The other thing to point out is this: What kind of company does the Paris Opera Ballet want to be in the 21st century? Millepied stated that he thought the POB was world's foremost contemporary dance company and I'm inclined to agree with him. (In 2016, the POB probably dances Pina Bausch better than her legacy company does.) But what kind of classical company does the POB want to be? Millepied had a vision but that vision didn't necessarily square with the one Rudolf Nureyev laid out 30 years ago when he decided that the POB would go "all in" with the great classics. In effect, Nureyev was saying that the business of a classical company is to dance the great classics and to dance them frequently and to dance them at the highest possible level. (Whether the productions were the best is another discussion entirely.)

And that's why I can't help but feel this whole "uproar" against Millepied's vision is somewhat hysterical. Nureyev was certainly a far lesser choreographer than Balanchine. And some of the contemporary theatrical spectacles commissioned in recent years really didn't stand the test of time. So what's wrong with Millepied introducing some of the finest ballet choreography from the second half of the 20th century and some of the most thoughtful of the early 21st to POB? I don't see any "tradition" harmed by that.

You both raise a number of fundamental questions here, some of which apply far beyond the POB. The further along we get in the 21st century, and the wider we cast the net for ballet repertory, the challenge will be to maintain integrity in all of the myriad directions we see the art form moving. If you're going to be a company whose skills and aesthetic is grounded in classicism, you need the time and resources to maintain that connection. If you're going to extend your reach to more contemporary works, you need to find a way to add those skills to your abilities. And if you're going to participate in the creation of hybrid works, that's another commitment of time and resources.

And if one of your goals is to be a distinct organization, different than your colleagues, that's an additional challenge. Many years ago now, Deborah Jowitt wrote a review of some company's season with the headline "Gotta Get A Goh." This was back when Cho San Goh was the (pardon the wordplay) go-to choreographer, someone working creatively in the neo-classical tradition. Although he was the resident choreographer at Washington Ballet, his work was performed by many different companies -- he was becoming a part of the international repertory. We can't know what his career would have been like if he hadn't died so young, and how his aesthetic would have affected the direction of the art form, but in one way his trajectory is nearly identical to current artists like Wheeldon, Ratmansky, Dawson, Peck, and Pite. Everyone wants something by them, and if everyone gets some, we'll spend more time thinking about what it is that makes a company distinct from its peers, rather than just like them.

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In her April 29th review of Maguy Marin's Les applaudissements ne se mangent pas at the Opera in the Financial Times (sorry, you have to register to read it), Laura Cappelle concludes with the following observations:

"ts presence at the Palais Garnier raises the perennial question of appropriate repertoire for a national ballet company."

and

"If the issue is the preservation of major contemporary works, perhaps it's time to create a national contemporary dance company. Turning ballet dancers into jacks of all trades isn't the solution."

Honestly, I think that horse has left the barn. First under Madame Lefevre and then this season under Millepied, the French already have a national contemporary dance company (or at least the embryo of one) in the form of that portion of the Paris Opera Ballet roster specializing in contemporary dance.

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... the French already have a national contemporary dance company (or at least the embryo of one) in the form of that portion of the Paris Opera Ballet roster specializing in contemporary dance.

I'm going to raise what might be an unpopular opinion here, and say that this isn't necessarily a bad thing. These contemporary works seem to need dancers who are trained to a very high level in classical techniques, and if we agree about nothing else, we agree that the French school does just that. It would take a significant investment of resources to create a separate, sister institution for contemporary work -- if it's possible to run a kind of conjoined twins company, perhaps that's a solution to the difficulty.

I was under the impression that the Lyon Opera Ballet functioned as a national contemporary ensemble, but perhaps I'm not understanding their mission.

My concern is that the POB doesn't seem to tour much at all, which leaves much of France without ready access to their "national" company.

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I'm going to raise what might be an unpopular opinion here, and say that this isn't necessarily a bad thing. These contemporary works seem to need dancers who are trained to a very high level in classical techniques, and if we agree about nothing else, we agree that the French school does just that. It would take a significant investment of resources to create a separate, sister institution for contemporary work -- if it's possible to run a kind of conjoined twins company, perhaps that's a solution to the difficulty.

I was under the impression that the Lyon Opera Ballet functioned as a national contemporary ensemble, but perhaps I'm not understanding their mission.

My concern is that the POB doesn't seem to tour much at all, which leaves much of France without ready access to their "national" company.

POB is not a touring company (there is also Paris in the title of the company)... They travel a little though. this year they are doing a visit to Brittany and the past years, they have gone to Grenoble, Montpellier, Biarritz, Créteil.

I think that behind the idea of certain people to create a contemporary dance group is to focus on the classical group :wink:

I do believe it’s interesting to have a repertoire of different nature when you have a company of 154 dancers and about 150 shows a year. If all the dancers entering the corps at 18 can believe they can make their way to the top of classical ballet, they’re not going to become all soloists! It’s a good way to diversify your activity, sometimes at the top of a certain repertoire while you are a cygnet or a character artist the rest of the time. It may also be that being a cygnet sometimes, that is practicing classical technique at a very high level, makes you better in contemporary, or at least gives you that particularity (that some don’t like but I do) to be a “special” contemporary dancer because of your classical background. It gives you also some rewards employs people at their best.

Paris Opera Ballet has an obligation of diversity in its repertoire anyway in its mandate.

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Probably the only thing I agree with Millepied about is that the Paris Opera Ballet is now one of the foremost contemporary dance companies in the world. (Just read the reviews the POB received for Pina Bausch's Rite of Spring back in the Fall. Those were some of the best reviews the company has received all season.)

As to why this is so, I can't be certain. Is it that the company's training base is so strong that it allows the company to "rock" the contemporary repertory? Or has 20 years of focus on the contemporary repertory (under Madame Lefevre and Millepied) moved the company in that direction? Or is it because the POB roster is so big that the company can diversify into two different directions? I just don't know.

I'm curious to see where Aurelie Dupont takes the company. She built her name on the heavy duty classical repertory. And yet, she has spoken often about how working with Pina Bausch was a big breakthrough for her as an artist.

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If all the dancers entering the corps at 18 can believe they can make their way to the top of classical ballet, they’re not going to become all soloists! It’s a good way to diversify your activity, sometimes at the top of a certain repertoire while you are a cygnet or a character artist the rest of the time. It may also be that being a cygnet sometimes, that is practicing classical technique at a very high level, makes you better in contemporary, or at least gives you that particularity (that some don’t like but I do) to be a “special” contemporary dancer because of your classical background. It gives you also some rewards employs people at their best.

This reminds me of the solo that Jerome Bel made for Véronique Doisneau on her retirement from the POB corps, which included her role as a swan in Swan Lake -- she stood still for a big chunk of the score, as she would do in the full performance.

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As to why this is so, I can't be certain. Is it that the company's training base is so strong that it allows the company to "rock" the contemporary repertory? Or has 20 years of focus on the contemporary repertory (under Madame Lefevre and Millepied) moved the company in that direction? Or is it because the POB roster is so big that the company can diversify into two different directions? I just don't know.

Or is this now the direction that contemporary dance is taking, so that we expect that kind of ballet-inflected performance style?

I'm hoping that this will be one of the topics at the upcoming Contemporary Ballet conference in NYC later this month - I cannot go, but I imagine that the conversations will bleed out into the bigger world.

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Probably the only thing I agree with Millepied about is that the Paris Opera Ballet is now one of the foremost contemporary dance companies in the world. [...]

As to why this is so, I can't be certain. Is it that the company's training base is so strong that it allows the company to "rock" the contemporary repertory? Or has 20 years of focus on the contemporary repertory (under Madame Lefevre and Millepied) moved the company in that direction? Or is it because the POB roster is so big that the company can diversify into two different directions? I just don't know.

When Millepied took the director position he specified in an interview that he wanted the company to do more ballet-based contemporary work as opposed to the non-ballet based contemporary work which they were dancing (at least that's how I read it); that would have been a step in a more ballet-centric direction even if neo-classical. But for good or bad, and whatever the reasons, he didn't really have a chance to move the company in any direction. 18-19 of the 20 past years were Lefevre.

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Or is this now the direction that contemporary dance is taking, so that we expect that kind of ballet-inflected performance style?

To some extent, it's already happened and it's what Erick Hawkins warned about: Once the bodies get stretched, you won't be able to recapture how modern dance looked when the bodies weren't stretched.

When Millepied took the director position he specified in an interview that he wanted the company to do more ballet-based contemporary work as opposed to the non-ballet based contemporary work which they were dancing (at least that's how I read it); that would have been a step in a more ballet-centric direction even if neo-classical.

You've hit on something I've been thinking about for quite a while; namely, how so many of these artistic directors are trying to keep too many styles in repertory. It's as if they want their companies to be like art museums in the sense that the biggest and best art museums try to represent many different styles and periods. Accompanying this trend toward trying to be all things to all people is (to me, anyway) a conceit that ballet technique will allow a dancer to dance anything equally well. But I don't believe that dance companies can be as wide-ranging as museums or that ballet technique is suitable for all dance works. I've seen ballet companies perform masterpieces from the modern canon, and the performances are never as good as they are with the base companies that perform the works with the true modern technique.

I suppose the great thing about the Paris Opera Ballet is that it's roster is so large that much specialization can occur (maybe too much so under Madame Lefevre.) All of which gets back to the idea that the POB is two companies in one: classical and contemporary.

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All of which gets back to the idea that the POB is two companies in one: classical and contemporary.

Wasn't this effectively the case while Carolyn Carlson was a member of the company in the 1970s? (Perhaps I am misinformed. I know very little about the POB during this period.)

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Wasn't this effectively the case while Carolyn Carlson was a member of the company in the 1970s?

In the specific case of Carolyn Carlson, she created (or had a hand in creating) 7 works between 1973 and 1980:

http://memopera.fr/FichePers.cfm?NumInt=27

Hardly any of them saw the light of day during Madame Lefevre's tenure.

Her most enduring work at the Opera was a Lefevre commission -- Signes, from 1997. It made it back on stage in 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2013.

I don't know what Millepied think of Carlson's work. Since she's spent most of her working life in Europe and her work is virtually unknown in the United States, Millepied may not have had much (or any) exposure to her repertory.

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Carlson's biography mentions the GRTOP, or Groupe de Recherches Théâtrales de l'Opéra de Paris, and the impression I got from reading a POB review a looong time ago (like defunct-Ballet-News-long-time-ago) was that it was essentially a modern dance division within the POB. But as I said, I have very little familiarity with the pre-Nureyev company, I'm relying on very old memories of a review I probably read only once, and I don't know whether the group performed anything other than Carlson's work.

http://carolyn-carlson.com/carolyn-carlson/biographie/

For my part, I don't think such a modern dance company is needed within the POB. France has plenty of contemporary dance companies, which often displaced classical ballet troupes, resident at opera houses, and Paris already has the Théâtre National de Chaillot dedicated to presenting contemporary dance.

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From Jack Anderson's 1997 survey of modern dance, Art Without Boundaries:

"Carolyn Carlson . . . performed with the [Alwin] Nikolais troupe from 1964 to 1971, after which she settled in Europe. Her dancing and choreography so impressed the management of the Paris Opera that in 1973 that august institution appointed her danseuse etoile choreographique (a title invented expressly for her) and she headed her own group within the organization. In 1980, she left Paris to head a new group at La Fenice, the Venice opera house, remaining there until 1984, . . . " (pp. 273-74)

"Carlson's successor there [at the Paris Opera] came from Le Theatre du Silence . . . a modern dance company organized in La Rochelle in 1971 by Brigitte Lefevre and Jacques Garnier . . ." (p. 274)

"There [at the Opera] he [Jacques Garnier] organized GRCOP (Groupe de Recherché Choregraphique de l'Opera de Paris), a modern dance group which nevertheless drew its personnel from the ranks of the Paris Opera Ballet. Until Garnier's unexpected death at the age of forty-eight in 1989, when the company disbanded, GRCOP offered a varied repertoire and its choreographers included Carolyn Carlson, the French modern dancer Maguy Marin (note: programmed this season by Millepied), the German choreographer Susanne Linke, and such Americans as Paul Taylor and David Gordon." (p. 274)

So, as much grief as Madame Lefevre takes for moving the company too far in the direction of modern/contemporary dance, the changes were already afoot before she came to power.

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Thank you! :tiphat:

So, as much grief as Madame Lefevre takes for moving the company too far in the direction of modern/contemporary dance, the changes were already afoot before she came to power.

Indeed, given her background, the powers that appointed her probably expected her to program exactly as she did.

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To some extent, it's already happened and it's what Erick Hawkins warned about: Once the bodies get stretched, you won't be able to recapture how modern dance looked when the bodies weren't stretched.

Perhaps slightly :off topic:, but it isn't a problem only for modern dance. To my eye, the proliferation of extremely loosey-goosey bodies is having an deleterious effect on the quality of movement in ballet, where an ever-increasing number of dancers resemble marionettes, whose limbs seem barely connected to their trunks, and this is a problem far more serious than contorted line.

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Perhaps slightly :off topic:, but it isn't a problem only for modern dance. To my eye, the proliferation of extremely loosey-goosey bodies is having an deleterious effect on the quality of movement in ballet, where an ever-increasing number of dancers resemble marionettes, whose limbs seem barely connected to their trunks, and this is a problem far more serious than contorted line.

I fully agree with you. It's starting to be worrying.

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Oh my. That's the second program to change. It's a shame to lose the Tudor, given that performances of his works are so infrequent.

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I thought The Leaves Are Fading was an odd repertory choice to begin with given that it's mostly performed in the United States and isn't part of the world repertory. But this sentence in the Le Figaro article caught my eye:

"Il faut dire que les danseurs de l'Opera de Paris n'apprecient guere les repetiteurs d'Antony Tudor."

Am I translating correctly that there's an issue between the dancers and the repetiteurs from the Tudor Trust?

As for the new Millepied piece, I never understood why Lissner thought it would work having him make new pieces in 2016-17 when he flamed out so spectacularly as Director of the Ballet. What makes it worse is that there have been photos all over Instagram of him working on the new piece!

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I thought The Leaves Are Fading was an odd repertory choice to begin with given that it's mostly performed in the United States and isn't part of the world repertory. But this sentence in the Le Figaro article caught my eye:

"Il faut dire que les danseurs de l'Opera de Paris n'apprecient guere les repetiteurs d'Antony Tudor."

Am I translating correctly that there's an issue between the dancers and the repetiteurs from the Tudor Trust?

As for the new Millepied piece, I never understood why Lissner thought it would work having him make new pieces in 2016-17 when he flamed out so spectacularly as Director of the Ballet. What makes it worse is that there have been photos all over Instagram of him working on the new piece!

Yes, you're translating correctly. Strange bit to add in the article though.

In response to the news today, people seem mostly relieved to have the ties cut. He has done a lot of damage already.

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