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katharine kanter

Dunn/Balanchine/Bausch programme

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Saturday May 18th - finally managed to get round to see the Stravinsky triple bill on at Garnier.

For this writer, it was actually a double bill, because Pina Bausch and I do not mix. That woman is a plague on all opera houses, her choreography is a disgrace, and I refuse to see anyone, let alone some of the world's leading theatrical artists, rolling about starkers in the mud.

She's got her own theatre and captive audience, at Wuppertal, in which to exhibit her peculiarly unhealthy self-indulgence, and I think that's more than enough public subsidy for anyone with so paltry a talent.

Enough said.

On to Dunn. Dear Brigitte Lefevre, PLEASE ! You've got the Rolls Royce of dancers at your beck and call. PLEASE stop turning the POB into an annex of the Bobigny Break Dance studio for delinquent minors.

This particular piece of inconsequence was "choreographed" (again, why dignify it with that word ?) in the early 1980s, at the height of Thatcherism I suppose. It was a bad enough era. And cannot we be allowed to forget it ?

Some first-class dancing though from Laetitia Pujol, who seemed absolutely liberated, and from a person whom I believe was Simone Valastro (fellow with a shock of very frizzy hair - could someone enlighten me ? ). Also noticed Lise-Marie Jourdain, the tiniest girl in the troupe, who is a very amusing, witty dancer one would like to see more of. Everyone else was wearing a sign, written in Invisible Ink, on the back of their heads: WHY ARE WE HERE ?

On to Balanchine, my enemy. Cannot stand the stuff, but I have to say that Aurélie Dupont in Aria Two was, as always, marvellous, not to speak of Stéphane Phavorin who simply flew through the airs. Why he is not cast more is a complete mystery.

Mlle. Dupont's turns are so stable, so perfectly centred on axis, that you could set a china cup on her head, and the tea would not spill. She is a great audience favourite, and one can see why: not only is she jaw-droppingly pretty, and the only female principal in the world today who is, shall we say, curvaceous, but her warm, friendly personality manages to make even Balanchine seem remotely human.

It is interesting to see the intelligence with which she has developed her musculature and technique. Her full, strong arms are completely supported from powerful flank muscles, they "come up" from the sides, rather than dangling from the shoulder. The small muscles on the inside of the leg are fully developed, the leg is REALLY turned out "from inside and under" so the thrust in beats is effortless. Year by year, month by month, her technique IMPROVES, and the musicality as well. This woman is a worker, and it shows. And, may I add, she does NOT pick up the leg.

The comparison with the étoile Mlle. Letestu, who danced Aria One, is always unfortunate and should not, perhaps, be dwelt upon. Suffice it to say that it is no doubt too late in her career for her to develop épaulement, but the upper back has now collapsed, it is both totally rigid, and slumped. The woman needs help, the more so, as she is almost six-foot tall and the attrition on so "centrifugal" a structure is enormous. Such is the bankruptcy of that particular approach to technique, much favoured at the POB school in the 1980s. If we are to judge by such amazing new graduates as Mlle. Ould Braham, the tide would appear to have turned.

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Originally posted by katharine kanter

Some first-class dancing though from Laetitia Pujol, who seemed absolutely liberated, and from a person whom I believe was Simone Valastro (fellow with a shock of very frizzy hair - could someone enlighten me ? ).  

That does souns like Simone Valastro. Or it might have been Martin Chaix, they look a bit the same.

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Thank you, Katharine -- I enjoyed reading this immensely. As often happens, we agree on the principles but differ on details. I admire Bausch -- not as a ballet choreographer, of course, but as a dance choreographer. And I like "Violin Concerto" and have seen some performances (with Martins and Mazzo, especially) that were very moving.

But I very much enjoyed reading what you had to say. I could see the performance -- thanks for posting this :)

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I saw that program yesterday (May 21st).

I share Katharine's opinion about "Pulcinella"- in my opinion, it could have remained among the forgotten works of the POB's repertory without any regrets... It had been premiered by the POB in 1980, with the principals Jean Guizerix and Wilfride Piollet in the main roles (Guizerix was involved in the staging). I guess it must have looked very experimental to the POB audience then, but now there have been so many contemporary works added to the repertory that it doesn't even have the advantage of novelty, and I don't think it aged well. It featured a couple of leading dancers (but those were rather unsubstantial roles), plus a corps de ballet of 7 male and 7 female dancers, all of them in rather unflattering costumes in various shades of pink, red, blue and black which generally looked like pajamas (and for some of them, pajamas having suffered from some unfortunate shrinking when they were washed)- those costumes, by Olivier Beriot, were new for that production, but given the result, it didn't seem to me that it had been worth changing...

The music was pleasant, and I enjoyed the singing by Louise Callinan, Francois Piolino and Yuri Kissin, but I found the choreography itself quite uninteresting, looking like some sub-sub-Cunningham, with a lot of things happening on stage simultaneously but none of them being especially interesting (and a somewhat repetitive vocabulary). In the main roles, Laetitia Pujol (replacing an injured Clairemarie Osta) and Lionel

Delanoe did their best, with some occasional amusing, rhytmical movements, but on the whole there was little to do with such roles.

That work lasted for 38 minutes, so it left plenty of time to look at the dancers and to try to identify them. It was good to see some relatively senior dancers of the company who are not cast very often these days, like Cécile Sciaux and Jean-Christophe Guerri, and also some young "surnumeraires" (dancers with a temporary contract) like Sarah Kora Dayanova, or a charming young tall, brown-haired young man who probably was Gregory Dominiak and displayed much enthusiasm. My fiance, who had had plenty of time to think about it, tried an English pun at the end, wondering if the choreographer's name was in fact "Dull"... :)

Fortunately, the rest of the program was much better. Unlike Katharine, I'm a fan of Balanchine, and I was looking forward to seeing "Violin Concerto", which I had seen only once in a "Balanchine-Stravinsky" program in december 1996

(and, given the current programming, I'm afraid we might have to wait another six years at least before seeing it again). I was disappointed to see that Manuel Legris, who was supposed to dance the second pas de deux with Aurelie Dupont, was absent because of an injury (he got injured last friday in "Don Quichotte")- I haven't managed to see him yet this season, and am feeling withdrawal symptoms :( But Stephane Phavorin, who replaced him, was very good, and partnered Aurelie Dupont very well. As Katharine, I regret that he isn't cast much (a partial explanation might be that he has suffered from several injuries in recent seasons). The first aria was danced by Marie-Agnes Gillot and Jean-Guillaume Bart; I was not entirely convinced by Gillot, who looked a bit absent sometimes (but I think that casting her in three different roles in "Don Quichotte" plus that role wasn't very wise), and her partnership with Bart, who was his usual excellent self (and great partner), was a bit cold. I preferred the second aria, with the lovely Aurelie Dupont and Phavorin. The corps de ballet was excellent.

Pina Bausch's "Rite of Spring" had made a strong impression when it had entered the POB's repertory in 1997, and has been programmed regularly since then. It is one of Pina Bausch's earliest works (it had been created in 1975 for her company), and, judging from the excerpts of other works of her I've seen, probably is more "dancey" and less

theatrical. It begins with some technical people putting a lot of soil on the stage of the opera, with the lights on (they were applaused by the audience when they left :) ). Then, from the first minutes, it is a very violent and striking work (of course, the music helps!), with 16 male and 16 female dancers on stage. The female dancers have rather transparent beige short dresses (a bit like night gowns), while the men have dark blue trousers and bare chests. There is a red piece of cloth at the middle of the stage- which is in fact a red dress, which will be worn by a female dancer

(the "Chosen one"). The roles are not very differentiated, except two at the end (the "Chosen one", danced by Eleonora Abbagnato with much talent, and a "chief", danced by the wonderful Wilfried Romoli). The dancers all become quickly dirty, and it becomes more and more exhausting for them to dance on that ground...

It was interesting to compare the way Balanchine and Bausch used the corps de ballet. In Balanchine's work, there is a fascinating way to use symmetries, to rearrange the dancers on stage, or to have some groups of 4 or 8 dancers follow the soloists (and the black and white costumes make the stage look a little bit like an animated text or musical score...) In Bausch's work, the dancers almost always move in a unison way, but, while in general I tend to find unison quite boring after a while, in her work it remains interesting because it is the shapes formed by the groups of dancers which change: the steps are the same for all of them (with a lot of almost Grahamian contractions), but sometimes they move in a large circle, sometimes diagonal lines, sometimes the men and women are in two big groups and sometimes they are united or grouped by two, etc. The transition steps between the shapes are not very interesting (a lot of running), but it is composed in a clever way, and reflects well the mood of the score.

Not surprisingly, Bausch's striking "Sacre" was the most applaused work of the evening. The Paris Opera Orchestra, lead by Vello Pahn, had its share of the applauses too.

Now one part of the company is preparing a tour to Southern America with Balanchine's "Jewels", while another part will dance Bejart's "Le Concours" in Bastille in June and July.

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I'm a bit jet-lagged, and I came back earlier than planned. But here's my brief opinion of the night of the 21st.

First, it was my first performance at the Garnier. It's like being in a jewel box, it's gorgeous, but it was a bit warm, and I was in one of the boxes in the second seat and the woman in front of me was fidgety, so my discomfort surely adds to my review!

I didn't like the Dunn piece at all. Unfortunately I couldn't identify any of the dancers either, so... the second girl in blue (with the skirt) was the only one I liked. I have a hard time when the music doesn't go with the movement, I was brought up that ballet was an extension of the music. I just didn't see it in the piece and it wasn't enough to just enjoy it, I kept trying to figure out what the underlying theme/message was, and it just seemed liked dancers running around, striking poses and then coming center stage to, what a friend refers to as, the ape dance, (feet spread out, semi plie, and shake it)

I was looking forward to seeing a Balanchine piece performed outside of NY. I came away mixed. I think the corps "got it". They were clean, sharp, precise and seemed to understand the rigidness of their parts. And they were completely together, by far better than NYCB.

The principals on the other hand didn't seem to either understand or were phoning in. I couldn't tell and it's not a fair assesement as I don't know the dancers. But the hands were kind of blase. There's a part which to Stravinsky's score, the hands pronate and supinate, very to the music, here both women just seemed to flip flop, not the sharp count one-flip-two-flip

Again, I don't know Paris Opera, from a NYer stand point, it looked like a workshop performance versus someone who's been dancing it for a while.

But I still enjoyed it!

I left after that, I couldn't take the fidgety woman in front of me anymore!

I have a lot of catching up to do. And Estelle, I apologize I didn't get in touch with you, I had a hectic schedule when I was there, maybe in the fall when I'm back.

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Thanks for your review, Calliope. I'm sorry that you had to shorten your stay...

It isn't easy to be in the second seats in the boxes (and in the third row of seats one basically has to stand up for the whole performance, and to hope that the people in the first two ranks are quiet!) Actually I even prefer the amphitheater (that's were I was for that performance): the seats are very uncomfortable, especially in the last rows, and it's very far from the stage, but

at least one can see the whole stage from there.

About "Pulcinella": it's hard to remember who was dancing what (all the more are the roles all were as boring ;-) ) but it might have been Mirentchu Battut or Myriam Kamionka.

Good recovering from the jet lag! And see you next fall perhaps (I don't know if I'll still be living in Paris then...)

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