31st December 2008.
Clara - Svetlana Lunkina (invited)
Drosselmeyer / Le Prince - Jérémie Bélingard
Luisa - Géraldine Wiart
Fritz - Mallory Gaudion
Le Père - Vincent Cordier
La Mère - Nathalie Aubin
Le Grand-père - Stéphane Elizabé
La Grand-mère - Cécile Sciaux
Le Royaume des Neiges: Deux Flacons - Myriam Ould-Braham, Ludmilla Pagliero
Danse Espagnole: Aurélia Bellet, Vanessa Legassy, Karine Villagrassa, Bruno Bouché, Vincent Chaillet, Axel Ibot
Danse Arabe: Isabelle Ciaravola, Christophe Duquenne, Charlotte Ranson, Valentine Colasante, Marina Guizien
Danse Russe: Natacha Gilles, Carole Maison, Christine Peltzer, Amandine Albisson, Yann Chailloux, Florimond Lorieux, Samuel Murez, Alexis Saramite
Danse Chinoise: Josua Hoffalt, Yong-Geol Kim, Nicolas Paul
Pastorale: Christelle Garnier, Ludmilla Pagliero, Bruno Bouché
Maitres de ballet: Clotilde Vayer, Laurent Hilaire
Direction Musicale: Kevin Rhodes
First of all, I only recently got around to informing myself on the Paris Opera Ballet. I watched some documentaries and was absolutely thrilled by Nurejev's work - beforehand, I had never thought them special. Well, that's what happens when you are "ignorant" (Latin for: lacking knowledge).
I didn't know about the casting until I bought the programme and I was thrilled to see that Svetlana Lunkina was invited for Clara. Can anybody imagine my emotions - seeing the Nutcracker on New Year's Eve in Paris, with the best Corps de Ballet in the world, and one of the finest principals there are - from the Bolshoi - and such a dear and beautiful one as Lunkina?
I have to admit I only admired pictures of her, but I found her casted as Clara an extremely good idea. She would match perfectly.
And she did. Her stage presence is very interesting: she doesn't grab your eye aggressively, she invites you to watch her and captivates you... it seems that her artistry gently pours over your mind and your soul instead of violently shaking you (as was the case with Zakharova in Giselle, 2006). She was so young, so fresh, so naive. Her emotions were honest and not 'attached' to her face, she was very original (or so she seemed). Every second there was something going on about her, another emotion washing away the previous. It was wonderful. I sat there and stared at her with my mouth open, ha ha. Later on, in the Second Act, she was completely changed: she matured a well-proportioned amount, suddenly she was royal and set. Stable. I had always thought that Clara would have to smile throughout both acts, but I was so wrong! Svetlana Lunkina had a relaxed facial expression that showed how well she dominated herself, what a great princess she had become, ... I cannot find words for this miracle. Not for one second was she dull to look at, not a single negative thought crossed my mind.
Her variations in the Second Act were technically brilliant, her Russian arms wonderful and her beautiful lines and feet to die for. But overall, it was 'put together'. Her whole presence would fit perfectly into the ballet. She took me with her on her voyage, she gently took me by my hand and brought me to her wonderland.
What pleased me was that she wasn't too boney - I was used to the ribs being visible, as I saw with Zakharova, Saidakova and Semionova.
As to Le Prince, I have to admit that I didn't pay much attention to him. Sometimes I'd look at him and see that there was, for my taste, proper admiration for Clara. He looked very... Spanish? Passionate? I don't know if I'd say he's put perfectly into this ballet, but the two of them definitely meshed very well. (And this is something I say rarely because to me, most male dancers aren't good actors) Their dancing was so synchronized! I have never seen such a technically perfect Pas de Deux. They were wonderful, just wonderful. Jérémie mastered the technically very demanding Nurejev choreography well as the steps seemed very complicated (and especially demanding in comparison to other choreographers. Nurejev does challange male dancers, and I appreciate this a lot). Overall, I believe he did well.
The Madames of the First Act were all so beautiful; the French definitely know whom to place as Madames. The whole setting was beautiful; it was Csar Russia in its finest. It was not too small or too big and very home-y. It felt comfortable, warm and a perfect place for such a Christmas miracle to happen. The children were extremely 'real'. They fought and laughed and danced together, and I was surprised to see an expression of childish anger and roughness on the face of one little ballerina-in-the-making... the children made it all even more precious, even more real. It might be strange to say that the Nutcracker needs to be close to reality, but in order to bring the audience into heaven, "down to earth" is needed. Then again, the staging was not boring or normal in any way, it was still very special and beautiful. It was so warm... Nurejev is a genius... he definitely is. If I compare this setting to that of the Bolshoi's (2003, New Year's Eve performance with Nina Kaptsova), there is all the difference there could be.
Moreover, the Grand-père was funny... the idea that an actually strict, classical ballet could be funny, amusing and classical at the same time completely skipped my mind.
Now, I had huge estimations for Myriam but she disappointed me a lot. There was no expression of joy on her face but she seemed too neutral. The other dancer, Ludmilla Pagliero, was very dashing indeed. (But I have to say that the head piece wasn't exactly helping Myriam's beauty.) What I disliked is that you could distinguish those Corps dancers who loved dancing from those who were overly concentrated and not in the making of a fairy tale.
Oh, the setting! Oh, it was so beautiful... what a fairy tale. I had never understood how ballet could create such a thing, I had always read about it and thought: "Why, I never had the feeling I was in a fairy tale!" But this time, I definitely have. Oh, the snow! Oh, these costumes! Oh, this setting!
The First Act was over too soon, but the Second Act was extremely beautiful, too. The Waltz of the Flowers was very classic as to the setting and the costumes, but the choreography wasn't too stricly classic - it seemed to be the counterpart to all the gold. It was still classic, but the steps weren't what I was used to, and it was very original. Have I mentioned Nurejev being a genius?
I'm afraid the Spanish Dance didn't move me; Géraldine Wiart lacked the needed passion for a dazzling Spanish performance. But overall, the choreography was beautiful and the costumes weren't the 'usual' red and black, but rather a bordeaux meshed with black... beautiful.
The Arabian Dance! Dear God, it was... so different. I had never thought that one could even 'think' of such an original thing. Isabelle Ciaravola was ... I have no words. What a dancer. It was so amorous, so sensual and erotic in a subtle manner. The fact that it was all these things in a subtle manner actually makes it 'good' and not cheap or trashy or unsuited for such a ballet. How could two dancers have such a chemistry? How could they take me with them into 101 Arabian Nights, into a completely different setting and wonderland? How could they make me actually feel in this different world? They made me realise what it was all about, these Arabian Nights, and my heart opened up for such unexpected emotions... no, honestly. Isabelle is ... I will never forget these minutes. Never.
The Russian Dance was very amusing and funny - a satire practically. I loved how, at the end of the Second Act, (I believe it was) Nathalie Aubin crossed herself and made this wonderful facial expression - rolling her eyes and crazily falling backwards into the arms of Vincent Cordier - I laughed. It was gorgeous. No, Nathalie had wonderful faces to pull and it was just amusing and nice to watch and funny.
The Chinese Dance, I'm afraid, didn't really touch me except for the brilliant choreography (is it meant to express anything? I reckon, no).
The Pastorale, in other stagings the Parisian Dance, was, I'm afraid, not as well rehearsed as the other dances. I believe Nurejev's love for two females dancing with a male is very challenging for these dancers and I have a lot of respect for those who can put up with the needed technical and musical skills - but Christelle and Ludmilla didn't exactly mesh.
Corps: Wonderfully synchronized except for very few parts. Overall, the Snow Flakes were much better than the Waltz, but the Waltz didn't touch me as much because the dancers didn't seem to enjoy it - and they weren't as synchronized. I honestly cannot compare their performance to any other Corps because those live performances I can well remember captured my attention for the principal, Zakharova, for example - and when I saw the Royal Ballet, I was absolutely disappointed by the Corps' performance. I can only compare two DVDs, that of Swan Lake with the Kirov and with the POB - and the POB one is definitely more synchronized and dashing.
One thing is extremely remarkable, though, and I had known this before but refused to accept it: the French aren't good jumpers. Nurejev loved grand jetes, he himself performed them well (DVDs), but maybe he himself refused to see that the school of the Opera doesn't teach enough technique in that area.
I only saw one dancer with hands I didn't like. But: the second Svetlana Lunkina danced again, I saw a great difference between her arms and the POB ones and I have to say, hers are so much more beautiful. They were so soft, so wonderful. It was the same matter with the jetes.
The male Corps was wonderfully synchronized, too, something MANY other companies completely lack. But on the other hand, they were all very noisy (especially when compared with Lunkina who was as light and silent as a feather). Sometimes, their landings' noise would fit in perfectly with the music, ha ha ha...
Audience: Shocking! Not one flower for Lunkina, only a few "bravo"s and not a single audience member stood up while applauding. I felt so sorry for her, because in Moscow, people would get up and stay close to the orchestra pit until the very, very last curtain call and they would shout "bravo" for ages and send the ballerina many flowers. The French audience seemed very arrogant, I'm afraid, and not very thankful.
In the end, it was the perfect performance, the perfect staging: A Corps technically thrilling, a very Russian and to-die-for ballerina, a Prince whom I didn't ignore (and that says something), a choreography that seemed fresh but classical at the same time, costumes that were too beautiful to be true, a stage that was decorated so wonderfully that I couldn't believe my eyes - ladies and gentlemen, and : a fairy tale. A fairy tale set in a very Russian era, a fairy tale so human that it took the whole audience with it.