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Legris Gala in Tokyo

Naoko S

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A week-long dance extravaganza in Tokyo, led by Manuel Legris, sadly came to a close yesterday. I’d like to congratulate M. Legris & participating dancers to have survived killing heat here (even in the evenings they hit 30C!) and staged another successful gala performances. They presented two programmes in Tokyo, both were well structured, but more heavy-weight Programme <B>, featuring two of the exceptional senior/retired etoiles, somewhat eclipsed lighter and more fun-orientated Programme <A>. (Well, being fair, it’s likely that Programme <B> impressed me more simply because I saw them 3 days-in-a-row whereas had a chance to see Programme <A> just once!)

Programme <B> opened with the sumptuous wedding scene from Lacotte’s “Paquita”, with Legris and Aurelie Dupont as a leading pair, joined by Corps ladies of Tokyo Ballet. This was the only pure-classical piece Legris chose for himself in this gala programme, and he wasn’t shy to show off his technical prowess as well as an outstanding quality as a danseur noble. Literally he controlled every movement; his supporting skills were as soft and smooth as silk – I know of no one who can move on stage with such ease and liberty as Legris does. His partner Dupont was no less magnificent - I bet every one gasped at her sheer, authoritative beauty and subtle yet assured technique. What a pleasant surprise to see the ballerina became a grand dame of ballet world in such a small space of time! Together they bursted into full bloom and showed an exemplary performance of classical ballet.

The company’s young Sujets, Muriel Zusperreguy and Herve Courtain conveyed the spirit of Balanchine’s “Stars & Stripes” in a way only the young could do; they were dangerously bold, full of energy and absolutely unstoppable. Particularly impressive was Courtain’s virtuoso dancing, which all of us will surely miss once he departs for Canada (that’s what I heard, his leaving POB shortly). A brief cool-down air, provided by a serene piece titled “Moments Shared” (choreography by van Dantzig) with Abbagnato/Bullion didn’t last long, as another flamboyant Balanchine piece “Tchaikovsky PdD”, quickly followed. As the piece went, it became apparent the lady - one of the company’s most promising rising star, Dorothee Gilbert - was miles ahead of her partner, a young Corps dancer Audric Bezard, who was a last-minute stand-in replacing injured Herve Moreau. At tender age of 20 (or 21?) Gilbert is already a complete dancer, and this piece suited her like a dream; she’s got charms, rhythm and attack – above all the music and her body were in perfect tune you could almost hear the music flowed from her sweet yet strictly precise movements. What a joy!

And now the time to get serious - the absolute highlight of the programme came immediately before the intermission, when Legris and Hilaire tugged in Bejart’s le Chant du Compagnon Errant. It is our tremendous fortune that Bejart created this work more than 30 years ago, and now it’s been revived by two of the exceptional male talents in today’s ballet world. Theirs were completely different calibre, and I was (yet again) blown away by Laurent Hilaire’s powerful stage presence and delicate and almost sensual portrayal for the main role, originally created for Nureyev, a young man drifting away - searching for soul. At 41 he still maintains the physical beauty, and his expressiveness was something he definitely earned through years of experiences. His maturity as an artist gave a profound reading to the role; his sculpted body, facial expressions and beautiful movements were so eloquent they made me feel like I was reading a book – a good one, which gives you a chance to go through all the emotions of a character together (this was indeed a very “literary” dance piece, I thought). Watching Hilaire in the piece reminded me of very similar feelings once provoked by the same dancer when he danced Melancholique in Balanchine’s Four Temperaments at the beginning of the season. No one, in my views, tells a story out of abstract works like Hilaire does – what an extraordinary dancer! His counterpart, Legris put on an effectively cold persona as a shadowy role, Destiny, and the chemistry between the two was something you can rarely see and feel. It’s an exceptionally beautiful piece and I wish they would re-stage it again and again so that more people would be able to see – every ballet fan must give it a try and get to see them do this ballet, I thought.

“Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude”, a cheerful and humorous Balanchinian work by Forsythe, opened the second half of the programme. This was the only piece shown in both programmes, and personally I found a line-up for the latter (“B”) did more stylish job. They were: Gilbert, Hurel, Abbagnato, Saiz & Gaudion. Particularly worth mentioning was Gilbert and Gaudion – theirs were the most sharp movements; they sparked! Next came a traditional crowed-pleaser of a gala performance: Grand PdD from Sleeping Beauty. Although somewhat looked tired-and-out throughout this Tokyo run (a heavy workload in recent months seemed to have taken its toll), Mathieu Ganio was a true prince – and what a joy to see someone destined to do a Prince actually take on the role! His dancing may need a polish, but his beautiful line and sculpted pose were enough to make you feel happy for what you saw. His Aurora was Myriam Ould Braham, a petite and lovely dancer with certain technical strength, but to my personal taste she didn’t quite look like an ideal Aurora material.

“Le Parc”, choreographed by Anjelin Preljocaj for POB, is a work well known among Japanese ballet-goers as the national TV, NHK, did show the film of the ballet in its entirety in the recent years. Not only well-known, but it turned out to be quite popular as well, judging from ecstatic receptions from the audience. Laurent Hilaire, who created the main role back in 1994 and was featured in the film with Isabelle Guerin, danced the PdD from the last act with Aurelie Dupont. This last PdD was meant to show the height of emotions of a man and a woman in love – abondoning their selves to passions. Unfortunately for me the passions escaped this pair as to my taste Aurelie was a bit too princess-like, and still a girl not a woman. I saw the pair in this ballet a couple of years ago, and it appeared Aurelie’s approach to the role hasn’t changed much – so I suppose it’s her interpretations. What I wasn’t convinced was at times she appeared to play a sleepwalker – floating around the stage looking as if she had no intentions/will of her own, her facial expressions almost static, and so on. (And certainly her temperature wasn’t on the up!) Hilaire is a dancer who effortlessly has romantic air around him; he is also a very passionate, straight-forward dancer – these qualities were immediately visible the minute he made a move, and his passions quickly spread across the auditorium. This is becoming his signature role, and I strongly wish a revival of the ballet in the immediate future…..

Renato Zanella’s “Allez Waltz” was a perfect vehicle to show off POB’s envious male talent – more Pop-Idol than ballet, it’s fun and sparkle that mattered. The programme closed with Neumeier’s “La Dame aux Camelias” with Legris and his favourite partner Monique Loudiere. Having no eyes for Neumeier’s choreography, I cannot comment much but could see the partnership between the two dancers were something special; they brought tears to many…..

At the end there were endless curtain calls and happy faces everywhere - all the dancers were rewarded with thunderous applause and flowers. Huge success!

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Thanks for your very interesting review, Naoko S ! And you were lucky to see Laurent Hilaire in two works, as in Paris he unfortunately dances less and less... Which works were performed in the program A ?

Yes indeed, Hervé Courtain will leave the POB at the end of this season, he's already listed as a soloist n the web site of the Grands Ballets Canadiens. It's really sad for the Paris audience, as he was in my opinion one of the company's most talented male dancers, with a fine technique and a great stage presence, but unfortunately he never was given many opportunities to perform interesting roles... :) He had already left for one season to perform with the Boston Ballet, then came back, and now he probably leaves permanently (I'm not sure, but I think that the POB dancers can't take more than one year off to dance with another company). Well, I hope he'll enjoy working with the Grands Ballets Canadiens, and that his career there will be as successful as that of Rachel Rufer (former POB dancer, now principal there).

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Estelle, yes I think Japanese ballet audience who got to see Hilaire felt extremely privileged. It would be great if Hilaire and Legris could restage the ballet in some gala performance somewhere soon, although it appears not likely to happen in Paris this September.......

So it's a done deal for Courtain to leave for Canada - what a loss for POB.... I wish him every success with his new career!

FYI, here's what was shown in Programme <A>, on 21st July:

* The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude/Forsyth

Ould Brahm, Zusperreguy, Gilbert, Courtain, Bezard

* Abelle etait...../Mallory Gaudion

Saïz & Bullion

* Esmeralda PdD/Petipa

Dupont & Ganio

* Magnificat (Aria)/Neumeier

Platel & Saïz

*Phrases de Quatuor/Bejart

Legris & Tokyo Ballet

* Diana & Actaeon PdD/Vaganova

Abbagnato & Bullion

* Illusions - Like Swan Lake/Neumeier

Legris, Dupont, Saïz

* Tchaikovsky PdD/Balanchine

Hurel & Gaudion

* Who Cares?/Balanchine

Abbagnato & Ganio/Zusperreguy/Dupont & Saïz/Hurel/Ould Braham & Courtain/Gilbert/Legris

Looking back, dancers who shone & impressed most were: Aurelie in Esmeralda PdD, Legris in the Bejart's piece, Gaudion in Tchaikovsk PdD, Saïz in everything he did. The best piece for me was "Who Cares?", in which all the dancers had the right mood & attitude - they enjoyed dancing the piece to the full!

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