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POB @ Harris Theater in Chicago

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According to the e-mail I received from the Harris Theater in Chicago, the POB will perform two programs:

Program A: Giselle

Tuesday, June 26 @ 7:30PM

Wednesday, June 27 @ 7:30PM

Thursday, June 28 @ 7:30PM

Program B: Lifar's Suite en blanc/Petit's L'Arlesienne/Bejart's Bolero

Saturday, June 30 @ 2:00PM

Saturday, June 30 @ 7:30PM

Sunday, July 1 @ 2:00PM

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Thanks, miliosr. I just received a large postcard from the theater which doesn't bother to identify the choreographers in the mixed bill, so your identifications are welcome. Was there any word in your e-mail about the presence of an orchestra? Nothing about that on the theater web site, either (though there are some links to YouTube clips, a good idea not carried far enough, IMHO).

Oh, and was there any word about a third program? The Harris Theater web page says

The full 154-member company will perform three diverse programs.

and then presents the repertory for Program A and Program B. (Let's hope the dancers can count better!)

But I don't think I have ever heard of tickets going on sale over a year before the curtain goes up!

Edited by Jack Reed
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Snagged tickets to see Giselle tomorrow and the Sunday mixed rep. Didn't think I'd get to see Giselle, as it was evidently sold out when I got my Sunday tickets, but today the Harris sent out a newsletter for $30 nosebleeds. Anyone else going?

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I'm going Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday evenings, and I'm hoping to meet a few "modern" fans, neighbors, there on Saturday. I'll be farther back than I really like, in row U, where the price might give you a nosebleed, but - as we observed long ago - the tickets flew this time. (And it's not even called Swan Lake, either.)

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Beautiful, even in the last row of the upper balcony (stuck in an acoustic deadspot no less)! I was pleased to see Marie Agnes Gillot as Myrtha -- and what a Myrtha she was, as if on wires. The corps was stunning. One thing though -- was Ciaravola injured? She did the act 1 hops left to right, and didn't make it very far. Other than that she was gorgeously romantic.

ETA: Hm, it seems the French do the hops that direction, rather than right to left as I'm used to? Can anyone clarify?

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(Wednesday, June 27, 2012) Oh my God, I thought, the real thing! ABT's production of several weeks ago (I saw the Ossipova - Hallberg cast) proved to be something of a warmup for this. There, wonderful ability was on view in the principals' dancing - although Hallber's acting seemed weak - but in some other roles, the farther down the ranks you went, the - to make an analogy with dramatic theater - the worse their costumes fit; they inhabited their roles less well, I mean, even though the roles made more modest demands.

But here! Every move by everyone on stage contributed to the effect of the whole, and what a beautiful scene the first act was, too. (And very effectively lit by the Harris Theater, with a slight golden glow upstage and brighter light downstage to set off the more important action there.) Everything of a piece, all one, a vital and energized organism, a thriving world for us to visit.

At an hour, longer than usual, too, I think; usually, 3/4 of an hour for Act I is my recollection. I'm not such a huge fan of this ballet as of some others, so I'm less familiar with it, but my feeling is that by extending it - by the inclusion of the group of eight girls whose dances were especially unfamiliar, for example - extending it at the same high quality as the familiar parts, POB has made it still better. Or was it that all of it was so well performed - better than perfect, not boring, unfailingly fresh and vital - that these dances seemed new to me?

The qualities of the dancing that most pleased me were the inflection of detail - now sharp and clear, now nuanced and clear, within the phrase, as appropriate to it, most taking in the arms of the corps early in Act II, all within continuous flow. Nowhere was there the sense of "Here we do this and then we go over here and do that", barely connected posing I have sometimes seen - I recall from many years ago a detachment of Kirov in Scotch Symphony staged by Suzanne Farrell, no less - and veteran watchers of POB may grin if they want, but now I share the regard I've heard for this company. (Before, I was more my habitual skeptic.) What a rich experience!

A comparison that came to mind from my recent experience was MCB's performances of Balanchine's Nutcracker last December - the ballets are similar in that they're - may I say multimodal? - there's dancing and pantomime and drama and stage fantasy - and though I had a sense of more ripened mastery here and greater immediacy there, the realizations were of a kind. (POB states on the cast sheet this was their 758th performance, not necessarily of Giselle. Okay. I don't think it would ever occur to anyone at MCB to count up their performances.)

I did notice a certain underplaying sometimes, though, and I wonder whether this is due to a sense that the heightened drama we sometimes see - I'm probably most familiar with the Makarova-Baryshnikov video, where he makes much of that "She's here!" moment on the upward rush in the music at the beginning of the first pas de deux in Act II, makes his exhaustion later pretty agonizing, and plays up his astonishment at the end at the night's experience, to say nothing of his laying the trail of lilies from Giselle's grave as he exits at the end of Act II, and I remember the National Ballet of Cuba years ago pointing up Albrecht's rejection of his royal robe (and, we infer, everything it represents) at the end of Act I - is inauthentic, maybe even Russian: Nicolas le Riche merely caressed the cross on the grave slowly, and walked slowly, pensively, off, dragging his cloak, which I thought rather understated what had happened; but sometimes the implicative is more effective than the overt.

One thing irked me though, and that was the lighting in Act II, which, unlike in Act I, made major matters downstage - downstage center especially - less visible and consequently, less effective: In this part of the stage the light was weaker than upstage, where already it was weaker and "cooler" than in Act I, appropriately, as Act II takes place at night, and although there was some attempt at times to bring out the principals with soft follow-spots, these and the general downstage lighting were inconsistent depending on just where the dancers were, so we had no chance to adjust and compensate.

So it's my fond hope and wish that when this lovely, beautiful production gets to the Kennedy Center it benefits from lighting which enables it to be seen in its full glory, instead of subjecting its audience to the provincial bumbling we had here. The Harris Theater has as its motto, "Hear the Music, See the Dance" but it takes good lighting for us to See the Dance.

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Thanks so much for your sensitive report, Jack. Indeed, the tallying of performances seems to be a European thing, e.g., at the Mariinsky, the playbill notes that one is about to see the "10,367th performance" of said work by the company.

You mentioned LaRiche as Albrecht. May I ask who danced the title role at your performance and your impressions of the danseuse?

I look forward to seeing this production at the Kennedy Center next week. I'll be thinking about the lighting and other points that you've noted.

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She was Clairemarie Osta. (I didn't mean to slight anybody, but as I'm shortly rushing out for a second helping from this feast, I thought I'd better stop my growing essay somewhere, and I will try to return here when I can. Meanwhile, anybody else?) Anyway, she belonged! I mean this in the best way! (Versus the way Osipova did not, as her context, the remainder of her production, was really on a lower level.) Though the Act II lighting really reduced her effect in some of the most important moments in the ballet for me, up in row U.

I really hope you don't see anything in Washington that reminds you of my remarks about lighting, Natalia!

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She was Clairemarie Osta. (I didn't mean to slight anybody, but as I'm shortly rushing out for a second helping from this feast, I thought I'd better stop my growing essay somewhere, and I will try to return here when I can. Meanwhile, anybody else?) Anyway, she belonged! I mean this in the best way! (Versus the way Ossipova did not, as her context, the remainder of her production, was really on a lower level.) Though the Act II lighting really reduced her effect in some of the most important moments in the ballet for me, up in row U.

I really hope you don't see anything in Washington that reminds you of my remarks about lighting, Natalia!

I'm wondering if the real lightning wasn't slightly altered by the simulcast? It usually is...

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(Thursday June 28th, 2012) Briefly, the lighting problem which plagued last night's second act was largely solved tonight, and the result was that at the end, instead of applauding moderately and getting up and leaving, as the audience did last night, tonight's audience was on its feet, applauding, as the curtain came down and would not leave until several curtain calls. Goes to show you the effect of seeing the show!

In particular, the great Act II pas de deux of Albrecht and (the ghost of) Giselle was very effectively lit this time, so that, pale and otherworldly thought she was, she was always visible to us (if not, as the story they are enacting requires, to him!). Indeed the lighting in nearly the entire act was skillfully adjusted from moment to moment so as to preserve both the visibility of the dancers and the gloom of the night, and I think what went awry last night was that the crew had to cope with a sensitive and therefore complex lighting plan brought in by POB plus a lighting-control system that would not behave. (Indeed, both nights after the stage action of each act had concluded sections of the stage were lit or darkened for an instant without apparent reason.)

It didn't hurt that Dorothee Gilbert and Stephane Bullion, so much better seen tonight, were also more animated than Osta and Le Riche had been last night. This may be a version of the old story, the older dancers deploying movement in knowing ways (Osta and Le Riche are 42 and 40), the younger (29 and 32) exploring with some vigor. Already in the mad scene near the end of Act I Gilbert was fitting details to the music to point up the intensity of her delerium I hadn't noticed from Osta, not that she lacked energy either, but it was more contained and "from within". In the ghostly Act II pas with Albrecht, comparison is more difficult because of the lighting problem, but Gilbert here too seemed (more gently) to be tweaking the role.

At the very end, though, Le Riche's implicative and contemplative conclusion seemed to me more fitting than Bullion's way, dropping an armful of lilies and turning to extend an arm toward us, maybe as though to ask, "What do you make of what has transpired here?"

Visiting the world of this justly famous company's Giselle was richly satisfying. Not only the quality of all the elements of the performance individually but also the high degree of their integration contributed to that.

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Just got home from the mixed rep matinee. It was my first time seeing the three pieces in their entirety. Suite en Blanc's standout for me was Aurelie Dupont in the adagio section, whose balances seemed impossibly long and secure without being forced, showish, or off the music. I kept holding my breath, everything she did was magical, and the rest of the audience seemed to agree. Alice Renavand was amazing too -- she has moxie and presence in abundance.

Nitpicking: I had hoped to be surprised by Emilie Cozette in La Cigarette and Dorothee Gilbert in La Flute, but I had issues with both. Emilie Cozette just doesn't seem as 'complete' as her fellow etoiles. Her hands went dead here and there during difficult passages. And for indiscernable reasons, I can't appreciate Dorothee Gilbert's amazing technique. I recognize her talent and artistry, of course, but for me there's something missing. Or maybe tension in her upper body that I find distracting, I'm not sure.

L'Arlesianne struck an odd note after a pure dance piece like Suite En Blanc, but Ciaravola and Belingard danced it beautifully. Her feet are some of the best, as strong as they are wonderfully supple and expressive. I have to stress expressive -- they move like hands. Aside from showing off good feet and legs, I wished it had been Jeune Homme, or another 'dancier' piece. The audience liked it better than I did, I think.

Then, Bolero with Marie-Agnes Gillot. I can't really enthuse enough about her. She's a rare modern example of a dancer who doesn't dance everything, but who is nonetheless extraordinary. Not dancing Giselle and being quite too tall and intense (I would say perhaps more than even Veronika Part or Kondaurova) for similar roles does nothing to diminish her contribution to dance. And outside of issues of type, she is versatile -- as stunning as Myrtha as she is in Bolero. I feel very fortunate to have seen her in both. She danced Bolero fiercely and fearlessly, visceral and spiritual at once. I see Bolero as a piece very illsuited any 'look at me!' attitude, and Gillot danced almost as if unobserved, in effortless command of the audience and the corps. She was very much at home in the music and choreography, and the audience loved it. I didn't count the curtain calls, but there were many.

Another 'moment', beforehand, occured just as my friend and I entered the lobby from the 'back' entrance connecting to the parking garage -- which also happens to be right next to the artist's exit. Who shound emerge but Gillot, dressed down but striking. Recognizing her, I stopped my friend, who then saw her as well, and we stood (likely making the same stupid starstruck face) as she passed not more than a few feet by us. I think we were the only ones to recognize her, making the moment even more serendipitous.

Those of you in New York have much to look forward to!

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I attended the mixed bills on Saturday:

Suite en blanc (Serge Lifar, 1943, 428th and 429th performances)


L'Arlesienne (Roland Petit, 1974 -- National Ballet of Marseille, 1997 -- Paris Opera Ballet, 77th and 78th performances)


Bolero (Maurice Bejart, 1961 -- Ballet du XX siecle, 1970 -- Paris Opera Ballet, 147th and 148th performances)

Kudos to Madame Lefevre for programming a bill that (a) ignored the American dance clerisy which declared these choreographers (especially Bejart and Petit) bad for us in the 70s and 80s, and (b) didn't kow-tow to the Balanchine programming orthodoxy which rests as heavily on America as the heat and humidity did on Chicago on Saturday.

I am going to write this in stages as 3 ballets/six casts is a lot for one post.

I was sitting outside the Harris Theater before the evening show to do a little star gazing (or etoile gazing, if you prefer). Based on what I saw, I would say that French ballet dancers are the most fashionable people in the world and, given the 100 degree temperature and matching humidity, probably the most impractical in terms of Summer wardrobe choices. Still, while the rest of us were suffering under the oppressive heat and humidity, they wore their sweat like the chicest fashion accessory!

Suite en blanc

All told, I thought Suite en blanc showed off the French schooling and style to its maximum possible advantage. Every gesture and movement was so clean and refined and, well, French. Of the two casts, I thought the evening cast was largely superior to the afternoon cast. Karl Paquette was bolder and more dynamic than Mathieu Ganio in the Mazurka, and Ganio and Aurelie Dupont were more engaging in the Adage than Isabelle Ciaravola and (a disappointingly blank) Stephane Bullion. And whoever wrote that Marie-Agnes Gillot owns La Cigarette was exactly right -- her performance obliterated any memory of Emilie Cozette.

I did think that the afternoon cast was superior in the Theme Varie, with Vincent Chaillet being a particular standout. And special mention must go to the four guys in the Pas De Cinq (afternoon and evening shows) -- Cyril Mitilian, Fabien Revillion, Daniel Stokes and Sebastien Bertaud. The fair-haired blonde who vaguely resembles Chase Finlay (sorry, his picture wasn't in the program) was exceptional. Can anyone tell me who he is?

This was my favorite piece both afternoon and evening. Sadly, it got the least applause of the three works on the bill(s). (The applause was still plenty robust, though.)

I'm puzzled as to why Suite en blanc hasn't found a more permanent and stable place in the international ballet repertory. It's so beautiful and there are so many parts available. It seems tailor made for even mid-sized ballet companies. And yet . . . it exists on the periphery. Strange.

Next up: L'Arlesienne

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Several performances of POB--two 'Giselles' and three mixed programs.

Jack Reed is quite correct about the abominable lighting on both Tuesday and Wednesday, sadly; I imagine that this greatly affected his, and the audience's, impression of the performance. The white act should be spectral, not invisible. This was particularly annoying because the superb Marie-Agnes Gillot as Myrthe appears , of course, only in Act II. Tuesday's performance, with the wonderful Isabelle Ciaravola as Giselle, was also simulcast live in Grant Park. Ciaravola, who was an extremely late addition to the roster of etoiles, is so lovely, vibrant, expressive, and deeply engaging that it is absurd--especially with etoiles like Emilie Cozette (!!!!!!!!)-- she was not promoted to the rank years ago. She is one of the rare Giselles who actually makes the hackneyed plot convincing, and who seems to change instantaneously, mercurially, in her mad scene. She also has a tragic mask of a face when required.

Clairemarie Osta, who danced Wednesday, has already had a tremendous farewell in Paris (she sadly has 'aged out', it seems--apparently POB still has that age rule) so this American tour is a unique chance to see this great dancer once more. Her hops on pointe were miraculous for a woman of 42 (they would be good for anyone) and the lightness, sparkle, and brilliance she has always set forth are still there. She was a more subdued, subtle Giselle than many, making small gestures enormously telling (particularly ports de bras and small ballonnes); her Albrecht was the still sterling Nicolas le Riche, who has been an etoile for nearly half his life and who is great at age forty. I would say that Ciaravola was an innocent destroyed; Osta was an old soul wrecked by a tragedy she almost foresaw yet still could not prevent. Fabien Revillon, the man in the Peasant Pas, is one to watch; his bearing is exemplary. Charline Giezendanner, his partner in PP, is a strong, clean, and skillful dancer whose stage face, unfortunately, is hard with a fixed and too-broad grin. She appears to be smirking most of the time. Gillot as Myrthe was remarkable even with lighting that would have disgraced a junior high school play; her amplitude, severity, and implacability are of a degree hardly seen since Martine van Hamel. The voyagees!

The dancing in the mixed repertory program was of an even higher standard; it is a pleasure to see Suite en blanc, which is rarely ever done in the US, and never done with this sort of French perfection. The outre and mannered little port de bras, wrist-flicks, hops, and capricious changes in epaulement which are beyond most American dancers are tossed off by one and all here with nary a hitch and no self-consciousness. Although nearly every dancer in a solo or demi-solo role distinguished him or herself, there were several standouts: Sarah Kora Dayanova as one of the three graces in 'La Sieste'; Alice Renavand in the pas de cinq, with entrechats and other beats DAZZLING and easy (this is also a pas where the men do beats for days, and Renavand was every bit as brilliant as they); Nolwenn Daniel's turns in the 'Serenade'; the sterling Karl Paquette in the 'Mazurka', with great off-balance angles and poses; Gillot in 'La Cigarette', Parisian beyond belief, with excellent fouettes in the later coda.

Then there was Aurelie Dupont in the 'Adagio'...Dupont's maniacal control is, if possible, even smoother and more finished than it was in her younger days--the Gallic nonchalance of her face before and during her several perfect , motionless balances was worth the price of admission all by itself. Ciaravola was beautiful in this part as well (best choreography of the ballet, by far) but Dupont was magisterial. I was particularly impressed by this because I recall the horrendous miscasting (cross-casting, really) in the POB Jewels DVD, with Dupont horribly out of place and character in Rubies (she would be lovely in Emeralds) and Osta, who danced Rubies constantly at one time, instead in the Verdy part, which she did admirably but WHY??? Happily, that was only miscasting, and Dupont is great in anything which even slightly suits her (most things excepting American showgirls....) Cozette continues to be a cipher; she is a good technical dancer and one of the most boring women ever to set foot on stage. her etoile ranking boggles the mind.

"L'Arlesienne" had three different casts, all good; Stephane Bullion danced so all-out it was reckless, and stirring. His physical abandon and fire were overwhelming, but I think the audience responded more deeply to Jeremie Belingard: slightly less breathtaking, but more modulated and subtle as an actor, both facially and choerographically. He also had the benefit of the incredibly sympathetic and moving Ciaravola as his fiancee; Amandine Albisson was also excellent in this role, although it's the man's ballet, with an extended descent into madness and a final mad scene culminating in a suicide leap through a window. Mary Stolper, the principal flutist of Grant Park Symphony (which played for POB) , distinguished herself in many flute soli and obbligati (flute variation in Suite, the Menuet in L'Arlesienne, etc); sadly the rest of the wind section was far, far below her level.

"Bolero", which has several versions (Jorge Donn did it surrounded by men only--the original--and then, much later, by women only, a Bejart resetting), was done here by le Riche, Dupont, and Gillot in different performances. They were all excellent, and the difference with a male or female central figure is mesmerizing. The audience went most berserk, to my surprise, for Gillot, who was terrific but to my mind slightly less amazing than the other two. I would not have expected such sinuous, hypnotic, sensual intensity from Dupont, who made the entire ballet a seamless crescendo beginning to end (which the orchestra was supposed to do with the music and did not come close to...). le Riche burned up the stage in every way; the male corps' pounding the table was FERAL in his performance, in response to his own savage energy. His slide to a split followed by a burning stare at the audience was unforgettable. This becomes either 'ballet is woman' (Balanchine) or 'ballet is man' (Bejart) depending on the casting, which is a remarkable experience.

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Actually, I didn't see Tuesday's performance, so I was sorry to read here that it was badly lit as well, and that Wednesday's was not some sort of coincidental glitch but evidently a lingering problem. It makes me the more glad Thursday went so well.

Of course the mixed bill is simpler to light, and Suite en blanc, with its uniform, bright white light looked quite handsome when I saw it Saturday evening. A friend particularly enjoyed its frequent "optical effects" as she called the patterns moving around the stage. (Will everyone reading know the rear third of the stage is an elevated platform reached by broad stairways, left and right, seen in profile, as therefore the dancers are when they ascend and descend? The stage is all in black, as are the male dancers below their waists, if I remember correctly, and this black so well sets off the other color, already identified in the title, it might have been mentioned too.)

But I'm sorry I'm not one of those who got a lot out of it: It was so well performed, I wished to see the dancers in something better, something better motivated by its music. Partly this was because I just had, a couple of days ago: Compared to Lalo, Giselle's music may not be as strong concert material, standing on its own feet, but it infuses that ballet with energy at every moment. (This company can be its own hard act to follow.)

And so I watched Suite en blanc a little wistfully, not disagreeing with those here praising the high quality of the cast. It seemed to me too pretty, and too perfectly danced. That is, until "La Cigarette", with Gillot! Here was a dancer who could raise the whole thing for me, and make the merely resourceful choreography - which I had not seen before, and simply may not have "got" this first time, to be fair - interesting. And better was yet to come - not so much the "Adage", where I got the idea that we were supposed to find it the big deal adagios usually are, but "La Flute", and the reason was that Gilbert's dancing of the flute solo here made it seem - or revealed to me - its musical motivation, as though this was the main part that had got Lifar interested in the first place.

Were Bizet's suites anything more than a pastoral backdrop for the psychodrama of Petit's L'Arlesienne ballet, with its own movement language that mostly made the dancers look ugly to me? They nevertheless performed it with their customary assurance, but I'm sorry to report I got nothing at all out of any of it. My friend got the plot, but why this needed over half an hour, and its own strange movement vocabulary, was lost on me, and the analogy that came to mind of Alban Berg's "cracked" harmonies movingly creating the mental world of the "cracked" title character in his opera Wozzeck didn't help me, because Berg succeeds for me while Petit does not.

Bolero, then, and a near miracle, because the music had never seemed to me to call for choreography any more than Berlioz's Romeo et Juliette had, and yet Maurice Bejart had heard the possibility, maybe even the necessity, of choreography, in the music. That's how it looked to me, at every moment this time (his Romeo looks less consistent); and what added pleasure to see the ballet clearly and to get it powerfully in a good seat instead of struggling with the busy editing interference on the Arte video. (Though I do think the video documents Le Riche at a time when he gave the performance greater tensile strength.) A strong conclusion to the program, for me.

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