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POB dance school, Bart/ Fokine/ Bejart, May 3

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The Paris Opera Ballet school, which has existed continously

since the period of Louis XIV, has presented some public

performances since 1977, featuring mostly the oldest students

of the school, usually likely to enter the company on the

following season.

The "repertory" of the POB school includes old works of the POB repertory

which aren't danced any longer by the company (for example Lichine's

"Graduation Ball", Skibine's "Daphnis et Chloe" and "Le prisonnier

du Caucase", Lifar's "Suite en blanc", "Le chevalier et la demoiselle"

and "Entre deux rondes", Aveline's "Les deux pigeons"...), some

works created especially for the students (by Claude Bessy,

Violette Verdy, Gigi Caciuleanu, Serge Golovine...) and some

works staged especially for them, some of which would really

deserved to be danced by the main company (Bournonville's

"Sylphide" and "Konservatoriet", Balanchine's "Western Symphony",

"Le tombeau de Couperin" and "La somnambule"...)

This year's program included three works:

a new work by Jean-Guillaume Bart, "Peches de jeunesse";

Fokine's "Firebird" staged by Pierre Lacotte, and

Bejart's "Seven Greek Dances".

Jean-Guillaume Bart, 28, is a former dancer of the POB school who entered

the company in 1988, and became an "etoile" (principal dancer) in January

2000 (and is, in my opinion, one of the most gifted and elegant male

dancers of the company). His career as a choreographer is quite recent: he

created mostly a few works for the "Dancers- choreographers" programs of

the POB in 1997 and 1999, and some pas de deux for the Jeune Ballet de

France and for some POB dancers in galas. His style definitely

is classical, and in the program notes, he quoted Balanchine,

Robbins, Cranko and MacMillan as his models (I was a bit surprised

to see Cranko in this list, since his works are danced very

rarely in France; as far as I know only his "Romeo in Juliet" was in the POB's repertory, and they haven't danced it since the early 80s...)

Claude Bessy, the director of the POB school, chose to commission

him a work for the POB students (the main company itself doesn't

seem to support much the choreographic activities of its dancers...)

It was on a larger scale than Bart's previous works: an

abstract ballet for 22 dancers (two couples of soloists, three

couples of demi-soloists and a corps de ballet of six couples),

lasting about half an hour, set on some excerpts of Rossini's

sonatas for string (n.1, 3, 4, 5). There were no explanation for

the title ("Sins of youth"- often meaning "Easily forgiven

youth mistakes") in the program notes, and it seemed to have

little to do with the ballet itself.

This ballet, clearly influenced by Balanchine's style, was quite charming

and well-structured, with the elegance and cleanliness which also are

characteristic of Bart's dancing. There were some weaker parts,

sometimes because the young dancers still had a few technical

problems with the ensemble parts, sometimes because the choreography

became a bit repetitive, but on the whole I found it very promising

(and young choreographers firmly using classical vocabulary

aren't very numerous in France nowadays- it is worth noticing

that in his program notes, he said that he insisted on using

some steps of petite batterie characteristic of the French

school which are now disappearing from the repertory).

The most interesting parts, in my opinion, were some of

the solo variations for the four main dancers, Claire

Bevalet (musical, with strong feet, and definitely an

"allegro dancer" in Leigh's terminology), Ninon Raux,

Adrien Bodet and Cyril Mitilian.

The next work of the program was Fokine's "The Firebird" (1910),

which had already been staged by Pierre Lacotte for the POB school

in 1991. Since I had never seen this work before, I have no idea

how authentic the reconstruction is, but I found it very nice and

pleasant. However, there was one major disappointment: the sets

and costumes were not after Golovine and Bakst, but after those

made by Georges Wakhevitch in 1954 for Lifar's production at the

Paris Opera. And they were surprisingly poor and uninteresting:

almost no sets, excessively simplified costumes with flashy

colors... There was such a big contrast between Stravinsky's

evocative music, and the almost bare stage that it almost

broke the atmosphere of the ballet- and one couldn't help

remember the nice photographs of Karsavina and Fokine in

that role, or the painting of Jacques-Emile Blanche...

The dancers were technically bright, but most of them looked a bit cold

and were lacking expressiveness, especially Dorothee Gilbert (as the

Firebird) and Gregory Dominiak (as the Prince- however, he had a wonderful

line); on the other hand, Aurore Cordellier, as the Princess, was very

soft, graceful and elegant, and Cedric Lambrette was a frightening

Sorcerer Katschei.

The last work of the evening was Bejart's "Sept danses grecques" (Seven

Greek dances), created in 1984 by Bejart's Ballet of the XXth Century,

on some Greek music by Mikis Theodorakis. I'm not a big fan of

Bejart in general, but that work was not among his worst ones, by

far: no pseudo-philosophic texts, no endless program notes, no

bizarre symbolism... It was a plotless work, with a mixture

of classical vocabulary and Greek folk dancing, and on the whole

it was rather pleasant to watch. The main roles were for male

dancers: Audric Bezard and Sebastien Bertaud, both bright,

and in smaller roles Cyril Mitilian and Gregory Dominiak

(in a male duo), Ninon Raux being the only female dancer

in an interesting role (in a pas de deux with Josua Hoffalt).

The audience was wildly enthusiastic at the end of this piece,

even more than at the end of the other pieces, and David

Coleman (who was conducting the Orchestre Colonne) and

Claude Bessy herself briefly joined the young dancers on

stage at the end.

The POB school will perform that program in Italy in July,

at the Nervi Festival.

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Well, after some further thinking, perhaps it's better to have it danced only by the kids of the POB school (I haven't seen them dancing it, but they do look very cute on photographs...), they are less likely to take themselves seriously than the dancers of the company! smile.gif

What about "Le Tombeau de Couperin"? It used to be in the repertory of the company, they danced it once or twice in the mid-70s, but forgot it later. I've never seen it, but the photographs looked very nice, and I love so much that music that I'd really like to see it.

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Tombeau is a ballet that looks very beautiful on young dancers. It was created for the corps de ballet; I don't have my books here, but I know some of the corps was quite young at the time of creation, Judith Fugate was in its original cast.

At the last SAB workshop it was done by the students and though a touch awkward, had a special luster for it.


Leigh Witchel -dae@panix.com

Personal Page and Dance Writing

Dance as Ever

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