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Fille Mal Gardée - Paris Opera School

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Saturday night, April 13th, La Fille Mal Gardée (choreo. Claude Bessy, based on a Dmitrii Roumanoff version from 1972), and Western Symphony (Balanchine).

The performance served to confirm what the entire world already knows: were dancing only in the legs and feet, the rest of the world's schools could pack up and leave for the Bahamas, because there is nothing, anywhere, like the footwork of the POB School.

Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately for our art form, there are one or two other minor details that count, such as épaulement.

The Roumanoff-Bessy choreography for La Fille Mal Gardée is feeble, but the subject is of course perfect for children between the ages of 14 to 16. There are a great many steps, all admirably executed by these outstanding youths and girls, bearing in mind that they have been taught in an épaulement-free zone and cannot be blamed for what they do not know - although the youths are noticeably better in this respect, than the girls.

Many of the steps, seen at foot-level, are those of the early 19th Century. Therefore, going by the book, they should, seen at eye-level, look like Bournonville. But fear not ! They don't ! All one has to do is eliminate épaulement, and the trick is turned !

One cannot fault the lovely little girl dancing La Fille, Mathilde Froustey. Although, physically, she is one of the School's little clones (pinhead, etiolated limbs etc.), she is a calm, clear-headed child, plays with the music, and is clearly remarkably talented. To boot, she has had excellent instruction in mime. The mime scene with the Mother, danced by the adorable étoile Carole Arbo, opening Act II, was the prettiest thing in the ballet.

The sixteen-year old has apparently already been accepted into the POB for the next season, and who could blame them ! Her Suitor, Vincent Chaillet was terribly weak. It may have been nerves, and the less criticism levelled at children of that age, the better.

Maxime Thomas, dancing the madman Colas, was excellent, although he had been instructed to open his mouth and gape in the midst of difficult jumps, ALWAYS a mistake.

In order to avoid an outbreak of intense hostility on this board, I shall refrain from commenting in detail on "Western Symphony". Suffice it to say that I beg to differ with Mlle. Bessy's choice of ballet for child-dancers. I do not believe that 13 to 16 year-olds should be playing Hooker and Client in a Saloon, with the girls demonstrating peculiar specialities in ways that may not be obvious to those in the audience who, to put it delicately, have had little commerce with the opposite sex. Such as the cheering five and six year-olds come to watch their brothers and sisters on stage.

But that's Balanchine !

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I too saw the school's "Spectacle" and was delighted to see the young students of the POB. I found Mathilde Froustey's theatrical abilities fantastic, but the quality of her dancing needs polish. (Still, she is only 17, so I need to give her a break!) Froustey resembles an doll -- her porcelain body and her adorbale face are so perfectly proportioned-- physically, she is unbelievably beautiful. I would have liked to see Claude Bessy dance Widow Simone instead of Carole Arbo; Arbo doesn't have the 'character dance' experience for this role, she is too young, and her acting looked superficial. Other students did not impress me much, which is odd, because I was much more impressed when I saw them in class during the school demonstration, even Mathilde herself. I think there's often a disparity between the classroom and the stage, which can be disappointing at times. However, a few girls in the corps for Western Symphony stood out, including Aubane Philbert, who I believe is only 13. I look forward to seeing Mathilde after her entrance to POB!

* Just a note Katherine, c'est Aubane Philbert et non, Philibert. Merci. :cool:

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I saw that program yesterday evening, with the same cast. I liked Mathilde Froustey too, and especially her excellent mime (however, as Terry, found her not really polished- but at her young age it's normal). As for Vincent Chaillet, perhaps he was just nervous on Saturday, or perhaps our tastes differ, but I found him really good as Colas, in his solos as well as in his partnering. Maxime Thomas was great as Alain (and very funny).

I was happy to see Carole Arbo back on stage, especially after her especially unfortunate farewell performance last season (she wasn't even given a full-length work to dance, and her last ballet was in the middle of a mixed bill...) I have never seen Claude Bessy in that role, and so can't compare, but liked Arbo's performance. Clearly she must have looked younger than Bessy (as she is almost 30 years younger), but after all her age probably is more realistic as Lise's mother (she's 41 and Froustey is about 17), and they interacted very well.

That version of "La Fille" had last been danced by the POB school, in 1993- some of the dancers in the main roles were the now premiers danseurs Jérémie Bélingard and Laetitia Pujol (by the way, Pujol was seated a few seats away from me) and the NYCB soloist Sébastien Marcovici.

What made me feel a bit ill at ease about "Western Symphony" was the fact that some of the girls in the corps de ballet looked extremely young, with tiny, prepubescent bodies, and the costumes really looked weird on them. I had only seen "Western Symphony" once before, dance by the NYCB in Edinburgh in 2000- is my memory failing, or were there decors in the NYCB version? Considering the youth of most performers, and the fact that they've not been brought up in the Balanchine style, I found the performance very good (the work had been staged by Violette Verdy). The main roles were danced respectively by Laurène Lévy and Vincent Chaillet (who hadn't had much time of rest after "La fille"...) in the Allegro section, Laura Hecquet and Josua Hoffalt in the Adagio (I liked a lot Hecquet's humor and style), Emilie Hasboun and Cyril Chokroun in the Rondo, and I don't know who was the extra couple who appeared in the finale.

The corps de ballet was especially precise and well trained, and when watching the impressive finale, I thought that the POB school teachers had every reason to be proud of their students.

As last season's program, the program included both a classical story ballet ("Coppélia" last season) and a more modern one (last year's Neumeier's "Yondering"), but I found that this year's program offered more soloist roles (and there were two casts, with Marie-Laetitia Diederichs, Josua Hoffalt and Mehdi Angot in "La Fille" in the other cast). And actually, it is a bit worrying to think that the number of available positions in the corps de ballet in July might be quite low, while there are a lot of potential candidates.

By the way, I think it's better not to put too much pressure on Mathilde Froustey's shoulders: clearly she is a very talented young dancer, but she still is very young, and the first years in the company often are very hard, as the quadrilles are given very few roles (I have not heard at all of Charline Gienzendanner or Claire Bevalet, who entered the company last year, for example) and some yeard the possibilites of promotion are very scarce. But I'm keeping my fingers crossed for her (and for her schoolmated too)! By the way, I don't think that she's already been accepted in the company: there is a competition which takes place in July every year, and I think that she'll have to take as as the other students (but of course there always are rumors about which students are the most likely to be chosen).

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Thanks very much for the reviews, Katharine, Terry and Estelle.

We've had a prohibition on reviewing student performancess, which Katharine couldn't have been aware of, as the discussions about it preceded her coming to the site. We're also reviewing the prohibition -- my reason for it was the journalistic rule that children are not reviewed as professionals, but since the NY Times and NY mag, and others, regularly review the SAB workshop, we may decide to allow that this year, with some restrictions. (The history on this site is that, about 3 years ago a student using not only another name but another identity reviewed a workshop and very harshly criticized his/her classmates, writing descriptions of them that were quite cruel. Rather than fight the battle post by post, and having someone decide what was on the line and what was over it, we just said No Student Workshop reviews.)

I would like to put in a word about reviewing student dancers that I got from a Danish coach. "There's something I don't understand that critics don't understand," he began, and went on -- I can't quote exactly -- that he didn't understand how people could expect a "17-year-old to dance as though she's 30." He was referring to very harsh reviews of a 19-year-old Danish Aurora and said, "When you're that young and take on a big role, there is so much to do, it is not possible to do it all the first few times no matter how good you are. Just getting through it, the technique, the partnering, the pacing, is so difficult. So of course they often look cold, or frightened, or there is something about the head or the arms that aren't right. That comes in time."

I think he had a good point, and that it's worth remembering.

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I should have thought that a school like the POB one would expect to be reviewed in the press, as the Royal Ballet School performances are. At that level the children are more or less professional. Obviously, one should have respect for their youth and inexperience. I suppose the problem with the Internet is the one you mention as the reason for the ban - you can't be certain who is posting, and you can't be certain people will be....well, not kind, but positive.

I love reading about school performances, as I love going to them. I have really enjoyed reading these comments.

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On Western Symphony -

Estelle, Western has both a costume and a set (A Western town and saloon) but it did not get them until a year after the premiere - there wasn't the money. We're going to get to see those students in NYC in May, so it will be interesting to compare impressions with the very varied ones here.

I think I'll find the Balanchine especially interesting; Western is one of those works that is so specifically American in outlook, it will be interesting to see how it looks on French teenagers with Verdy's coaching. Costumes issues aside, their youth might be an analogue for the sort of innocence that work needs to be "put over".

Katherine, really. Sometimes a chorus of showgirls is just a chorus of showgirls.

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Actually, I think that for the kids watching the program, it will probably remind them of the "Lucky Luke" comics (very popular series of French-Belgian comics which started in the 1950s, by Morris and the late Goscinny, taking place in a caricatural Far West, with the cow-boy Lucky Luke and its talking horse Jolly Jumper. Suitable for all ages :) Actually it's in that comics that I first heard about Sarah Bernhardt, for example!)

PS: here's an example of picture from "Lucky Luke":


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Estelle -

Yup, Lucky Luke looks like he comes from a similar place in the imagination as Western Symphony. The girl in the picture might even be a Shameless Balanchine Strumpet - dirac, is that protected by service mark along with Balanchine Style(SM) and Balanchine Technique(SM)?

I know I've read comics by Goscinny, but I can't recall what. Was he the author of the Asterix series?

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Lucky Luke was gone by the time I clicked on him, unfortunately (I got a 404, File Not Found).

I think Balanchine's cowboys and dance hall girls were very much of their time -- the 1950s and cowboy movies. I remember the TV series "Gunsmoke." Miss Kitty was a dancehall girl in every sense of the term, but I had no idea of that until I was quite grown up.

I'd like to see the dancehall girls be a little sexy, actually. Usually the complaint about Balanchine is that he's "just the steps" and, since I missed LeClercq, I've never seen the wit and the hint of allure that must have been in that ballerina role, at least, at the beginning.

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Leclercq's performance has survived on film (ironically enough, filmed in Paris when NYCB was there ca. 1956 - sadly, I believe that it was probably the last filming she was able to do.) Her Western is fascinating, and in some ways, a lot of that specific role (the soloist in the Rondo, the final movement) has to do with Karinska, who gave her That Fabulous Hat to wear. One of the most surprising things for me, though, being used to later interpreters, is how the diagonal of extensions to the side and in arabesque has changed in empasis. Leclercq did her arabesque out at 90 degrees rather than up past 90, which is what became standard. In fact, the role seems to be cast now on the height of the ballerina's extension. Some of her sparkle and mischief comes across on the video, but I wish I had been around to see it live.

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Thanks for mentioning the extensions. What impresses me about the LeClercq film is that that leg went OUT, quick and straight, like an arrow. I remember watching the video of the Balanchine celebration -- and really liking Jaffe and Hubbe in that section. But, remembering that there's always the remote chance that older can be better :) I got out the older film and, yep. I think this is definitely a place where skykicking is a misreading.

We are getting away from Paris -- did anyone else go? Any other comments? Is this a very good year (the famous wine analogy?), a so-so year? I feel I should mention that Claude Bessy is generally very highly regarded among teachers, at least the few I've spoken with. I don't mean to dismiss Katharine's view, and I'm all for bucking the conventional wisdom, but I think it should be noted that the general take on Ms. Bessy's effect on the school is that she turned it around and is responsible for turning out very fine pupils. If they don't turn into etoiles, I think that may be due to the ballet masters in the company.

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Leigh, yes Goscinny wrote the scenarios for the Astérix series too (and also for the "Petit Nicolas" series of novels, for several other comics, and he was one of the editors of the comics magazine "Pilote". He was very influential on French-Belgian comics, and several expressions invented by him are now part of the French language...)

Alexandra, the link still works fine for me, that's a bit odd.

It's a bit hard for me to say how good a year it is, all the more as I didn't see the second cast.

I noticed more dancers than last year, but it may be due to the ballets (the dancers looked quite anonymous in Neumeier's "Yondering").

Also it's hard to make predictions about future careers from the POB school programs: some dancers blossom later, and on the other hand some get "buried" in the corps de ballet and never get promoted, even though they looked promising (injuries, too few available positions when they're young and after a few years as a quadrille it's very hard to become coryphee. For example, among the 5 girls who entered the company, 4 still are quadrilles and one is coryphee, and among the 7 girls who entered the company in 1998, 6 are still quadrilles and one is sujet.)

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Katherine: I think we are talking about the same girl -- she was the tiny little girl (probably the tiniest in the whole corps) who hopped onto the stage from the left wing at the final section of Western.

Alexandra: Just from my own assumption (since I saw the "Spectacle de l'ecole" for the first time), I think this year's boys were not as strong as 2 years ago. I've seen a video of the graduates of 2000, which presented a couple of students at the time of their graduation, including Dorothée Gilbert, Aurore Cordellier, Ninon Raux, Adrien Bodet, Sébastien Bertaud, amongst others. Technically, the boys showed more refinement and strength, and they looked ready to enter the professional world, where as this year's boys seemed to require further school training. Still, I think it's natural that the standards change slightly from year to year.

Speaking of recent graduates, I wonder if anyone has seen the filmed version of last year's school performance : Coppelia, as it featured Mathieu Ganio, the son of Dominique Kalfouni and (forgot first name!!) Ganio . I saw him listed as a quadrille in the program, and rumors having been telling me that he's quite talented. Katherine or Estelle, if you have seen him, I'd appreciate some comments!!

I do agree with the point that Mme Claude Bessy really deserves much appraisal for the work she's achieved for the school. The level of the school is simply outstanding. I had the opportunity to see the Vaganova performance last year, and despite the differences in their methods, the level of the recent POB students looked remarkably higher. I wonder if it had just been a so-so year for Vaganova, because I do recall Vishneva's year (when they came to Japan), which included Doumchenko, Volchkova, and Gumerova, and wow!!!that was quite a year!! But going back to the POB school, perhaps the only problem I've been seeing is the lack of originality and personality amongst the recent dancers of POB. I don't know if this is something that the school "cultivates," and as Alexandra points out, perhaps this is the job of the ballet masters; but a few years ago, I think each of POB's etoiles carried a unique identity, including Pietragalla, Guerin, Loudières, and Platel. Dupont and Letestu can be called fine technicians, but to me, their dancing is rather banal and looks homogenous. Perhaps Gillot might bring a change, but I haven't seen much of her...

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We are now heading into a new era with Mlles. Platel, Arbo, Gaida and Maurin in the school, so any remarks that I've made elsewhere on the Board - and that I shall not be imprudent enough to repeat here today - will, I hope, soon become otiose.

I will not repeat them, but as Galileo would say - "eppur si muove".

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Terry, I saw Mathieu Ganio (his father was Denys Ganio) in "Coppelia" last year (and also in the video later). I found him very good in the role, but actually, I don't feel able to compare him with the students of the previous year, having seen them in a totally different repertory. And since the quadrilles get almost zero interesting roles, it's hard to know what he's doing now...

Among the dancers who entered the corps de ballet recently, I'm looking forward to seeing more of Claire Bevalet, whom I had liked very much in "Peches de jeunesse" two seasons ago. Indeed it is a pity that the "Programmes jeunes danseurs" take place only every second year, because there are so many talented dancers in the corps de ballet who have nearly no opportunity to be seen...

Katharine, do you know who Arbo, Gaida and Guerin will replace? The current list of teachers is (from oldest students to younger):

-Christiane Vlassi, Francesca Zumbo, Liliane Oudart, Pierrette Mallarte, Janine Guiton, Claudette Scouarnec, Fabienne Cerutti for the female students

-Jacques Namont, Jean-Yves Lormeau, Bernard Boucher, Marc Du Bouays, Bertrand Barena, Nicolle Cavallin for the male students

If I remember correctly, Vlassi and Scouarnec were female principals (Scouarnec was in the Opera Comique company before it was united with the regular POB in the 1970s), Lormeau was a principal until 1996 (he replaced the former premier danseur Gilbert Mayer, who retired this year), Boucher, Namont and Du Bouays were premiers danseurs, and Barena was in the corps de ballet. I don't know about the others- and I don't know what all of them are like as teachers... Vlassi might be close to retirement age (but she hasn't been teaching that class for so long, as for decades it had been Christiane Vaussard's class).

I liked a lot Platel, Gaida, Arbo and Maurin as dancers- but I have no idea of their teaching abilities, and surely directing the POB school must be an especially tiring job...

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In response to Terry's post as well: Matthieu Ganio is a tall, thin gangling lad, with the energy, brio, ballon and clean batterie that one would expect from someone ten centimetres shorter. He also has terrific presence and authority, for such a young fellow - reminds me somewhat of Flemming Ryberg when he ws a youth. Matthieu Ganio is the son of Denis Ganio, professor, and Dominque Khalfouni, a former étoile. Huge potential. But only time will tell.

Don't know who Gaida et al. will be replacing.

On the Vaganova front, the major news is of course that Atylnai Assylmouratova took over last October. Alexandra posted up here on Links, an interview with her by Marc Haegemann, where, inter alia, she casts aspersion upon the leg-thwackers. More power to her, I say ! There may be major improvements at the Vaganova School shortly.

On Ballet.co, there was a Thread recently on the Royal Ballet School. I'd invite people to read it, and then compare with what graduates of the PO School say about the atmosphere there. Night and day.

The étoile Aurelie Dupont, incidentally, has on several occasions, and in public, been scathing about the PO School. Other children have been interviewed saying things like: "we can't have friends here, only school mates, because we've got to learn to compete!"

I think that Aurélie Dupont, speaking from a privileged position where she has no grounds to be bitter or jealous , could probably be described as a rather reliable source.

That is where the "personality" problem that Terry refers to, comes from. Discipline and technique, is one thing. Drumming the stuffing out of people, is quite another. The problem is acute with the ladies, because girls, unfortunately, always tend to be so depressingly obedient.

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I remember Liliane Oudart in the Prodigal Son she was very good.

Well, Platel , Arbo, Maurin, Gaida are all pure products of Claude Bessy, as they joined the school as Mlle Bessy took over mlle Guillot, so hopefully they will keep Claude Bessy excellent job, as for the dancers not being as good this year than earlier, well I will quote Mlle Bessy on that, "Dancers , it's just like wine, some years are good, some year aren't"

If you look at my year for example you will se that almost all the girls got to Principal or even Etoile, the boys on the other hands were not as good, but two years later they did reach the top, so I think, and I speak as a teacher point of view, sometime it is not the teachers or the directors but the "raw material" that is not as exceptional as other years. ;)

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