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"Le Concours", July 10 2002

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On july 10th, I attended a performance of Béjart's "Le Concours" at the Opéra Garnier.

The relationship between Béjart and the POB has always been complicated, there have been periods when the company performed a lot of his works,

and when he created some works for it (for example "L'Oiseau de Feu" (The Firebird) in 1970 or "Arepo" in 1986), and others when everything was conflictual and he refused the POB to dance his works. In the last few years, Bejart and Hugues Gall (the Paris Opera's director) seemed to get on well, and the company performed his "9th Symphony" in 1996, and then "Le Concours" entered the repertory in 1999.

"Le Concours" had been premiered in Paris in 1985 by Béjart's Ballet du XXeme siecle, and was danced later by the Australian Ballet in 1989 (probably during the period when Maina Gielgud, who used to be a Bejart dancer, was its director) and in 1996 by the Berlin Staatsoper. It was not illogical to have it performed by the POB, as some of its themes are linked to the company traditions: it deals with a ballet competition, and competition is essential in the POB's organization, with its yearly "concours annuel" determining the promotions in the company. Also, much of the musical score is composed of excerpts of famous scores of classical ballets, including "Giselle" and "Coppelia" which had been created by the POB.

Unfortunately, for me it was so thin choreographically that it often was a pity to see how little it used the dancers' qualities- and the plot mostly was a collection of cliches.

The story is the following: during a big international ballet competition, a candidate, Ada (Laetitia Pujol) , is murdered. There comes a police inspector (Manuel Legris), trying to find the murderer. Then we are showed several scenes in flash back, explaining Ada's life and who are the suspects. Her mother, "La Brambilla" (Delphine Moussin), was a famous ballet dancer, living alone after the end of her career, and very disappointed that her only child was a girl. Her

teacher, Miss Maude (Claude Bessy), a former POB principal totally dedicated to her art, was very disappointed that she had left her to follow her first love, Ivy (Bruno Bouché), who himself was quite possessive and jealous. At one point, she put men's clothes to be hired for a TV show by the choreographer Michael (Karl Paquette), but he found out and was very angry with her. The she worked for a magician, the Grand Magic Pat (Yann Saiz), but it ended badly, and finally was involved in the rock shows of the star Angel Ben (Jean-Philippe Dury).

As one can see, the scenario isn't itself very plausible. The "competition" part itself featured a jury with people of many countries, all of which very caricatural (a mannered and talkative French jure danced by Michael Denard, an over-the-top American one with Barbie-pink clothes danced by Marie-Agnes Gillot, two Soviet ones danced by Vincent Cordier and Florence Branca, and two excessively polite Japanese ones danced by Akihiro Nishida and Alice Renavand)- and there also was a very old lady (played by Zita Gordon-Gielgud) with a little dog, looking for her daughter all the time.

I had decided to attend it mostly because of the dancers, and to have at last an opportunity to see Manuel Legris on stage before the end of the season. Well, I saw him, unfortunately his role (premiered by Jorge Donn) didn't have many opportunities to shine, as the inspector mostly looks dark and angry all the time while watching the other characters, but in the very few variations he got he managed to show his usual style and precision. The new principal dancer, Laetitia Pujol, was not very remarkable as Ada, but I guess that there is not much to do of such a role... It was nice to see Claude Bessy herself on stage, but her role was very caricatural, and the few dancing moments were in fact rather embarrassing to see, as they were not very well suited to a woman of her age and shape. Karl Paquette, a dancer that hadn't liked much when I last saw him, was very good as "Michael", and was one of the only members of the cast mastering well his voice; Yann Saiz was a classy magician, while Jean-Philippe Dury was absolutely wonderful in his few minutes on stage, with a crazy leopard-like unitard, punk hairdo, and making all sorts of bizarre noises which reminded me of Philippe Decoufle's weirdest works. Among the supporting roles, I also noticed Mallory Gaudion in a nice variation, and Jean-Philippe Colau who managed, don't ask me about the details, to make a lot of fouettes without his pants.

The music, played by the PO orchetra, was partly an awful boring thing by Hugues Le Bars, and partly excerpts of classical works.

The audience was quite positive, but to me it is a pity that the POB direction couldn't find something more substantial to finish the season...

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