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Paris Opera Ballet Stars, September 14, Copenhagen

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Galas in general, and Tivoli's in particular, are usually long on stars and short on corps and scenery.

The Paris Opera Ballet's performances in Copenhagen were no exception: apart from a backdrop and a single grassy knoll brought along for Afternoon of a Faun, the gala offered no sets whatsoever. It was the only time I've ever seen the Romeo and Juliet balcony scene done without a balcony. The closest the gala got to set design was a huge white feather that fell out of Muriel Maffre's dying swan costume and drifted around the stage for several numbers. None of the étoiles would bend down to pick it up, but all of them carefully danced around it.

Much of the dancing, however, was exceptional. Although the evening opened with a rather unexciting Faun, starring a supremely fit Pierre-Francois Vilanoba, it quickly got into gear with an exceptional Thais pas de deux, graceful and athletic. My only complaint: while Elenora Abbagnato seemed like a woman deeply in love with her partner, expressing it through dance, Yann Salz (filling in for Jérémie Belingard) seemed to be gazing determinedly at a point three inches in front of his face. He could have been reciting baseball scores to himself.

Flames de Paris, starring Alessio Carbone and Myriam Kamionka and - a fill-in for the missing Laëtitia Pujol - was uninspired, and grinning Carbone muffed several of his landings, but the Giselle pas de deux, starring Isabelle Guérin and Benjamin Pech, was everything it should have been.

The first half of the show ended with Forsythe's In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated - a huge hit with the Danish audience, which has a soft spot both for Forsythe and for Muriel Maffre, dancing again with Vilanoba.

After the pause, we got the non-balcony balcony scene - Juliet just greeted Romeo as if she'd met him on the street - starring the hapless Kamionka and Carbone. Carbone is a technically strong dancer, but with little ability to attract the eye, and he smiles too much. Interestingly enough, he gets more bearable as a number progresses and he has less energy to smile.

Maffre's Dying Swan brought the house down, and was followed by Abbagnato and Salz again in Carnaval in Venice, a replacement for the Forsythe Pas./Parts that was supposed to star Berlingard. Both dancers showed great technical prowess, landing great jumps and pulling off multiple turns while trying to avoid that bothersome feather.

The evening ended with Guérin and Pech in the tragic L'Arlesienne - a bit too long, but powerful none the same.

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I was much less bothered by the absence of sets in this Tivoli Gala, most of the pieces shown didn’t really need one. And I don’t recall seeing that many summer galas with sets and corps anyway. That’s why the reduced reconstruction of the backcloth for Nijinsky’s "Après-midi d'un Faune" (not to mention the fine costumes and wigs) came as a nice surprise. (BTW, KayDenmark, when you come to see the POB’s version of "Romeo and Juliet" you will notice that there is no balcony and the scene is danced entirely in the garden of the Capulets where the lovers meet.)

The program itself was attractively harmonious, providing an excellent idea of the range and flexibility of the French dancers, with both sections of the evening building up to a strong finale – parts of Forsythe’s "In the Middle" for the first and of Petit’s "L’Arlésienne" for the second. Even if there were some bumpy moments and not all the dancing was topnotch, my overall impression was a favourable one. For my money the most unforgettable parts of the evening came with Isabelle Guérin (the best proof that sets can be missed), well matched by an excellent Benjamin Pech. Guérin’s Giselle was atmospheric beyond all, two steps on the stage and Giselle was there for all of us to see, while her portrayal of Vivette in "L’Arlésienne" brought out all the drama of the piece. And yes, she passed the fatal age of 40 - but she still can do it! :)

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I was very surprised that Kay was so focused on decor and costumes regarding the Paris Opera Stars Galla in Copenhagen. Surely you do understand that the gala was produced independently and that every number included had to be paid copyrights, borrowing costumes, organising music, coaching etc. That is what happens when you decide to do a tour or a galla, that is not linked to a major company. The work done by the organisers allowed the Copenhagen audience a chance they would not otherwise have had to see the brilliant French dancers, who was most appriciated by the audience. Very few considereded the decors to be slim, on the contrary many felt that the got much more, than what was anticipated, a fully clad Afternoon of a faun were among the delights.

We can either conclude that gallas is a bad thing, because the focus will primarily be on the dancing and you will get excepts and not the full performance or we can embrase the posibility a galla gives us to see and enjoy what would not otherwise be on offer. Living in Copenhagen it is nice to get a glimpse of the international scene and I am personaly very grateful to the dedicated organizer, Alexander Meinertz who continues to do the impossible task of bringing world class dance to Denmark and the UK despite the odds and limited finance.

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One paragraph out of eight discussing sets and costumes does not seem excessive to me, Effy. And, as I mentioned, lack of sets is standard practice for most galas.

And, quite frankly, the dancing was not THAT good, particularly Afternoon of A Faun. Perhaps you were there for the other performance, but at the Saturday night show I attended, it recieved only lukewarm applause.

Compared to the Hubbe and Friends shows later in the week, the French show was a disappointment. Apart from the retired Isabelle Guérin, it didn't even have any étoiles, since Laëtitia Pujol failed to show up.

As I mentioned in my review, it had some exceptional moments and I'm glad I saw it. However, all shows are open to criticism, even if M. Meinertz is doing his very, very best.

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no I only attended the fine performance on Sunday, and i spoke to several people at the Hubbe gala who enjoyed the French group more, but each to his taste. I also enjoyed the NYCB, but I am alo aware that there was much more budget available for the Hubbe Galla which allowed as many as 24 dancers compared to the 8 French. Regarding relative star power I sincerely hope that NYCB has more goodies in the bag, espicially on the male wing. Benjamin Millepied , who happens to be French, was a nice surprice but the two other principal male dancers was frankly not up to the standards we are used to from NYCB. Regarding Hubbe, I admire and share his dedication to Ib Andersen, but would have preferred Hubbe to dance something that was more up his own street. I could have been the full Who Cares. Now that is something I will critisise, the current practise of trowing as many dancers as possible into this fine work, may I plead for the Appolisized original versin with one male and three vomen.

The NYCB women were better than the men, but I certainly missed the personality factor which defined the former greater NYCB ballerinas. Save Jennifer Ringer, they had little personality to offer.

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I agree with you, Effy, that Millepied was excellent and that Askegaard and Fayette were nothing special - I see them as glorified soloists, not true principals.

There is, however, another French dancer among the young NYCB principals, Sebastian Marcovici, who also bears watching. He is not as charismatic as Millepied, but he is taller and a bit more noble. He also has a fascinating face, with a tear-shaped birthmark beneath one eye. I quite like him, although others are less enthusiastic.

Ringer was, indeed, full of personality. I also believe Jennie Somogyi sparkles. Although her look is not as unique as Ringer's, Somogyi's technique is better - her arms and hands, in particular, are lovely.

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Effy and KayDenmark, thanks for your reviews! Myself I'm not really a fan of galas, as it sometimes is frustrating to see only pas de deux and short excerpts of pieces out of context (and also the prices are often quite high).

Pujol seems to be injured: she was supposed to dance in two POB programs soon (see the POB part of the board) but doesn't appear any longer on the cast list. That's really bad luck, as it would have been her first "Swan Lake". Actually POB female principal are a rare species now, the only others are Dupont (now injured too), Letestu and Maurin...

I don't know if Bélingard is injured too. I'm not too surprised to learn that there wasn't much interaction between Saiz and Abbagnato, as far as I know they rarely perform together (and personally I find Saiz a rather uneven dancer).

It's great to see that Isabelle Guérin is still active, I'm looking forward to seeing her soon with the POB (last time I was supposed to see her she had got injured a few days ago, and had to cancel her performances).

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This is old news now, but, from personal interest, I asked a Danish friend to translate reviews of these performances, and just got them today. So here they are:

Weekendavisen, 27. September 2002



… Tivoli presented guest performances by dancers from two companies. First a group of eight soloists and principals from the Paris Opera Ballet with no fewer than nine excerpts of ballets from the repertory of the oldest ballet company in the world. Contemporary and historical, technical, lyrical and dramatic ballet was skilfully juxtaposed to good effect. The two highlights of the evening were Isabelle Guérin and Benjamin Pech in dances from the second act of »Giselle«, with Guérin as the personification of the poetic ambiance of the Romantic Era and the elegiac Pech as the epitome of pure French schooling. (Pech also showed his dramatic ability and range as the haunted and suicidal Frédéri in Roland Petit’s melodramatic »L'Arlésienne«).

With afterimages of the romance of »Giselle« still lingering the jump to William Forsythe’s neo-classic »In the Middle Somewhat Elevated« came almost as a shock: A razor-sharp piece of choreography danced with tense accuracy and the energy of steel wires by Muriel Maffre and Pierre-François Vilanoba. Wauw, it was impressive!

In »Carnaval de Venice« Eleonora Abbagnato and Yann Saiz charmingly waved the flag to the commedia dell'arte traditions of Tivoli, while Myriam Kamionka and Alessio Carbone excelled in »Flames de Paris«, and Muriel Maffre gave a fascinating repeat of her interpretation of the Dying Swan from last year’s Tivoli gala.

The rest gave problems: The quality of the taped music was horrendous, the lighting hopeless and the dancers even had to perform with a hole in the stage. The dancing was impressive in spite of this.

Politiken, 17. September 2002


By Monna Dithmer

The dancing had part explosive exuberance and part a marvellous softness when the dancers from the Paris Opera Ballet visited Tivoli this weekend. The artists of the famous company delivered fireworks – in spite of a hole in the stage and bad sound.

“Unfortunately, we have discovered a hole in the middle of the stage, but the dancers will perform anyway”. What an introduction to an evening with dancers from one of the most wonderful companies in the world. It’s been 15 years since the Paris Opera Ballet visited this country. Welcome, again, to this provincial hole.

But not only did the dancers carry on to perform a programme of fireworks which handsomely showed the history of the company, they also performed with such abundant energy that one was struck during the curtain calls: It was unbelievable how so much dancing could come from just eight people.

Leave it, then, that some dancers looked at each other funny when Muriel Maffre, who has made her career with the San Francisco Ballet, received greater applause even than the Étoile of the evening, Isabelle Guérin. It tells us something about the hierarchy of the oldest ballet company in the world.

But in all justice, the tall Borzoi-like Muriel did make the most striking contribution to the evening with a radical contemporary piece: William Forsythe’s 'In The Middle Somewhat Elevated'. Just four minutes where Maffre and Pierre-Francois Vilanoba in an enticing power-play flew in and out of each others arms. Fully loaded lines, lightening limbs and high voltage energy made the auditorium explode. Maffre even gave us the second independent moment of the evening dancing Fokine’s Dying Swan with a worrying transparency. She performed with a real feeling of the last, wavering breath of life but also with a beguiling modern edge to her interpretation giving her long, angular and extremely expressive arms a life of their own.

Opposed to these arms were the feet of Isabelle Guérin in the Romantic classic, 'Giselle', which was originally performed at the Paris Opera in 1841. To simply see this wonderful dancer put her feet to the ground with a wonderful softness and poetry to her phrasing was so great that the entire drama of the resurrected Giselle, suspended between life and death, found its own heartbeat. Benjamin Pech was a loyal and handsome partner for her but not present enough for one to truly experience the meeting of two souls.

Pech stole the show, however, wearing a red scarf and with a nude torso in 'L'Arlésienne', a tour de force of a break-up with Guérin in the role his bride-to-be. Choreographically, this desperado pas de deux is no masterpiece, but Roland Petit had also choreographed a delicate little duet from 'Ma Pavlova' (the woman Dying Swan was originally created for). A pastiche of magic floating and short caresses danced by Elenora Abbagnato and Yann Saiz with one restless, bewildering movement – as if they had caught the very nature of being in love. With perfect elegance this couple also performed the bravoura pas de deux from ’Carnaval de Venice' which has it all: Refined pointework, double tours in the air and jumps. Alessio Carbone also performed with presence and in top shape, jumping like a rubber ball both as Romeo, with Myriam Kamionka as his partner in Nureyev’s icescapade, and in the heroic Russian ballet, 'Flames de Paris'.

The only faux pas of the evening was Nijinsky’s 'Afternoon of a Faun', where one didn’t sense the tension between the horny faun and the frieze of nymphs – physical sensibility opposed to the tightness of the choreography – that made the small piece one of the great scandals of dance history. When Pierre-Francois Vilanoba lowered his body to penetrate the nymph’s veil it seemed mostly like an exercise of style.

Holes or no holes, the dancing stood strong – even against the bad sound. A fine gesture from Tivoli which celebrates 50 years of ballet performances this year.

Berlingske Tidende, 16. September 2002


By Vibeke Wern

When Vaslav Nijinsky made his debut as a choreographer in Paris in 1912 with the ballet Afternoon of a Faun it caused a scandal because of its daring, erotic content. There had never been a ballet before with such sensuous movements as those of the faun when making love to the nymph’s veil. On top the dancer’s were moving in an angular, two-dimensional style and in profile, inspired by Greek friezes and vases.

It was this work of historic interest which opened the Tivoli gala with dancers from the Paris Opera Ballet Saturday night. A Ballet Gala which gave exquisite tastings of the rich repertory of the Paris Opera Ballet with excerpts from nine ballets and with eight dancers.

From the bestial body language of the Faun and its sense of gravity and contact with the floor, we were taken to Roland Petit’s pas de deux from »Ma Pavlova« from 1986, a piece of pastiche Romanticism with floating pointe work. Then on to authentic Soviet Russian choreography from 1932 with Alessio Carbone and Myriam Kamionka in brillant jumps and fast fouettées in the final pas de deux from Vasily Vainonen’s full-length ballet Flames de Paris about the French Revolution.

As if from a world beyond one of the great names of the Paris Opera Ballet, Isabelle Guérin, entered the stage with her exquisite poetry and grace in the pas de deux from the second act of Giselle. Benjamin Pech was her haunted Albrecht in this work, which is one of the master pieces of the Romantic Era and which was created for the Paris Opera Ballet in 1841 and naturally had to be part of this programme.

As a sudden but fantastically effective contrast the programme then moved forward in time with more than 100 years to the pas de deux from American William Forsythe’s sharp and sensual »In the Middle Somewhat Elevated« from 1987. Muriel Maffre and Pierre-François Vilanoba’s agile bodies were stretched to extremes in this abstract dance. Four intense minutes who proved to be the sparkling highlight of the evening for yours truly and which underlines the genius of William Forsythe and the high technical level of the two dancers, who were both trained at the ballet school of the Paris Opera Ballet but who are now principals with the San Francisco Ballet.

After the intermission Muriel Maffre gave a vibrantly sensitive interpretation of Fokine’s famous solo, The Dying Swan. With an almost macabre magic she managed – just as she did at Johan Kobborg’s Ballet Gala last year – to render the farewell to life of the white bird with her long, delicate arms.

Intoxicating and youthful dancing characterized the Balcony pas de deux from Rudolph Nureyev’s version of »Romeo and Juliet«. Alessio Carbone demonstrated his ability in the fanciful, tempestuous jumps while Myriam Kamionka was more restrained in the role of Juliet. The pas de deux from »Le Carnaval de Venice« offered Russian classicism with Eleonora Abbagnato in finely phrased and coquettish pointe work and Yann Saiz in easy, elegant jumps.

The programme ended with new French choreography, an excerpt of Roland Petit’s love conflict, L’Arlésienne. Benjamin Pech was expressive and forceful in the role of the young man who is overcome by memories of an old love on the night of his wedding, and one understands his emotions in the pas de deux where he tries to break loose from his bride, Isabelle Guérin.

It would have been wonderful if the evening could have ended with another short but strong work from Forsythe but the rare and very welcome performance, programmed by Alexander Meinertz in collaboration with Benjamin Pech, gave us a strong and satisfying idea of the artistic range of the oldest ballet company in the world.

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Our experience with Forsyth is mainly through foreign companies like NDT as The Royal Danish Ballet have only done one Forsyth ballet, of which I cannot remember the name, which was not succesfull at all, eventhough it was very well danced. Actually before Forsyth was a big international name, a gruop of admirers produced a performance of This pity she is a whore (it must have been in the early 80ties).

Having been to the Pars Grup performance I can wouch that the piece was very well danced and was counterpointed with Giselle in a very clever setting

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The RDB did "France Dance" about 10 years ago. There was a dwarf in it, escorted by one of the company's men, and she spoke - in French. I'm sure there was dancing, but I don't remember it. :) This was during Forsythe's Props phase.

I'm surprised, though. I thought Frankfurt Ballet must have visited many times, because I often hear from Danish friends how interested people are in Forsythe.

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I may be wrong, but I have no recollection of ever visiting a Forsyth guest apperance, but it is likely that they should have been here. I think that Forsyth is not admired by all Danish ballet fans. We generally do not care for the Verfremdung that is part of his style and which was very apperant in France Dance. What I like about Forsyth is his dare to be inventive on a classical platform and his energy. He has also a lot of relevant comments about the wall-to-wall choreagraphy tha haunt a lot of European companies (the Kylian look-alikeballets)

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