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Of Nymphs and nymphos - "Sylvia" at the Bastile -

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katharine kanter 04-01-03, 06:46 PM (GMT)

"Of Nymphs and nymphos - "Sylvia" at the Bastile - "

Spot on etymology, John Neumeier. Wrong context. Umberto Eco, come back, we need you to explain this woozie little bit of wordcraft.

"Sylvia" has been on, and on, and on at the Bastille, playing, relentlessly, night after night, to a half-empty house. The ushers don't even bother seating one anymore - they just wave the public into the parterre. Not your everyday experience in the theatre, eh ? Lovely sitting there in 80 Euro seats, for which one has just paid 6 Euros.

What a spectacle.

Take twenty of the world's most beautiful women, scantily clothed, and put them on stage, doing very little, without music. What do you get ? Miss World.

An audience - any audience - will look at that for about 53 minutes before becoming restless.

Take twenty of the world's most TALENTED and beautiful women, scantily clothed, and put them on stage doing very little, to charming ballet music. What do you get ? Neumeier's "Sylvia".

An audience - any audience - will look at it for about 123 minutes before becoming restless. That is precisely how long "Sylvia" lasts.

What else can one say ?

Well, you are all waiting for the Nympho bit. Hang on, it's on its way.

Raining heavily yesterday evening, and a car had splashed me with mud. My spectacles were streaked and stained.

Thus, just before the curtain fell on Act I, I THOUGHT I had seen the étoile - who shall be nameless here - in the role of Amor, falling to the ground, legs splayed and playing like a baby in the bath with his....XXX(family website).

As I am known to have intense, though very short-lived, attacks of BLINDING paranoia, I thought such an attack had just come on, and that I'd imagined it. Then I thought perhaps it was the streaked specs. Or that perhaps I'd bought the wrong ticket, to the wrong place, and I'd wandered into a Théâtre de Cochons by mistake.

So the moment the curtain fell, I turned to the fellows sitting next to me, and said: Excuse me, gentlemen, but I'm prone to paranoia-attacks, and I think I may have seen something, but I'm not sure. And they said: "Madam, without wishing to be uncouth, we all clearly saw what you had thought might have been the effect of unwashed spectacles, or paranoia".

In a way, I was happy, confirmed that I am not, completely, a nutter. But in another way, may I ask why an étoile of one of the world's greatest theatres, who happens, by the by, to be the father of young children, has agreed to do this thing ?

We should be told.

In Act II, I consoled myself for Radio City Roquette-level choreography, by watching the lovely Ould Braham, and that clever youth Matthew Ganio, in the corps de ballet.

Nicolas LeRiche very much the self-indulgent, petulent bore throughout. And the quality of the little dancing he gets to do, is slipping noticeably as well.

Be that as it may, the new étoile Laetitia Pujol was on as Sylvia. As she lacks what our Clement would call the "thrilling physicality" of a Marie-Agnes Gillot in the part, the press has tended rather to ignore her. Mistake ! This is a dancer of great tenderness, not a single harsh or coarse gesture in her. Neumeier's Nymph is a flimsy being, at best, but Mlle. Pujol was, incredible as that may seem, very touching.

Let us try to bear one thing in mind: "thrilling physicality" is all well and good, until one is 27 or 28. Then, it's GONE ! The ol' bod no longer can no longer grind out that kind of electricity, the erotic magnetism. It must be replaced by style, taste, and artistry. So when Hugues Gall cast his personal vote for Mlle. Pujol, he was, I believe, looking a little further down the road than one might imagine.

As for Mlle. Ould Braham, I think that Management is right in keeping her under wraps for the time being. As an interpreter, she is still a very child, compared to a contemporary like Cojocaru. There is NO way Mlle. Ould Braham could handle dynamite like "Mayerling", and one would not want to take the risk of wrecking a "slow-developer", who may well turn out to be a very remarkable - and utterly uncynical - classical dancer.

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Thank you for that, Katharine. It's rather as I imagined Neumeier might see Sylvia. And I'm not surprised that some of the Paris dancers could make something interesting of it. That's becoming their role, I'm afraid. Toss us a choreographer, especially any contemporary choreographer, and we'll make his ballet look better than it would anywhere else. A friend of mine had a phrase about the Danes, onceuponatime, that they should have T-shirts that read "We make bad ballets look good!" That mantle, I think, has passed to Paris :)

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I saw the last performance of "Sylvia" of the season, on Jan 14th. Actually that production doesn't seem to have been very successful: the Opera Bastille was very far from being full, it had the advantage for me that one could buy cheap seats (8 euros, the lowest price) and move to a better seat, but it's a bit worrying about the POB's policy.

I had already seen in 1997 when it was premiered, and hadn't found the choreography especially memorable, I mostly had enjoyed its wonderful cast (Loudières, Legris, Platel, Le Riche...) This time again, I decided to attend a performance mostly because it was an opportunity to see Manuel Legris. Well, Legris manages to be fascinating in almost any role, and so was he, but I wasn't very convinced with Neumeier's choreography, nor by his adaptation of the plot (which is sometimes quite hard to follow without program notes). There are a few moving scenes, and especially the end, with Sylvia coming back, meeting an older Aminta and then leaving with another man who seems to be her husband while Aminta is desperate, but some parts are very lengthy (especially the ball scene) and the choreography isn't very interesting; the POB male corps de ballet looks good in black suits, but after a while it becomes a bit boring. On the whole, I found the solos more interesting, choreographically speaking, than the corps de ballet parts, but perhaps it was also because of the dancers. As Sylvia, Eleonora Abbagnato was good, but not very moving (and didn't compare to by memory of Loudières in the same role); Delphine Moussin managed to be quite powerful in the role of Diane, even though the role probably would have been better suited to a taller dancer (it was created by Platel). Yann Saiz, on the other hand, was a bit absent as Endymion- but perhaps it's a characteristic of someone who is known mostly because of his sleep? (Endymion, not Saiz of course) :) In the corps de ballet, I especially noticed Nathalie Aubin, with a very clean dancing and a strong presence as usual (here is a dancer who could have become a premiere danseuse a few years ago, if there had been more available positions).

The strongest point of the ballet was Delibes' score, which I found lovely from the beginning to the end (even if a little bit pompous sometimes in the "ball" scene).

At least, one can always close one's eyes and enjoy it- and I'm grateful that the POB's direction has chosen to keep Delibes' score, rather to commission yet another boring new score like for example that of Lionel Hoche's "Yamm" (totally unsuited to dance).

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