By Patricia Boccadoro
PARIS, 4 MAY 2011 Coppélia, the much-loved ballet
inspired by Hoffmann's tale, Der Sandmann, first danced by the
Paris Opéra Ballet in 1870, was programmed at the Palais Garnier on the
eve of the departure of ballet master, Patrice Bart. It was given in
Bart's 1996 restaging as a tribute to his long career, and in particular
to his invaluable work in the transmission of the company's
Bart entered the opera school in 1957 at the age of fourteen, joined
the company two years later, and was nominated étoile in 1972,
after which he danced the greater part of the company's repertoire where
he excelled in demi-character roles. Shortly after Rudolf Nureyev's
arrival in 1983, he turned his attention towards teaching and spent
several years coaching the younger dancers before accepting a position of
ballet master in 1987 when he formed an excellent team with Eugene
Polyakov and Patricia Ruanne.
Having studied under such personalities such as Raymond Franchetti,
Alexandre Kalioujny and Serge Perretti, and above all having worked
alongside Nureyev himself, he served the company well after the latter's
departure in 1989. Indeed, acting as interim director with Polyakov, they
virtually ran the company between them, and in 1990, he was given the
title of "Ballet Master associated to the Director of Dance", a position
he has held to this day.
The following year, in collaboration with Eugene Polyakov, he updated
the company's version of Giselle, adapting the original
choreography of Jean Coralli, Jules Perrot and Marius Petipa. It was an
immense success, more so, in 1998 when the production was performed using
the sets and costumes based on the designs of Alexandre Benois, painter
for the Ballets Russes, completed in 1924. The production is one of the
jewels of the French company's repertoire.
Unfortunately, not the same can be said of his treatment of
Coppélia. A new version of a classic is a far different
proposition from restaging a traditional ballet.
Paris Opera Ballet
Instead of the lighthearted, humorous story where the young hero,
Franz, falls in love with a mechanical doll, thus incurring the wrath of
his girlfriend, Swanhilda, but where everything ends happily ever after,
Bart turned to what he described as the "disquieting strangeness" of the
tale. He constructed a ballet around illusion and duality, representing
Dr. Coppelius who helped create the doll, Coppélia, as a seducer,
motivated by a past, secret love.
However, this ambitious rereading of the story doesn't fit with Delius'
melodious score, nor do the traditional dances have their place in the
laborious scenario. More serious is the fact that he packed far too many
steps into each bar of music, which, while it may make excellent warming
up exercises in the studio, does not make for good choreography.
Nevertheless, the production did benefit from an exceptional cast.
Well-cast as Swanilda, the vivacious Dorothée Gilbert demonstrated her
precise, dazzling footwork while Mathias Heymann, a light and aerial
Franz, sailed through the air with aplomb. It was, however, José Martinez,
who, despite the disjointed, angular and jerky steps, contributed more to
the atmosphere of the work motionless than the rest of the cast in
Paris Opera Ballet
One could also appreciate the ravishingly lovely costumes designed by
Ezio Toffolutti and which were inspired by Edgar Degas' painting of Le
Foyer de la danse à l'Opéra de Paris, a work of art that can be seen
at the Orsay Museum in Paris.
To end with a quote from a spectator leaving the auditorium, "well",
said this lady, "I don't know what all that was about, but I sure enjoyed
all the wonderful dancing".
The Orchestre Colonne, loud and lusty, was conducted with a heavy hand
by Koen Kessels.
* The post of Ballet Master associated to the Director of Dance has
been given to the French opéra étoile Laurent Hilaire. Hilaire, who
officially ended his career as a dancer at the age of 44, after having
interpreted all the main roles in Rudolf Nureyev's productions, including
the role of Solor in The Bayadère, shortly before the great Russian's
death, has been working as ballet master with the company since February
Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe. She has
contributed to The Guardian, The Observer and Dancing Times and was dance
consultant to the BBC Omnibus documentary on Rudolf Nureyev. Based in
Paris, Patricia Boccadoro is the dance editor for
Culturekiosque. She last wrote on the Bengali choreographer
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