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TRIPLE BILL: BALANCHINE / MILLEPIED / BUREN

 

By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 23 JUNE 2014 —The 255th performance of George Balanchine’s Le Palais de Cristal, the timeless showpiece he created for the Paris company in 1947 as a tribute to French dance, was given at the Opéra Bastille on June 3rd, the same evening that it was filmed and shown simultaneously on cinemas throughout France. Set to Bizet’s Symphony in C, composed in 1855 when Bizet was only 17 years old, the ballet, closely following the score, is a celebration of academic tradition in four movements illustrating four different themes.

This new production was danced neither in the black and white version preferred by the choreographer, nor in the original, attractive costumes by Léonor Fini, but in  bejeweled, bedecked and brilliant tutus conceived by French couturier, Christian Lacroix who might well have confused the work with Balanchine’s  masterpiece, Jewels, for which he created the costumes in December 2000. However, once over the surprise of the scintillating tutus, one could admire the troupe particularly the corps de ballet and the four demi-soloist couples who led each of the movements.


Le Palais de Cristal
Choreography: George Balanchine
Photo: Paris Opera Ballet

With the notable exception of Ludmila Pagliero who was particularly beautiful in the adage in black of the second movement, the evening belonged to the corps de ballet, to the very lovely young dancers in the pas de quatre and pas de six of each sequence, to Laura Hecquet, to Charline Giezendanner, Sae Eun Park, Heloise Bourdon, and to the many other gifted dancers lower down in the company’s hierarchy.

However, the work that everyone was waiting for was Daphnis and Chloé, created for the company by Benjamin Millepied, the French choreographer/dancer from New York, who will take over the artistic direction of the Paris Opera Ballet in the fall. No one was disappointed for the ballet brought about a unique encounter between music, visual arts and choreography, sublimated by an outstanding cast. They formed a complete and harmonious whole.

 The ballet, inspired by Longus’ Greek Pastoral, tells the story of the love of the young shepherd, Daphnis, for the wood nymph, Chloé.  After being kidnapped by Bryaxis and his pirates, Chloé is rescued by the nymphs and the god, Pan.


Daphnis and Chloé
Choreography:
Benjamin Millepied
Sets: Daniel Buren
Photo: Paris Opera Ballet

There can be no doubt that Millepied’s flowing, lyrical style is ideally suited to a classical narrative ballet, brought bang up to date by a superb contemporary décor, and by choosing the right interpreter for the right role.  His pure, liquid duos, of which a glimpse had been seen in his exquisite work, Closer, 2006, showed his mastery of the pas de deux, with many of the lifts being so fluid that the dancers could almost have been on ice skates. Nothing in his choreography was for show, nothing was tricky or complicated; the focus was on dance and one left the theatre choked with so much beauty.

The work opened upon a fascinating black and white striped back cloth, with a darker shaded square at its centre which gradually grew larger, eating up the lines one by one. It turned around on itself, forming first a diamond-shaped shadow, then a circle, culminating in a crescendo of soaring light. All was lightness, brightness in Daniel Buren’s superb designs, as centre stage was given to an ever-growing circle of glowing yellow against which twelve couples moved and swayed to Ravel’s score, one of the greatest works of the 20th century. While Millepied’s choreography owes little to Balanchine and even less to Robbins, his two masters, what the three men have in common is their intense musicality. Throughout the one act ballet, Millepied did not ‘use’ the wonderful score, but rather enhanced it by movement, reminding me of Uwe Scholz, the German choreographer who aimed to reflect the "landscape of the soul" with each piece of music he chose. And Maurice Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloé is one of the greatest masterpieces of French music which has inspired generations of choreographers. It was magnificently performed by the choir and Orchestre de l’Opéra de Paris conducted by Philippe Jordan.


Daphnis and Chloé
Choreography:
Benjamin Millepied
Sets: Daniel Buren
Photo: Paris Opera Ballet

Buren’s attractive decor, a choreography in itself of forms, lights and colours, was in perpetual movement, complementing and always in keeping with the dancers’ movements, even though this was the first occasion he had designed the scenery for a ballet. The white costumes, created by Holly Hynes, completed the picture while the cast itself, led by Aurélie Dupont, Hervé Moreau, Eleonora Abbagnato, Marc Moreau and François Alu was exceptional.

Shortly after the performance, both François Alu and Marc Moreau told me of their pleasure in working with Millepied.

"I met him for the first time when I turned up for rehearsals", premier dancer, François Alu, cast as the pirate, Bryaxis told me. "He was extremely cordial from the beginning, arriving with everything thoroughly prepared and yet amenable to changes. When I’d completed one of his jumps for example, adding a few twists of my own, he was enthusiastic, suggesting I kept  what I’d done, and he continued to be very open as to what he expected of us. It was this highly professional flexibility which made working with him so pleasant.

"He adapted his choreography to suit each dancer, even changing some of his movements if he saw someone was ill-at-ease. There was never any forcing and he kept the idea of what he wanted by achieving it differently. It makes all the difference in the world to work with a choreographer who truly understands the dancer."

Alu, at 20, one of the brightest new stars in the company, had the audience holding its breath and then cheering and clapping with the sheer bravado of his jumps, as he interpreted the pirate chief, a demi-character role, with cheek and impertinence, adding touches he’d picked up from hip-hop, making the role more contemporary. There were in fact, three different dancers interpreting the role of Bryaxis, and each interpreted the role differently, he told me, making everything very exciting and consequently bringing out the best in each of them.


François Alu in Daphnis and Chloé
Choreography:
Benjamin Millepied
Sets: Daniel Buren
Photo: Paris Opera Ballet

On a personal level, Alu described the joy he felt being included in the same cast as Aurélie Dupont, a wonderful interpreter he’d always admired. And indeed, Millepied had conceived the role around her and Hervé Moreau who formed a perfect couple, supple, sensitive and elegant. He had been anxious to work once more with the luminous ballerina, now 41, who will be leaving the company next season.
 
His words were echoed by Marc Moreau, another brilliant young dancer who took on the role of the troublemaker, Dorcon.  Moreau, whom a back injury, now completely cured, caused him to lose several years of dance, said how much he had appreciated the fact that Millepied was one of the rare choreographers whom the dancers could trust completely.

"He puts us all at ease", he explained, "and so we are ready to try things we wouldn’t otherwise dare to attempt, and although he knew exactly where he wanted to go from the beginning, we still had only 6 weeks to complete the full-length work.

"It’s so rewarding to work with someone totally committed and highly receptive. He never hesitated to adapt his choreography to each of us, and working with him wasn’t only a great experience, it was a joy".

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

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Dance Review:  Benjamin Millepied's Closer for the L.A. Dance Project



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