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PARIS GALA HOSTS TOP INTERNATIONAL BALLET SCHOOLS

 

By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 11 JUNE 2013 — An awareness of the world outside the Paris Opera decided Elisabeth Platel, Director of the Paris Opera School, to share this tricentennial celebration with other schools. Since classical ballet as we know it today goes back to the teaching and ideas of Louis XIV, even to the movement known as the en dehors, which originates in him wanting to show off the inside ribbons on his shoes, Platel wished pupils from all the main national schools to take part in the celebrations. Consequently, invitations were sent, the result being the presence on the Palais Garnier stage of pupils from Denmark, England, Russia, Germany and Italy. Unfortunately, the School of American Ballet, invited, was unable to attend.

It was deemed important to invite other historic institutions with similar structures to the French one, and so the Royal Danish Ballet School, La Scala, Milan, and the Bolshoi Ballet Academy were asked to take part as well as London’s Royal Ballet and the Canadian National Ballet, both of which were founded in the 20th century. Finally, the schools of two great choreographers, John Cranko and John Neumeier, whose works are associated with the Paris Opera Ballet, accepted the invitation.


John Neumeier School, Hamburg Ballet
Photo: David Elofer
 

The international gala began with the staging of La Nuit de Walpurgis, where the girls of the French school gave a spectacular demonstration of their style and schooling, leading the way for the school of La Scala to take centre stage. The Italian school, founded by Benedetto Ricci with 12 pupils in 1813 and which has grown to over 190 today, staged Gymnopédies, a 1986 choreography by Roland Petit for two boys and a girl. Set to the score by Erik Satie, the pas de deux, sensual and spirited, later became part of the full-length Ma Pavlova. All three dancers, remarkable, appeared to enjoy every minute of being on stage, the first soloist undaunted by dancing for the first time on a surface which slopes downwards, a fact which had, at first encounter, horrified more than one of the invited guests.


La Scala School, Milan in Gymnopédies
Photo: David Elofer 

The Royal Danish School, with approximately 100 students aged 6 to 16, founded in 177O, opted naturally for a ballet by August Bournonville, one of the most important choreographers of the 19th century who, though Danish born, spent some years with the Paris Opera Ballet before returning to Copenhagen where he built the Royal Danish Ballet into one of the foremost companies in the world. The company’s style has always been marked by warmth and charm coupled with a particular lightness of technique, qualities which came out in the lovely interpretation of Le Corps des Volontaires du Roi, set to music by Vilhelm Christian Holm, by three gifted young dancers. Of special interest was the remarkable performance of Sebastian Haynes, a talent to be watched, and, who knows, perhaps one of our next international stars.


The Royal Danish School in Le Corps des Volontaires du Roi
Photo: David Elofer 

However, one of the most memorable pieces was that performed by Canada’s National Ballet School, who presented an original choreography for five dancers by Aszure Barton, to music by Vivaldi. Founded in 1959 by Betty Oliphant and Celia Franca, the school was one of the first international institutions for the formation of both dancers and teachers. It is a school counting some 700 students where priority is given to the physical and moral well-being of the pupils.

Not only was there great creativity shown with the extract danced from Les Chambres de Jacques, but the interpretation itself was excellent. It did bring to mind that despite the emphasis on ‘style’, albeit French, the style of the Royal Ballet, London, or the style of the Royal Danish Ballet personified by the pure classical technique of Erik Bruhn, who was also the director of the National ballet of Canada from 1983 until his death 3 years later, the linking factor of all these young dancers was their passion and belief in what they were doing. ‘Style’ seems to reside in the work of the choreographer whose work is being performed.

The belief in what they were dancing common to all the students was particularly evident with the staging of Les Millions d’Arlequin by the Bolshoi Ballet Academy. A more dusty work is hard to be imagined; a minor piece by Petipa, set to a score by Drigo, being revived for the pupils by Iouri Burlaka. And yet, it was danced with brilliance and aplomb by the fourteen pupils on stage who revelled in each showy step. That it was simply an exhibition without meaning at all bothered the two excellent soloists not one jot. The radiant Ksenia Ryzhikove is another international star in the making.


The Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Les Millions d’Arlequin
Photo: David Elofer
 

The Bolshoi Ballet Academy, which saw the light of day in 1773, now boasts some 400 students, with 44 students being admitted each year for a period of 9 years.

A last-minute programme change due to injury resulted in the appearance of only two young dancers from White Lodge, the Royal Ballet School, with Rhapsody, a four-minute pas de deux by Frederick Ashton. Despite the lightness and grace of Annette Buvoli, it was something of a let-down, with her   partner, Evan Loudon, hardly dancing at all. Nevertheless, the Royal Ballet School, founded in1926, but not teaching classical technique until some 20 years later, is reputed to be amongst the finest in Europe.

There was certainly a change of tempo with the appearance on stage of two young dancers from John Cranko’s school in Stuttgart. Agnes Su and Marti Fernandez Paixa, the former in a long red T-shirt, which, pulled this way and that, almost formed an integral part of the choreography by Rolando d’Alesio, created in 2001. The piece, as dynamic and interesting as Les Chambres des Jacques, was the perfect antidote to the classical ballets seen before, no matter how remarkable the performances.


John Cranko School
Photo: David Elofer
 

John Cranko, the brilliant South African choreographer, dancer and ballet director, had had the idea of a school in mind since his arrival in Stuttgart, (from the Royal Ballet), in 1961.His plan was to train young dancers prior to them entering his company, a project which was realized with the opening of the John Cranko School 10 years later which was to become one of the most famous in the world.

Likewise, Neumeier, one of Cranko’s dancers who was encouraged by Cranko himself to work on choreography, left the Stuttgart troupe to found his own company in Hamburg in 1973, opening an adjoining school five years later. The high level of the school, specializing in classical dance and welcoming students of between 10 and 18 from all over the world, was reflected in the superb, clean-cut performance of the four young dancers on the Garnier stage who interpreted an extract from Neumeier’s Spring and Fall.


Le Grand Défilé de l'École de Danse de l'Opéra and their guests
Photo: David Elofer
 

The evening closed, when after the return of the host company with Jean-Guillaume Bart’s Péchés de jeunesse, all schools and visiting students took part in the legendary Défilé on stage, where the sumptuous Foyer de la Danse with its glittering chandeliers was opened up behind. It was an intense and moving moment as one young dancer from the French school opened the march, descending alone the huge expanse of stage, preceding the rest of the dancers, all beaming with happiness.

All were lengthily ovationed.

Based in Paris,  Patricia Boccadoro is the dance editor for Culturekiosque. She last wrote on Irish choreographer Michael Keegan–Dolan and Dublin's Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre.

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