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MUCKING THROUGH THE PROFANE WITH LITTLE SACRED PAYOFF 

 

By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 22 APRIL 2010 — Angelin Preljocaj, plus the Paris Opera Ballet, plus Siddhartha, the story of Buddha, a subject matter in gold, promised a superb world creation at the Opera Bastille.  But was one led to expect too much? After a dramatic beginning set against a minimalist ‘décor’ by Claude Léveque, with writhing figures in metallic grey and silver emerging out of blackness below a great glinting orb, not even the magnificence of Nicolas Le Riche heading a superb cast could stop the ballet’s descent into a certain emptiness.

Certainly, the work encompassed a series of wonderful pas de deux, not all of them original for those familiar with the rest of Preljocaj’s choreography, but these were interspersed by a listless corps de ballet where the limp choreography rather than the interpreters slowed the work down. Whether or not it was a figment of my fevered imagination, these young dancers seemed to spend the greater part of their time attempting sexual intercourse with the nearest person to hand, be it man, woman or dead body. Glancing at the programme to find out the truth of the matter, it was explained that the sequence with the dead bodies, whatever the dancers were actually doing, took place in a village where there was a breakout of the plague.


Siddhartha
Photo: Anne Deniau
Photo courtesy of Paris Opera Ballet

However, during a mesmerizing pas de deux between Le Riche and Stéphane Bullion, and the prolonged passage where the two of them, respectively, came to orgasmic climaxes with two rather nondescript prostitutes on top of what resembled the chassis of a super-large lorry descended from space occupying the greater part of the stage, little was left to the imagination. And in spite of the fact that both men then bitterly repented of their actions, the question one asked oneself was, did Buddha, before he became known as Buddha, really spend his time cramming in sex at every possible opportunity?


Siddhartha
Photo: Anne Deniau
Photo courtesy of Paris Opera Ballet

Apparently he did in this particular work, for the French choreographer explains that he took the most human moment in Siddhartha’s life, when he had rejected the life of a prince with all its materialistic trappings but was not yet Buddha, to set it to dance under the form of a quest where he appears to be constantly fighting against his sexual desires.

The story goes that the Prince Siddhartha, thought to have been born around 560 B.C. in the city of Lumbini, situated in the foothills of the Himalayas in northeast India, and brought up amidst wealth and ease, decided one day to leave his all his riches, his palaces, wife and young son to lead an existence free from all attachments. His goal was to understand suffering and desire, and to detach himself from all passion in order to reach "Nirvana", that state of supreme peace and compassion.


Siddhartha
Photo: Anne Deniau
Photo courtesy of Paris Opera Ballet

It was after a visit to Benares in 2002 that the French choreographer was inspired to confront the sacred and explore the great myths of humanity, the first work resulting from his travels being the sublime, Near Life Experience, a quest for a lost paradise which was created for his own company a year after his return. For the work with the Paris Opera dancers, he subsequently chose to further his ideas to portray a man in search of the absolute, but unfortunately the purity, spirituality and the coherence so evident in his earlier work are quite missing. The result is this narrative ballet, set in a universal world of yesterday, today and tomorrow, which, from the quality of the opening duo between Nicolas Le Riche and his wife Yassodara, the very beautiful Alice Renavand, the audience is ready to forgive much. Siddhartha erupts onto the stage to merge with Renavand, a sensuous swirl of red, in a breathtaking pas de deux which proves to be one of the highlights of the work.


Siddhartha
Photo: Anne Deniau
Photo courtesy of Paris Opera Ballet

Angelin Preljocaj, blessed with his interpreters as well as with Léveque's splendid decor should also give thanks to Olivier Bériot, his costume designer, whose creations actually enhanced and gave credibility to much of the choreography. The "white act" was exceptionally well-done, the semi- transparent white costumes of the corps de ballet a froth of shimmering tulle, and the appearance of Aurélie Dupont, as the "Awakening", an ethereal being who is neither male nor female brought a certain charm to the work. Her exquisite slow arm movements, full of grace, were meltingly lovely even when flying through the air and pirouetting in the palm of Siddhartha’s hand. The uneven score with its clashing symbols and strident drum rolls by Bruno Mantovani alternatively complemented the work, or intruded, despite the excellence of Susanna Malkki who conducted the Orchestre de l’Opera National de Paris.


Siddhartha
Photo: Anne Deniau
Photo courtesy of Paris Opera Ballet

This is a ballet where one has to forget the story and any association with Buddha. One should simply sit back to absorb the beauty of the pas de deux, male/female, male/male or male/air which were ideal for the Paris Opera dancers. However, duets do not constitute a complete work, and this sombre ballet lacked coherence; it was over-long, and it would possibly have been better to have spoken of it as a quest for the meaning of life where a young man goes out into the world, as did the Prodigal Son, and meets a certain number of temptations in order to find his spiritual self.

It is more a curiosity which many people would not be tempted to see a second time.

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. Ms. Boccadoro is the dance editor for Culturekiosque.com

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