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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 27 MAY 2008-A dance festival of companies from Finland, Germany, Italy and Spain, as well as from France, was a leading draw recently at the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris. Their common link, besides the fact that they were from Europe, was that all were set to attractive musical scores and favoured extravagant staging, glamorous costumes or particularly inventive use of videos.

Events opened on an extremely high note with the Tero Saarinen Company featuring the superb Finnish dancer and choreographer himself in his 2002 creation, Hunt, set to Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. Saarinen spoke of his fascination for the score which brought out the violent, primitive and animal side of man at the same time as the spiritual and sacred, explaining that he felt the music related to the interior conflicts of the individual. His interpretation was therefore that of the person offering himself as a sacrifice rather than being the victim of society. The result was a stupefying solo, in which music, dance and video images merged together in one sublime whole.

Tero Saarinen : Hunt
Photo: Marita liulia

Saarinen, his expression concentrated and unsmiling, appeared on stage in a long, transparent white skirt, part man, part beast, part celestial being, and for the next thirty-three minutes which passed all too quickly, stunned the audience with his lyrical, intelligent choreography allied to the power of his interpretation. Full of grace and vitality and moving with quicksilver gestures in the first part of the piece, he crumpled to the ground as his solo continued.

The subsequent filmed effects were astonishing beginning with the moment he raised his arms to be swallowed up by a video which descended from above his head. Images were then projected onto his body, the man himself becoming part of the video. Spatial being or chrysalis, the Finnish dancer was extraordinary.

Tero Saarinen: Hunt
Photo: Marita liulia

The programme continued with two versions of Stravinsky's Noces. Mariage, a work Saarinen created for the Opéra National de Lorraine last December, was presented immediately after Bronislava Nijinska's legendary work, Noces .

Nijinska's stylised 1923 work, classical yet modern, one of the greatest ballets of the twentieth century, is a series of four tableaux showing a Russian wedding which recreates the peasant ritual of Holy Russia. Bride and bridegroom have been chosen by their families and have no choice but to obey their elders. They are simply perpetuating a tradition in which love plays no part. The young bride knows only too well that she will simply be used as a servant in her new family; that's the way it is.

Tero Saarinen Company : Noces
Photo: Marita liulia

Noces was beautifully interpreted by the company, with Marie-Séverine Hurteloup in the role of the submissive bride and Miroslaw Gordon as the reluctant but resigned bridegroom.

However, the event of the evening lay in the brilliant programming of Tero Saarinen's version of the same work, this time showing a rebellious bride dressed in black imploring her parents to give her freedom of choice. The young couple is aggressive and there is greater group pressure.

Mariage, as Noces before it, is a highly theatrical production, but this time the singers, the choir of the National Opéra of Lorraine, are on stage, some thirty to forty people also dressed in black and standing in a semi-circle on a raised ramp, their arms folded. Rigid and threatening, they look down on the dancers in fluid white dresses. The use of space is masterly and the visual impact awesome. Soprano Khatouna Gadelia, mezzo-soprano Katalin Varkonyi, and tenor Avi Klemberg with baritone Jean Teitgen gave memorable performances.

Tero Saarinen Company: Mariage
Singers, the choir of the National Opéra of Lorraine
Photo: Marita liulia

The reluctant bridegroom is dragged in front of his fiancé as she stands, head bowed, despairing. He claws at her as the singers turn their backs and the bridal couple, movingly interpreted by Morgan De Quelen and Phanuel Erdmann slowly inch their way forward.

The Finnish dancer has created an elegant, intensely powerful work in this brilliant re-reading, in which Stravinsky's music, coming from the stage rather than the orchestra pit, sounds incredibly different. Saarinen, who is surely becoming one of today's most interesting choreographers, succeeded in bringing out all the sadness, pathos and fears for the future inherent in the score.

Despite the freshness of the Ballet d'Europe, the next programme, opening with Folavi, an abstract work by director, Jean-Charles Gil, held few surprises. A backcloth of rushes blowing in the wind left little doubt that the accompanying music would be Vivaldi, and the easy-on-the-eye, pleasant choreography was well within the reach of his young interpreters, who were quick, neat and light.

A second more ambitious work, Mireille, set to the score of Gounod's opera arranged by Raoul Lay, told the story of the heroine's doomed love for Vincent, her penniless young suitor. Confronted by her father's refusal to let her marry him, she dies in her lover's arms, exhausted by her long walk to Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, where she had gone to implore the help of the saints.

Inspired by the poem by Frédéric Mistral, Gounod's 1864 work was set in Provence where the company was founded and seemed tailor-made for the troupe, for the history of the company, created by Gil in 2003, is of particular interest.

Ballet d'Europe: Mireille
Photo: DR

It is a professional troupe composed of 14 dancers from all over the world, aged between 20 and 32, and is supported by the FSE (Fonds Social Européen ). It is frequently cited as an example to be copied as Jean-Charles Gil is ensuring that the dancers are being prepared for a career after their retirement and workshops have been set up as well as classes which are being opened to the general public. Gil is not only dealing with the problems dancers face when they are out of work, but also bringing this most ephemeral of the arts to the fore by making it an option to be taken at the French baccalaureat at certain high schools in Marseilles.

Aterballetto, the modern Italian ballet company was founded as an experimental troupe at Reggio Emilia in 1979, but since Mauro Bigonzetti took over in 1997, it has justifiably become the leading dance company in Italy. He improved the technical level of the troupe and gave them a new repertoire. Now directed by Cristina Bozzolini with Bigonzetti as principal choreographer, the company chose to bring two of the latter's creations to Paris.

Wam, an abstract piece and set as the title implies, to different scores by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, is a tribute to the composer. It is a baroque celebration, sensuous and vulgar rather than erotic, but with its earthy, heavy choreography and weaving muscular bodies, perhaps not to everyone's taste. Bottoms, albeit covered, are thrust out rather too often, and in their fussy, elaborate, and highly-coloured costumes by Maurizio Millenotti, the male dancers are made to appear very effeminate and dominated by the women despite the fact that they spend much of their time opening their legs in a most disagreeable way. The choreography is needlessly complicated, acrobatic and jerky and after the first ten minutes, it is hard to discern what Bigonzetti wants to say. In contrast, the second ballet on offer, Cantata, hit the audience like a bomb! It was wonderful!

The dancers, glorious, exploded onto the stage, accompanied by four magnificent singers from the group Assurd, Cristina Vetrone, Lorella Monti, Enza Pagliara and Enza Prestia. The choreography, so much more inventive than in the first piece, burst with all the colours, sights and sounds of Southern Italy, and showed the dancers of this splendid young troupe at their best.

Aterbaletto: Cantata
Photo: Roberto Ricci

The men were Men, the women, Women and the work dealt with the various jealousies, quarrels, passions and seductions possible between them. Couples did not meet in sedate traditional folk-dances, but clashed in a vibrant celebration of the joy of being alive.

The solos were beautiful, a central pas de deux impressive, while the groupings, complemented by superb lighting effects, were effective. The long, fluid costumes for the women by Helena Medeiros were in shades of violet, prune, red, mauve brownish-grey, bordeaux and grey, and one can only hope that this gifted designer will continue her successful collaboration with the troupe.

Aterbaletto: Cantata
Photo: Roberto Ricci

But above all, there was the charm and singular beauty of the four female singers, whose music told stories of working-class culture from the historic areas of Naples and gave meaning to the whole. They sang Neapolitan songs that have rarely been heard outside the land of their birth, both popular and traditional works, accompanied by the ladies playing on a concertina, two tammorras, a tambourine and castanets. At some moments, it was difficult to know where to look, so much was happening on stage. A work full of energy, joy and passion!

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 .

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