February 2004 - The Paris
Opera Ballet opened the season with the first of three programmes of Balanchine
ballets to mark the hundredth anniversary of the choreographer's
The October programme was very well-balanced, beginning with
Palais de Cristal, the 1947 showcase created in Paris for the entire
French company, but which was danced on this occasion in its American form. It
was followed by an earlier work, The Prodigal Son, one of Balanchine's
rare narrative ballets, and ended with The Four Temperaments, as fresh
and actual today as at its creation.
The French company excelled itself in the
first work, now known as Symphonie en ut, after Bizet's composition.
Danced in the New York Ballet's black and white version as the choreographer
ultimately envisaged it, it showed to advantage both corps de ballet and
The curtain rises before the music starts, showing two
small groups of girls in white tutus, who start to dance as the music begins.
Subsequently, four couples appear in turn, as the work progresses in four
movements, before being joined by the whole cast on stage.
Agnès Letestu in Balanchine's Symphonie en
© Photo: Icare
Partnered by an attentive Yann Bridard, Agnès
Letestu, superbly musical and luminous, was sublime in the very lovely second
movement. With her elegant physique and beauty of line, she was totally at ease
with the demanding choreography
Laetitia Pujol and Emilie Cozette, partnered by
Christophe Duquenne, on fine form after having been awarded the A.R.O. P.
prize, were all worthy of notice, but particular praise must be given to the
splendid José Martinez partnering Marie-Agnès Gillot, in the
glittering third movement. Buoyant Emmanuel
Thibault partnering Geraldine Wiart shone in the last movement alongside
Alessio Carbone. The corps de ballet, revelling in this joyous work has rarely
been seen to greater advantage.
and José Martinez in Balanchine's Symphonie en ut
The Prodigal Son, which re-tells the
biblical story, provides an intensely dramatic central figure for a male
dancer, on this occasion, Nicolas Le Riche.
"It's a wonderful ballet",
he told me after the performance. "It has everything, from the strong
libretto, (by Kochno),
magnificent designs (by Roualt), and Prokofiev's music. It is full of emotion,
and even if you don't like the choreography, all Balanchine's future greatness
is there. You can sense the potential. Historically, it is a very important
work, and I think, a very great one."
Many people share Le Riche's
viewpoint, but personally, I find the ballet unpleasant to watch. The bunch of
reprobates who make the prodigal son drink and generally bring about his
downfall are grotesque, and moreover, the work is bitty. Contrary to Mr Le
Riche, poignant in the role, I cannot see any of Balanchine's future genius
there. The choreography, uncharacteristic, lacks his later harmony and
perfection and shows that he possibly didn't have the talent of a story-teller,
the reason why practically all of his mature works are plot-less.
Marie-Agnès Gillot in Balanchine's The
© Photo: Icare
One couldn't have wished for finer interpretation, with
Agnès Letestu dancing exquisitely as the courtesan. With cold beauty,
imperious, she dominated with each gesture, leaving me at the end with a
fleeting impression that indeed, perhaps this was a wondrous ballet after all.
This beautiful ballerina has left her indelible stamp on the role.
The Four Temperaments is a one-act ballet set to music by Hindemith.
Created in 1946 and re-staged for the New York City ballet some years later, it
is composed of a series of variations based on four moods, melancholic,
sanguine, phlegmatic, and choleric, and is stylistically and 'temperamentally
'ideally suited to that company. When it entered the repertoire of the French
company in 1963, there were a lot of teething troubles, as it breaks the
academic classical style, and in the 1970's it was not well danced, but now,
the first cast I saw was brilliant.
Aurélie Dupont in "Sanguine" from
Balanchine's The Four Temperaments
© Photo: Icare
Laurent Hilaire in "Melancolic", Aurélie
Dupont in "Sanguine", Nicolas Le Riche as "Phlegmatic", and splendid Marie
Agnès Gillot as "Coleric" all thoroughly understood what they were
about, and sailed through some of the most fiendishly difficult and intricate
movements with the greatest of ease. And they were matched by the corps de
ballet even though speed was sometimes a problem, except for beautiful
Aurore Cordellier who was a joy to
Delphine Moussin and Yann
Bridard in Balanchine's The Four Temperaments
© Photo: Icare
The Four Temperaments is a masterpiece. It
is one of the most outstanding ballets of the twentieth century. The purity of
Russian ballet adapted to the tastes of a nonchalant American audience. Let's
not forget that George Balanchine worked both on Broadway and in Hollywood
But what happened to the soloists in a second cast I saw?
They looked forced; they looked instinctively wrong. Ill prepared for the work,
Mr. Moreau, Mr. Paquette and Mr Bouché need to be sent to New York
before attempting another Balanchine ballet. These three young men have neither
the personality nor the stature necessary, apart from their lack of style.
Happily Yann Bridard, intelligent
and authentic in "Flegmatic", saved the evening. Can't he give them lessons?
Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe. She contributes to 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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