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George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins at the Paris Opera Ballet

 

By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 2 February 2004 - Throughout December, the Paris Opéra Ballet continued their commemoration of the centenary of George Balanchine's birth with three more of his works, plus Afternoon of a Faun, the poetic ballet created half a century ago by Jérome Robbins, his collaborator for over thirty-three years.

The evening began with Concerto Barocco, a plot less ballet of ingenious sketches created in 1941 where each group of steps appears to flow into the next. Set to the Concerto in D Minor for two violins by Jean-Sébastien Bach, it is not only very musical, but also extremely logical. From the first movement with eight girls forming one group then breaking into two, until the last, ending with ten dancers kneeling with grace and spontaneity on stage, the whole cast danced well and respected the musical phrasing. It was also pleasing to see the elegant Laurent Hilaire in the masculine role for the first time in his long and varied career.

Laetitia Pujol demonstrated her high degree of technical proficiency in a spirited but lyrical interpretation of Balanchine's Tchaikovsky pas de deux, a dazzling showstopper in any repertoire. The Paris Opera's youngest étoile, who has both personality and temperament, was partnered by the reliable Jean-Guillaume Bart.

The audience acts as a mirror in Robbins' brilliant 1953 version of Afternoon of a Faun, but if blonde Karl Pacquette as the narcissistic male dancer rehearsing alone certainly looked the part, it was Emilie Cozette, as the girl who interrupts him, who convinced. Lovely to look at, pure and chaste, she received the kiss on her cheek with wonderment, and unable to believe her senses, glances through "the mirror" before her exit as a young woman..

As the curtain rose on Sérénade, a lyrical work of timeless elegance in four parts, the cast, beautifully led by a luminous Agnès Letestu partnered by Laurent Hilaire took the audience into a realm of magic and refinement. The academic classical language is constantly broken by groups in long white tutus which form then disperse before our eyes. Pensive and melancholic, the dancers gave themselves completely to the music, sweeping across the stage in waves of movement, telling their story both musically and choreographically. Formal, with exquisite style and musicality, the company gave a sublime demonstration of Balanchine's gift for visualising music and giving it a tangible form.

At the risk of rousing the ire of many, the pure beauty of this work, one of the earliest the Russian master created, and which has formed part of the French company's repertoire since 1947, was probably never surpassed.


Patricia 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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