By Patricia Boccadoro
8 January 2002 - I
suppose one should not wonder why it took over eleven years to
programme a tribute to Boris Kochno at the Palais Garnier Paris Opera
Ballet, but simply be grateful that it was done at all. The
intelligent young Russian immigrant who became
Diaghilev's secretary and close
advisor at the age of seventeen, was one of the most influential
cultural figures in France in the twentieth century.
writing over a dozen librettos for the Ballets
Russes, including Mavra, for an operette of Stravinsky,
the young poet became artistic advisor of the Ballets
Russes de Monte-Carlo after Serge Diaghilev's death in Venice in
the summer of 1929. He went on to found Les Ballets 1933 with
George Balanchine, featuring
in an early programme, Seven Deadly Sins, a ballet with songs
choreographed by the latter to a text by Berthold Brecht.
Subsequently, the success of Les Forains, for which he wrote
the libretto in 1945 led to the founding, with
Roland Petit, of Les Ballets
des Champs- Elysées, which he co-directed until 1951.
an excellent short documentary on his life, the evening began withMavra,
Kochno's first libretto for Diaghilev. From a sentimental point of
view, this early opera-bouffe by an adolescent boy might have seemed
like a good idea, but for the poor audience who had to sit through it,
a little reflection wouldn't have gone amiss. Apart from the fact that
it didn't impress at its creation in 1922, the story, based on a poem
by Pouchkine, is extremely silly and most unflattering as a tribute to
a man who spent his life surrounded by such eminent figures as Jean
Genet, Jean Cocteau , Pablo Picasso and the likes.
heroine, Parasha, is bored and decides to fall in love with the
dashing hussar Vassily who, better to see his lady-love, dresses up as
the family's new cook; but Parasha's mother comes home early and
catches him shaving. So he runs away.
to singers Olga Gouriakova, Sofia Aksenova, Irina Tchistiakova and
Alexei Kosarev for dealing bravely and professionally with a forgotten
jewel best kept locked in the family vaults.
Letestu in Balanchine's le fils prodigue (Prodigal Son)
of tempo with Balanchine's Prodigal Son, Diaghilev's last
ballet to a libretto by Kochno, music by Prokofiev and decor by
Georges Roualt. Inspired from the bible,the ballet relates the
downfall of the son who sets off to discover the world, but finds
nothing except its base and vicious side. The intensely dramatic
central role was brilliantly danced by Jérémie Bélingard,
with Agnès Letestu,
cold, cruel, but so very very beautiful as the courtesan who
bewitches, robs and abandons him. The pas de deux between the fragile,
vulnerable boy and the magnificent creature who seduces him was of
exceptional beauty. In Letestu, the Paris
Opera Ballet now has a ballerina of international standing. A
star in the real sense of the word and ovationed as such.
Seven Deadly Sins, a show , or more correctly a ballet with songs,
commissioned by Kochno, but concocted by Balanchine, Berthold Brecht,
and Kurt Weill also had problems at its creation. However, the new
version by Italian choreographer Laura Scozzi with costumes by Laurent
Pelly was a triumph, in great part due to the irresistible Elisabeth
Maurin and the splendid mezzo-soprano, Anne Sofie von Otter.
the heroine is played by a dancer, and a singer, who tells Anna's
story as she travels around America earning money any way she can to
build a home for her family. She visits seven cities, finding the
seven sins, and as the family is ready to sell her to live off the
fruits of her labour, 'Vice becomes virtue and virtue becomes
sin'.(Michel Bataillon) The singers, Ian Caley, Stefan Margita, Nigel
Smith, and Nicolas Cavallier, alternatively sprawled, or perched
alertly on an emerald green plasic sofa suspended high above the stage
camp the hard-hearted family with evident relish. Every American cliché
one can think of is there, from a parade of preening masculine
sex-symbols, much hip-thrusting from a fake Elvis Presley to a vulgar,
large- bosomed broad from a house of ill repute.
Seven Deadly Sins
amusement was caused by the decor; Chantal Thomas designed a giant-
sized poster with gargantuan cream-cakes, sausages, and meat-pies
twice the size of a flashy car to illustrate greed. A feast for the
eyes as much as the stomach. But best of all was the atmosphere of fun
and good-humour which accompanied the whole work. The dancers revelled
in every moment and their enjoyment was infectious.
Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance in
Europe. She contributes 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.