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Hommage: Boris Kochno 1904 - 1990

 

By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 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.

After 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.

After 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.

The 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.

Bravo 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.

Agnes Letestu
Agnès Letestu in Balanchine's le fils prodigue (Prodigal Son)
Photo: Icare


Change 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.

The 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.

Anna, 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
Balanchine: Seven Deadly Sins
Photo: Icare

Much 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.

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