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ISRAELI CHOREOGRAPHER OPENS PARIS OPERA BALLET SEASON

 

By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 8 NOVEMBER 2018 — The year 2019 will mark the 350th anniversary of the Paris Opera Ballet, for it was in June 1669 that King Louis XIV founded the Académie Royale de Musique as it was then known. Coincidentally, 2019 also marks the 30th anniversary of the Opéra Bastille. It was therefore a little odd that in order to celebrate three and a half centuries of history, no danseur étoile or premier danseur took part in the opening gala to the season while the programme presented a work, albeit updated, by veteran choreographer Ohad Naharin created in Tel Aviv nearly twenty years ago. The piece was set to an eclectic score from which French composers were notably absent. 

However, if the goal of the evening was to entertain, then the show succeeded. A compilation of extracts from Naharin’s work over the last two decades, the piece included several of his big ensemble routines which were well danced by the members of the Paris corps de ballet. The opening sequence was particularly attractive, but it’s hard to recall what actually took place after the initial vivid, slicing arm movements followed by the group of dancers moving in unison in the ensuing exuberant display of dynamics and slashing angular movements with all limbs at impossible angles. One did wonder what it wad all about.

The atmosphere changed when dancers left the stage to choose partners from a willing audience, and the subsequent sequence of professional and amateurs rollicking around the stage was amazingly successful. It was almost moving, as each member of the audience slowly returned to their seat, leaving a fair-haired lady in a pretty red dress centre stage in a clinch with a handsome young dancer, smooching to the strains of "Somewhere over the rainbow".

The recorded music, which also included extracts from Brian Eno, Pérez Prao, David Darling and Isao Tomita among others, might have seemed alarming to the layman, but it fused together admirably and no piece lasted more than a few minutes, whether hard rock or Arab Traditional music. But the most enjoyable as far as the audience was concerned, were the Hebrew chants accompanying "Ehad Mi Yodea", an excerpt from Kyr, premiered in 1990. Some thirty or thirty-one dancers dressed in traditional black suits and hats were seated on chairs in a large semi-circle across the stage, dancing with violent, explosive movements as they flung first their hats, then their jackets, trousers and shoes into the air.

The last 25 minutes were devoted to a virtual display of Naharin’s "gaga" technique, a movement language based on the flow of energy through the body in all directions and where dancers are no longer allowed to look in mirrors but must move instinctively. For the Israeli choreographer without any classical background, "gaga" is a way of gaining knowledge of oneself via the body, developing flexibility, stamina and agility.

The evening thus proved to be a frenetic kaleidoscope of energy in constant movement, a tumult of jumping, leaping humanity whichever way one looked. There’s little doubt Naharin is at his best with fast moving ensembles, preferably those in unison, but the lack of scenery and monotonous lighting made several of the snippets, and particularly the duos, rather stark. There’s no story, no theme, while the costumes by Rakefet Levy, limited to street dress for the most part, only emphasized that the essence of the work lay in each individual dancer being himself and simply letting go. The evening, with its collection of unrelated ‘best-ofs’, seemed more a tribute to Ohad Naharin’s career than the opening programme of one of the world’s most prestigious classical ballet companies. 

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. Based in Paris,  Patricia Boccadoro is the dance editor for Culturekiosque.



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