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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 24 OCTOBER 2008 — The visit of the New York City Ballet also coincided with the tenth anniversary of Jerome Robbins' death, and after the ballets presented by the American company, the Paris Opera Ballet paid their own special tribute to the American choreographer, the man who considered the Paris Opera as his second home.

Jerome Robbins
Photo: Elliot

A programme of three of Robbins' most popular works was given at the Palais Garnier together with a creation by Benjamin Millepied, a French-born dancer who joined the New York troupe in 1995, and who made his debut under Robbins' directorship. It proved to be an unexpectedly exciting evening, illustrating that the strengths of the French company at the present time lie less in the individual performances of the 'official' étoiles than in the general high level of the troupe.

The first ballet presented was En Sol, set to Maurice Ravel's Piano Concerto in G Major, and restaged for the French company in 1975 when Robbins came to work with the dancers himself. It is a light and joyous piece which follows no particular story line and seeks no dramatic effects and was lightheartedly danced by Emilie Cozette and Karl Paquette, the latter appearing more relaxed and at ease than his partner. Indeed, this was a metamorphosed Karl Paquette. Slimmer, more graceful and considerably more attentive to his partner than in the past, his dancing was a revelation.

Laëtitia Pujol and Marc Moreau in Jerome Robbins' Triade
Photo: Sebastien Mathé

But the great surprise came with Benjamin Millepied's second creation for the company, Triade, set to a score by Nico Muhly. The interpretation by Marie-Agnès Gillot, Laetitia Pujol and corps de ballet member, Marc Moreau was outstanding, although Audric Bezard, sujet, pained somewhat next to the brilliance of his three colleagues. The work, choreographically speaking, was better than Millepied's first piece for the company, but he still didn't break any new ground. The 'walk, walk, walk, grapple grapple, and hey, everyone change partners' would have been most tiresome had it not been for the interpreters who, one felt, were injecting their own emotion and personality into their roles. The aggressive, hostile looks have been seen countless times before, and, given interpreters with less dramatic presence and inferior technique, the impact of the work would have been greatly reduced. Some people complained about the accompanying score, but the performance was so enthralling, one scarcely took notice of it.

Audric Bezard. Marie-Agnès Gillot, Marc Moreau and Laetitia Pujol
in Jerome Robbins' Triade
Photo: Sebastien Mathé

In contrast, In the Night, set to a Chopin score, which entered the company's repertoire in 1989 and was immortalized by Monique Loudières and Manuel Legris in Dominique Delouche's 1992 film, Like the birds, was cast very unevenly. It started out on the highest possible note with Myriam Ould-Braham and Emmanuel Thibault in the first poetic and intensely romantic pas de deux. There was an aura about them the instant they appeared, an electricity in the air which dissipated when they left, leaving a sense of loss. Their dancing was perfection, from the gossamer soft lifts, the subtle emotion conveyed, to the total beauty of each movement.

The crash down to earth was harsh indeed with the second pas de deux, more difficult to perform than it appears and needing technicians of a far superior quality than Stéphanie Romberg and Christophe Duquenne. They simply couldn't make it. Likewise, the third pas de deux, interpreted by two otherwise very fine dancers, Eleonora Abbagnato and Stéphane Bullion, the latter far too inexpressive, was disappointing.

Abbagnato, however, came into her own in The Concert, a comic masterpiece dealing with the secret fantasies of a group of people who have come to listen to a concert. She was extremely funny and natural as the Ballerina, a role which enabled her to demonstrate her gifts as a remarkable character dancer. Emmanuel Hoff thoroughly enjoyed himself as the hen-pecked husband, albeit as one with murderous designs on his insufferably bossy wife, brilliantly portrayed by Celine Talon. Simon Valastro, an outstanding classical dancer, proved extraordinary in the role of 'shy boy', very bashful and awkward, while a handful of a dramatically under-rehearsed corps de ballet, with always one out of step or out of tune, had the audience in fits of giggles.

Jerome Robbins: The Concert
Photo: Sebastien Mathe

And while the ballet, set to Chopin's Pièces pour piano with arrangements by Clare Grundman, was extremely easy to enjoy, one cannot over emphasize the excellent musical choices and the fact that the fun is never to the detriment of the music. Pianist Vessela Pelovska was particularly outstanding, not only for her sensitive playing, but also for the fact that she actually became an integral part of the work, completely at one with the dancers.

It goes without saying that the three Robbins ballets had been carefully supervised by Jean-Pierre Frohlich, member of the Robbins Rights Trust, and maitre de ballet of the American company since 1990.

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. Ms. Boccadoro is the dance editor for

Related Culturekiosque Dance Archives

New York City Ballet in Paris: Great Expectations, Disappointment for Some

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