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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 9 March 2006—The revival of Balanchine's Jewels , the triptych of three sparkling one-act ballets inspired by the jewellery shops on New York's Fifth Avenue, at the Paris Opera Ballet was an event to be looked forward to, especially the opportunity to see Rubies, the scintillating work that entered into the company's repertoire in 1974  as Capriccio and which the company dance so well.

It was, as it has been in the past, brilliantly cast and most exhilarating. Led by an irrepressible, impish Emmanuel Thibault partnered by an effervescent Eleanora Abbagnato in fine form, the jazzy, sporty choreography set to the Stravinsky score suited the dancers to perfection. Each technical challenge was tossed off with impertinence, particularly by Thibault, the whole company, as did the audience, thoroughly enjoying themselves. Stephanie Romberg gave a strong performance in the second female role, while in the corps de ballet, Dorothée Gilbert, Myriam Ould-Braham, Fanny Fiat, and Mathilde Froustey were an absolute joy to watch in their flirtatious little red tutus. Both costumes and decor were designed by Christian Lacroix. There could have been no better tribute to Broadway.

Eléonora Abbagnato and Emmanuel Thibault in Jewels: Rubies
Photo © Sébastien Mathé

In the majestic Diamonds, set by rights to a Tchaikovsky score, and which represents Balanchine's tribute to Petipa, the brilliance of the Imperial Russian style shone forth. Marie-Agnès Gillot was perfection without the coldness the word might imply. She was elegant, glamorous even, dancing with softness and grace. This was Balanchine in aristocratic mode with all the stylistic grandeur that this implies, the corps de ballet forming circles behind Gillot, a fitting setting for this magnificent ballerina.

Her partner, Hervé Moreau danced creditably, cleanly, and professionally.

However, the evening had started off non too well. The opening work, Emeralds, inspired by the French school and the romantic melodies of Gabriel Fauré isn't Balanchine at his best. If under cast, it can be rather boring, and in this staging, under cast it was. With the notable absence of Elisabeth Maurin or of Laetitia Pujol in the central role, it was over-long and drawn out, despite the brief, but oh so welcome appearance of the elegant Kader Belarbi, and a whirlwind breath of fresh air from Dorothée Gilbert as she stepped in as a last minute replacement to partner Alessio Carbone.

Nathalie Riqué's movements were brittle, and although Nolwenn Daniel danced well, they did not manage to create that special atmosphere so necessary to the ballet. But most worrisome of all was the presence of Karl Paquette, who by some quirk of fate was promoted to the rank of premier dancer five years ago. Since the work was performed with the agreement of the Balanchine Trust, those who rehearsed it should take a closer look at the dancers in the main roles. Lovely dancing from the corps de ballet is not enough.

Marie-Agnès Gillot and Hervé Moreau in Jewels: Diamonds
Photo © Sébastien Mathé

It is becoming a growing embarrassment to have a premier dancer in the company who does not deserve a place there at all.  Paquette lumbered onto the stage, not even able to partner, not knowing where to put his hands. When a member of the company regresses to this, he should take some form of refresher course before being allowed to re-appear in public.

It is more and more the people lower down in the company who are stepping in at the last moment and proving their worth, not only lovely Dorothée Gilbert, but also the young Florian Magnenet, a welcome addition to Diamonds. Once again, the hierarchy at the Paris Opéra Ballet is being put into question and a dancer's official rank is no indication of value.


Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe and is the dance editor for

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