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REVIEW: JIRI KYLIAN TRIPLE BILL

 

By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 20 FEBRUARY 2017 — Ironically, one has to thank Benjamin Millepied, the ex-director of the Paris Opera Ballet, whose hasty departure made way for a superb evening of dance, programmed ‘in extremis’ to replace his projected creation dedicated to the French singer, Barbara. At very short notice, Jiri Kylian, one of the greatest choreographers of the 20th and 21st centuries, proposed two of his more important ballets to complete an evening which began with his sublime Bella Figura, a work for nine dancers which he gave to the French company in 2001. A regular guest to the Palais Garnier, Kylian knows the dancers well, particularly Aurélie Dupont, the artistic director, who has interpreted many of his works.

The evening thus opened with Bella Figura, created for Netherlands dance Theater in 1995. Kylian, who studied at White Lodge, London’s Royal Ballet School, before joining John Cranko in Stuttgart, fuses the precision and speed of classical ballet with the sturdiness and strength of contemporary dance to produce works of great visual beauty. His ballets are all marked by an intense musicality, and nowhere is this more evident than in Bella Figura, one of his most lyrical works.


Muriel Zusperreguy in Bella Figura
Choreography: Jiri Kylian
Photo: Ann Ray

The 25-minute piece actually begins with the dancers warming up on stage before the lights in the amphitheater are dimmed whilst spectators are still taking their seats. Set to a baroque score by Vivaldi, Foss, Pergolese, Marcello and Torelli, there is no story, but neither is it totally abstract. Pride of place has been given to light, colours and the rustling of fabrics, resulting in a work of pure poetry infused with emotion.

Kylian himself has described it as a journey in time, light and space, as a work which questions the difference between art and artificiality. When does the performing act start? When we are born or when the curtain rises, and hence there is no curtain at the beginning of the piece. Rather, he uses curtains as part of the décor, curtains which glide across from the sides, or slide slowly down from above, in one case, to frame two women, Laetitia Pujol and Alice Renavand, flower-like, as they divest themselves of two long, voluminous red skirts to perform a pas de deux of great visual beauty. Already, in 2001 and in 2002 Pujol had proved remarkable in the work. Now, she is simply sublime.


Alice Renavand and Laetitia Pujol in Bella Figura
Choreography: Jiri Kylian
Photo: Ann Ray

The Czech choreographer has created a sort of twilight zone with his complex piece which is both meditative and mysterious, but if one just re reads the title, Bella Figura, paying particular attention to the first word, it sums up the whole work; beautiful. The dancers, semi-naked, are imbued with a special, fragile beauty which is allied to the grace of their movements. They move, disappear and reappear in a ballet where the choreographer has captured that rare instant where dream and reality form a whole. The last movement, with Alessio Carbone and Dorothée Gilbert, was performed in total silence. Not a sound could be heard.

There was a total change of atmosphere with the second work on offer, the more recent Tar and Feathers, created for Netherlands Dans Theater in 2006. Kylian drew his inspiration here from the corporal punishment meted out to offenders at the time of the Crusades. Hot tar was poured over the unfortunate person’s skin and they were then covered with feathers and humiliated by being paraded through the town.


Paris Opera Ballet in Tar and Feathers
Choreography: Jiri Kylian
Photo: Ann Ray

However, rather than a grueling, tortured piece, Kylian, who was also responsible for the unique set design, used it as a metaphor expressing the duality of lassitude and lightness present in all of us. The fluency of Bella Figura has here been replaced by more angular gestures and by more jerky, broken movements despite the fact that with one pas de trois, the three figures melded into one, in slow-motion.

Innovative and inventive, with a  remarkable décor in black and white, it featured the pianist, Tomoko Mukaiyama, bravely perched up high on a piano which had had its legs extended by a couple of meters. The score was based on Mozart, Kylian’s great love, but a Mozart interpreted differently, with the music interspersed by the vicious snarling of bears. The growling noises, interrupted by moments by a whispering voice, disconcerted and created a distinctly unsettling atmosphere.  The piece intrigued, the more so when five grotesquely made-up women arrived, such as puppets in their black wigs and long white tutus. From spirituality, there was a return to stark brutality.

There were fine performances from Aurélia Bellet and Dorothée Gilbert, but the three men were under-cast. Takerue Coste was too preoccupied with completing all the steps to consider any interpretation, while Yvon Demol and Antonio Conforti, both promising young dancers, lacked the maturity to deal with the underlying issues in the work.


Marion-Barbeau, Florian Magnenet, Stephane Bullion in Symphony of Psalms
Choreography: Jiri Kylian
Photo: Ann Ray

In contrast, the more ‘starry’ cast in the final work in the programme, Symphonie de Psaumes had both the charisma and authority required. Dominated by the étoiles Marie-Agnès Gillot and Stéphane Bullion, and with Hugo Marchand, Marc Moreau and the spirited Florian Magnenet, dancing better than ever before, the work was brilliantly interpreted by all the cast.

Created in 1978 when the choreographer was barely 30 years old, Symphonie de Psaumes is, as the title suggests, a hymn to God. Set to Stravinsky’s grandiose score composed in 1930, with an impressive décor by William Katz of oriental carpets acting as a backcloth and with 8 high-backed wooden chairs on the stage, four at the back and four at one side, the 16 dancers unfurled in a seamless wave of movement. Dance was at one with the music, the choreography an indication of that very special Kylian ‘fluency and musicality’ inherent in all his later works.
 
Formal, powerful and mystical, the dancers moved as a single unit, giving physical expression to both sorrow and joy, praising God in movement. Superbly danced, the ballet was a celebration of man’s spirit triumphing over the materialism of the world.


Paris Opera Ballet in Symphony of Psalms
Choreography: Jiri Kylian
Photo: Ann Ray

Three different works, comprising three different moments of Jiri Kylian’s career, and illustrating three differing styles, all highly sophisticated, linked simply by his inimitable elegance, musicality and fluidity of movement thus completed a supremely attractive evening of dance. The choreography could have been made to measure for the Paris Opera dancers.

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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