By Patricia Boccadoro
PARIS, 21 OCTOBER 2011 The programming of two works, the 1950
ballet, Phèdre by Serge Lifar and Psyché a creation by
Alexei Ratmansky, was a risky
venture for the opening of the new season of dance at the Palais Garnier.
Risky because Lifars ballets, with the notable exception of Suite en
Blanc, mannered as they are and choreographed for the most part
around himself in the male role, have generally fallen out of favour with
audiences today, while Ratmanskys claim to fame rests on his brilliant
direction of the Bolshoi company from 2004 to 2009, together with his
magnificent reconstructions of forgotten 19th century works.
Serge Lifar, who was
appointed director of the Paris Opera Ballet in 1930, was largely
responsible for the re-birth of the company, his many reforms paving the
way for Rudolf Nureyev, some fifty years later, to make it into one of the
finest in the world. Consequently, his ballets are of historical
importance and are quite rightly reprogrammed from time to time, but they
are works with particular appeal to French audiences, and it is hard to
envisage them being programmed elsewhere.
(Phèdre) in Serge Lifar's Phèdre
Photo: Agathe Poupeney
Phèdre, set to an undistinguished, often bombastic score by
Georges Auric, tells the story of Phèdres incestuous love for her
stepson, Hippolyte, during the absence of his father, Theseus. Based upon
Racines play, Jean Cocteau wrote the libretto, and also designed the set
and costumes in solid, clashing colours which are now horribly dated and
serve only to detract from the drama.
If one adds to this the stiff, static choreography, a heavy burden lay
on the dancers to infuse this theatrical work with some form of emotion.
But while Marie-Agnès Gillot as Phèdre stunned by her superb technique,
one remained indifferent to her plight. Neither did Yann Saiz, despite a
remarkable performance with his showy, affected poses, draw much
Stéphane Bullion as
Theseus was left to stride around the stage, ill-at-ease in his
unflattering, dated outfit. The dramatic intensity of the work as
captivated by Maya
Plisetskaya in 1976 was lost. Only Sabrina Mallem as Oenone, Phedres
confidante, really convinced both by her lovely dancing and artistic
Nicolas Le Riche in Serge Lifar's
Jean Cocteau might be a legend in French intellectual circles, but for
this ballet to survive, something should be done to modify the costumes,
particularly those of the corps de ballet and the men.
Psyché is a ballet few people could want to sit through twice.
With its dancing flowers, animals cavorting in the forest, people with
blue fuzzy hair and wispy beards wearing costumes beribboned in various
shades of blue and grey, fortunate indeed were those who had read their
programme. At the heart of an uneven choreography, which was nevertheless
touched with grace at times, was a long drawn-out pas de deux which had
the hero, in swimming trunks decorated with white feathers, batting his
chest with two hands in the shape of a heart to show the depth of his love
for Psyché. It verged on the embarrassing.
Paris Opera Ballet in Alexei Ratmansky's
Ratmansky, inspired by César
Francks sensual poem, chose to open the ballet with the heroine having
fallen into a deep sleep brought on by Venus, jealous of the formers rare
beauty. She sends her son, Eros, to punish the nymph, who is forbidden to
see his face, but he falls in love with her. It was a simple enough story,
but one was too easily be distracted by the inappropriate scenery, kitsch
and ugly, by Karen Kilimnik and the many unappetizing costumes by Adeline
André, who had the dancers clad as if off to a fancy-dress party. Even
Clairemarie Osta, as the sweet and guileless Psyché, was decked out like a
twelve-year old in a short, frilly organza frock. Matthew Ganio, in the
thankless role of Eros did his best with the choreography, and it was left
to Alice Renavand as Venus, surprisingly bedecked in a gold lamé dress, to
infuse some life into the whole proceedings. The stage seemed to light up
as soon as she appeared, despite the annoying presence of a painted snail
which seemed to slide on and off the stage at random.
Paris Opera Ballet in Alexei Ratmansky's
The saving grace of the whole ballet lay in the beautiful score, César
Francks choral symphony, chosen by Ratmansky himself, and interpreted by
the choir of Radio France with the Orchestre Nationale dIle de France
conducted by Koen Kessels. It made everything worthwhile.
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. She last wrote on Edward Villella and the
Miami City Ballet.
Headline Image: Paris Opera Ballet in Serge Lifar's
Related Culturekiosque Archives
A Tribute to
Serge Lifar (1905 - 1986)
Bolshoi Ballet in Paris Shows Mixed Results.
Interview: Alexei Ratmansky
Book Review: I, Maya