Dance: Reviews
You are in:  Home > Dance > Reviews   •  Archives   •  send page to a friend

Headline Feed
Email to a friend




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 Lifar’s 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 Ratmansky‘s 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.

Marie-Agnès Gillot (Phèdre) in Serge Lifar's Phèdre 
Photo: Agathe Poupeney

Phèdre, set to an undistinguished, often bombastic score by Georges Auric, tells the story of Phèdre’s incestuous love for her stepson, Hippolyte, during the absence of his father, Theseus. Based upon Racine’s 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 sympathy.

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, Phedre’s confidante, really convinced both by her lovely dancing and artistic commitment.

Nicolas Le Riche in Serge Lifar's Phèdre 
Photo: Agathe Poupeney

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 Psyché 
Photo: Agathe Poupeney

Ratmansky, inspired by César Franck’s sensual poem, chose to open the ballet with the heroine having fallen into a deep sleep brought on by Venus, jealous of the former’s 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 Psyché 
Photo: Agathe Poupeney

The saving grace of the whole ballet lay in the beautiful score, César Franck’s choral symphony, chosen by Ratmansky himself, and interpreted by the choir of Radio France with the Orchestre Nationale d’Ile 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 Phèdre 
Photo: Agathe Poupeney

Related Culturekiosque Archives

A Tribute to Serge Lifar (1905 - 1986)

The Bolshoi Ballet in Paris Shows Mixed Results.

Interview: Alexei Ratmansky

Book Review: I, Maya Plisetskaya

[ Feedback | Home ]

If you value this page, please send it to a friend.

Copyright © 2011 Euromedia Group, Ltd. All Rights Reserved.