By Patricia Boccadoro
15 January 2002 - "I'm
fascinated by the whole Diaghilev adventure", Thierry Malandain
told me recently at a lunch given at the Opera of Massy, on the
outskirts of Paris, where his company was appearing. "The ballets
were so revolutionary and changed the whole way dance was viewed in
the West", he continued, " Its impact was irreversible.
Diaghilev brought together the
greatest composers, painters, dancers and choreographers of the
century. When you think that he worked with Stravinsky, Debussy,
Satie, Ravel, Prokofiev, and Poulenc, while his designers were
Picasso, Derain, Matisse and Miro, to name but a few... well I haven't
the money to do that! No one has ".
In spite of the
fact that Malandain heads the National Choreographic Centre* of
Biarritz , he does not belong to that grey, drab, negative club of
contemporary French choreographers who imagine that several people,
stark naked and squirming around a darkened stage constitutes a
ballet. Trained at the Paris
Opera Ballet, he is a classical choreographer whose work, most
refreshing and enjoyable to watch, is of much greater importance than
it is actually given credit for.
Photo: Olivier Houeix
not an innovator but more a renovator, if that's the right word",
he said. "I take ballets from the past , and sort of play about
with them, taking the music and the qualities of my dancers as a
guide. Each piece I write is inspired from the original without being
a copy, and the subject is treated from today's point of view. As I
only have fourteen dancers, I don't write 'tutu' ballets which need to
be staged by a much larger company, so I navigate between two worlds.
Not being experimental, I suppose I'm considered a bit of an oddity."
programme at the Opera of Massy began with Malandain's version of Pulcinella,
a ballet first commissioned in 1920 by Diaghilev,
choreographed by Massine, and set to music by Stravinsky. The scenery
was by Picasso. However, the staging we saw, despite being fairly
minimalist, had remained a commedia dell'arte ballet containing all
the fun and liveliness of the original without falling into excess.
With roles for everyone, the company threw themselves wholeheartedly
into the action.
In contrast, L'aprés-midi d'un
faune, set to a score by Debussy, was treated as an exciting solo
where the Faun's sensuality was paramount. The original story of a
faun lying on a rock, spying on a group of nymphs bathing has
disappeared along with the scenery by Léon Bakst. Instead , the
creature reposes upon a gigantic box of paper tissues; he nuzzles
large mounds of soft crinkly handkerchiefs in evident delight, and the
work rests on this solitary state of the simple gratification of his
desire. The choreography, less static than that of Nijinsky who wrote
the ballet in 1912 gives star dancer Christophe Romero ample
opportunity to demonstrate his powerful virile leaps and considerable
The two new works completed the
programme. In a company supposedly without stars, the French
choreographer made intelligent use of the lyrical Magali Praud, an
ideal choice for the young girl in Le spectre de le rose, set
to the immortal score by Carl Maria von Weber. Hard to follow in the
romantic footsteps of Karsavina and Nijinsky himself, the ballet
nevertheless convinced by the delicacy of Praud's dancing.
Spectre de la rose
Photo: Olivier Houeix
the whole troupe shone in Boléro, a work which had
nothing further to do with Ida Rubenstein for whom it was created and
even less with any gypsies dancing on tables. It has, however
everything to do with Ravel's music. Malandain has confined twelve
dancers within a small space delimited by large transparent
plexi-glass cubes, where, following the movements and emotional
strains in the score, they gradually achieve their liberation.
Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe. She
contributes 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 Culturekiosque.com.
Russes inspired people then as they inspire now whether you
re-stage the original works, or 'reinvent' the choreography as I'm
doing today", he concluded.
purpose of a National Choreographic Centre, subsidised by the Ministry
of Culture, is to create new works which are often (to the detriment
of dance these days), highly experimental.