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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 11 JANUARY 2008 — At first glance, works by Angelin Preljocaj and Wayne McGregor, the young British choreographer very much in the public eye at the moment, might seem an oddly-assorted combination to present on the same evening, but to Brigitte Lefèvre, artistic director of the Paris Opera Ballet, it seemed an obvious, if personal choice. She said she had "discovered" McGregor at a gala for AIDS, when Preljocaj' Rite of Spring was also on the programme and from then on, began to associate the two of them in her mind. They are not so dissimilar, as both of them tend to be theatrical and know how to work with classical dancers.

"I was impressed with what I saw", she continued, "and I made several trips to Covent Garden to see McGregor's work before inviting him to create a piece for us. As I first met him with Angelin Preljocaj, it seemed logical to present a dramatic piece by the French choreographer at the same time."

McGregor, guest artist at the Palais Garnier for the first time, is more than just a fashionable choreographer. In his relatively short career, he has created some electrifying works, and although untrained in classical dance, has the ballerinas in pointe shoes using their classical technique.

Born in the grim, grey town of Stockport in the industrialized North of England in 1970, he studied choreography at the University of Leeds before completing his training at José Limon's School in New York. At the same time that he founded his own dance company in 1992, he made his name as the resident choreographer at "The Place" in London. Curiosity led him to create several avant-garde projects on the Internet. Shortly after gaining critical acclaim for Chroma, a work which won him an Olivier Award, he was appointed resident choreographer of the Royal Ballet in December, 2006. His work with classical dancers has been interspersed with various projects including the choreography of a Harry Potter film, and the staging of the popular musical, Kirikou and Karaba, created at the maison de la Danse de Lyon, and shown at the Casino de Paris.

Genus, a ballet for 24 dancers, was inspired by Charles Darwin's book On the Origin of Species which was published in 1859. McGregor went to visit Darwin's vast collection on display at London's Natural History Museum, and much of what he saw is shown on a film projected onstage which takes the place of décor in his ballet. Among a horde of objects that flash past one's eyes almost too quickly to be identified, one can recognize an eagle flying, a lion, and, pell-mell, an elderly naked man, someone running, a snake in a jar, and pages of writing with a drawing of "the tree of life" taken from his notebooks.

Wayne McGregor: Genus
Paris Opéra Ballet
Photo courtesy of Paris Opéra Ballet

The work opens with a pas de trois, athletic and forceful, admirably performed by Jérémie Belingard, Stéphane Phavorin and Benjamin Pech, after which the charismatic Marie-Agnès Gillot takes over and dominates the stage. The choreography with its magnificent lifts is as extraordinary as the interpreter who fascinates with her long sinewy body. She is a wild creature, animal-like, mesmerizing in her wild grace.

As she faded from the stage, it proved impossible to tear one's eyes away from the dancing of the corps de ballet, and in particular, nineteen year-old Mathias Heymann, neat, light, and quick. He was partnered by Myriam Ould-Braham, an exquisite young dancer, fast and supple, more generally seen in the traditional works. The dancing was breathtaking, but whereas William Forsythe, with whom McGregor is often compared, brings in deconstruction, attacking the line of classical dance and sending his interpreters off balance, often with violence and aggressivity, McGregor's work which is equally as precise and fast-moving, contains an underlying gentleness and tenderness.

Wayne McGregor: Genus
Paris Opéra Ballet
Photo courtesy of Paris Opéra Ballet

A central pas de deux, interpreted by the beautiful new étoile, Emilie Cozette, partnered by Stéphane Phavorin brought a short pause of peace and luminosity.

The work was also marked by several most effective scenes including Marie-Agnès Gillot alone on a darkened stage within the stage, silhouetted against a white wall on one side, opposite which bare stark branches of trees jutted out horizontally. The setting was quite spectacular and her slender, fluid body seemed as if suspended in time.

Wayne McGregor: Genus
Paris Opéra Ballet
Photo courtesy of Paris Opéra Ballet

The dancers were being challenged by something new and different. They were working with a choreographer who knew what he was doing and why, and they rose to the occasion. Everyone was in superb form.

Médée, Preljocaj' 2004 dramatic ballet created for the company three years ago completed the programme. Emilie Cozette was superb as the enchantress who kills both her children out of vengeance when betrayed by Jason, interpreted on this occasion by Wilfried Romoli replacing Yann Bridard but looking, despite his fine dancing, every one of his 44 years next to his partner, shining with the radiance of youth.

The ballet opens with two children playing, fragile and innocent. Medea arrives and joins in their games, enveloping them with her love. The atmosphere changes with the entrance of Jason and a harmonious pas de deux follows, after which Medea sleeps trustingly with her children. The arrival of Créuse, brilliantly interpreted by Alice Renavand, thrusts us into a dangerous world of adults as she seduces Jason.

In this version, Medea is portrayed as a woman who sacrifices everything for love. She comes into being when she dances, alone or in the intricate and magnificent pas de trois with Jason and her rival. The twisting, tortured dance for three is dominated by jealousy and fear, and the contrast between the tall, blonde Cozette, the victim, with the darkly beautiful, more sensual Renavand is gripping.

Angelin Preljocaj: Médée
Paris Opéra Ballet
Photo courtesy of Paris Opéra Ballet

Renavand's command of her role was unsurprising as this exceptional dancer was chosen by the choreographer to create the role of Créuse in 2004, but the interpretation of Emilie Cozette, the company's youngest étoile, who had to change from being loving and tender to completely mad in such a short space of time, was remarkable. It is not such a simple thing to murder one's children on stage, but Emilie Cozette accomplished this as if it were a tribal rite, coldly determined, and covering both children as well as herself in long slashes of blood from two buckets before burying their heads. At this point, the music, by Mauro Lanza, explodes in a paroxysm of violence and Medea dies at the same time, thus avoiding the disgrace of exile for all three.

A well-balanced evening of strong works ideally suited to the company.

Patricia Boccadoro is the dance editor for She last wrote on the Vienna State Opera Ballet.

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