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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 3 NOVEMBER 2015 — A most enjoyable evening of dance, all American, made in France, heralded Benjamin Millepied’s first programme of his first season at the head of the Paris Opera Ballet. The French-born Directeur de la Danse, who took up his post in November last year, joined Balanchine’s School of American Ballet at the age of 16 and made his debut in New York in Part Inventions, a ballet by Jerome Robbins. Thus, his choice of Benjamin Millepied, Jerome Robbins, George Balanchine was both a thoughtful and logical tribute to his two "Masters".

The first work on offer , Clear, Loud, Bright, Forward, an abstract creation by the 38-year-old director himself, was danced with joy by a new generation of young dancers. Set to a dynamic score by Nico Muhly and with eye catching costumes of silver–grey by Iris Van Herpen, the ballet with its rapid, fluid choreography was an excellent piece for 16 members of the corps de ballet. Effective lighting by Lucy Carter highlighted the changing ensembles as they crisscrossed the stage, leading onto the beautiful pas de deux and pas de trois at which Millepied excels. The dancers, at ease with the choreography, reveled in the opportunity given them to show what they could do. Particularly exciting to watch was the emergence of the luminous Letizia Galloni, a young ballerina holding the rank of coryphée among the lower orders of the company, for whom the steps seemed made to measure. Hugo Marchand*, a tall, handsome young man and Léonore Baulac were also remarkable in the third pas de deux.

Hugo Marchand and Léonore Baulac in Clear, Loud, Bright, Forward
Choreography: Millepied
Paris Opera Ballet

While the work brought to the fore the high technical level and musicality of the interpreters, it also held the audience’s attention for all of the 36 minutes, not always obvious in a piece ostensibly without a beginning, end, or story. Emotion seemed to emanate from the relationships between the dancers themselves. The second half, more interesting choreographically than the first, actually ended too soon. Millepied is not trying to be innovative at all costs and the sincerity in what he is doing works. Not since the days of Genia Poliakov has anyone given the corps de ballet such care and attention.

Paris Opera Ballet in Clear, Loud, Bright, Forward
Choreography: Millepied

The evening continued on a high note with the entry into the company’s repertoire of Jerome Robbins Opus 19/TheDreamer, a 1979 work created for Mikail Baryshnikov to the magnificent Violon Concerto in D Major, opus 19 by Prokofiev. A slow-moving, atmospheric piece, it was admirably interpreted with grace, elegance and simplicity by Mathieu Ganio with  Amandine Albisson as his ‘dream’ woman.

Opus 19/The Dreamer is an abstract work with just a suspicion of a story. It possibly tells the ‘tale’ of a solitary young man’s fragile relationship with a young woman who remains forever beyond his reach. But there again, she might just exist as a figment of his imagination. But whatever the interpretation one gives the work, it opens upon a central figure, a man in white who seems lost in a half forgotten dream.

Paris Opera Ballet in Opus 19/The Dreamer
Choreography: Robbins

A woman in blue, Albisson, delicate against the softly blue background, breaks away from a group behind him. Has the couple met before? She’s distant, elusive, even unsettling. Watched by the corps de ballet, in blue, tension builds as they begin to dance together and the spectators are left to simply make what they will of it.

Paris Opera Ballet in Opus 19/The Dreamer
Choreography: Robbins

The climax of the evening should rightly have been Balanchine’s Thème et Variations, but after the superb interpretation of Ganio, it was difficult to appreciate the curiously ill-assorted couple, Valentine Colasante partnered by François Alu, at the centre of Balanchine’s glittering ballet. Neither one possesses the stature nor the allure for Balanchine’s works.

It is one of George Balanchine’s most elegant and demanding pieces, his most direct tribute to Petipa’s strict "Russian" classicism. With its strong echoes of Sleeping Beauty, fraught with artistic as well as technical difficulties, the female role is one of the most difficult in the Balanchine repertory, necessitating a virtuoso ballerina. It is a ballet which requires regal and radiant interpreters, and despite the fact that Alu is one of the company’s most exciting and buoyant dancers, he is not at his best in abstract works; his partnership with the well-behaved, cautious Colasante did not quite come off. "Ballet", Balanchine was wont to say, "is a woman, she is the goddess, the poetess, the muse". Première danseuse Valantine Colasante was none of these.

Paris Opera Ballet in Theme and Variations
Choreography: Balanchine

Given the same title as Tchaikovsky’s music, Theme and Variations with its jewel-encrusted tutus and sparkling diadems is a showcase of classical dance with all the grandeur of Imperial Russia. Nevertheless, the courtly Polonaise at the end was well-danced and it is hoped that over another 20 years** will not elapse before the work is staged again.

*Hugo Marchand, winner of the 2015 Prix Carpeaux
** Theme et Variations was last programmed at the Paris Opéra Ballet in 1993 

Based in Paris,  Patricia Boccadoro is the dance editor for Culturekiosque.

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