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

REVIEW: JUSTIN PECK / GEORGE BALANCHINE

 

By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 13 SEPTEMBER 2016 — The season at the Paris Opera Ballet ended as it had begun, with a mixed bill of American choreographers, with the summer programme presented concurrently with a temporary exhibition of American choreographers at the Palais Garnier. All three events were interesting in their own right, excepting that a whole series of works by Americans, including 14 of Balanchine’s ballets, were also being shown at the Theatre du Chatelet at the same time, interpreted by the New York City Ballet, the company for whom they were created. Inevitably, comparisons were made by the meaner-minded, notwithstanding that the creation by the young American, Justin Peck, programmed at the Palais Garnier for the prestigious French company, proved both exciting and refreshing.

Peck’s first commissioned work, Entre Chien et Loup, made for the younger generation of the Paris Opera dancers, was most enjoyable. It was a delightful short ballet set to a score by Francis Poulenc with a spectacular large-scale photograph by John Baldessari as backdrop, a photograph where the colours were constantly changing. A large black square, shot through with a streak of green was shown against a background of luminous blue which gave place to glowing lime-green with flashes of orange, red, grey and violet. People’s faces, of secondary importance to the American artist, were covered by circles of red, blue and green as were the faces of the dancers, partially hidden by light, colourful masks, which they gradually discarded as the work progressed.


Entre Chien et Loup
Choreography: Justin Peck
Ballet de l'Opéra national de Paris
Photo: Francette-Levieux

The costumes by Mary Katrantzou, the gifted young Greek designer, winner of the British Fashion Award for emerging talent in 2011, were extremely attractive with the women in long, fluid black dresses, revealing strong primary colours underneath as they moved. The men, too, were clad in black, their outfits shot through with streaks of violet, yellow, blue, grey or red.

The choreography itself, graceful,  elegant, and surprisingly romantic, was  ideally suited to the group of 11 dancers chosen by Peck, the same group with whom he had worked for his remarkable In Creases programmed in Paris in March which galvanized both dancers and public. Movements were angular, yet soft as the interpreters came on by themselves, or in groups of two, three or more, the entire ballet being extremely musical, making one believe that the score, composed in 1932, had actually been written for the steps.


Entre Chien et Loup
Choreography: Justin Peck
Ballet de l'Opéra national de Paris
Photo: Francette-Levieux

The work was bright and lively, a breath of pure fresh air, with Sae Eun Park, Letizia Galloni, Ida Viikinkoski and Marion Barbeau totally at ease, demonstrating that Justin Peck, an intelligent classical choreographer, knows exactly how to use these beautiful dancers in a ballet which owes much to Balanchine, but a Balanchine of today.

George Balanchine’s, Brahms-Schönberg Quartet, created for New York City Ballet in 1966, remained a product of its time despite being dressed up for the most part in gorgeous haute-couture costumes by Karl Lagerfeld.

Conceived in four distinct tableaux, the first part of the work opened upon a backcloth of an old, abandoned palace, with the corps de ballet in sumptuous, long grey and white tutus, evoking the decline of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The whole setting brought to mind a painting by Degas. Here was the elegance of the choreographer’s St Petersburg roots, with classical dance being music brought to life. Visually, it was very lovely.


Myriam Ould Braham and Mathias Heymann in Brahms-Schönberg Quartet
Choreography: George Balanchine
Costumes: Karl Lagerfeld
Ballet de l'Opéra national de Paris
Photo: Francette-Levieux

Part two, Intermezzo, was remarkably well-danced by Amandine Albisson and Stéphane Bullion, but one had to wait for Myriam Ould-Braham, her fragile, delicate appearance belying a steely strength, and Mathias Heymann in the third movement, Andante, to bring the work fully to life. With their expressive dancing in a romantic pas de deux, they personified the lost golden years of Imperial Russia whilst illustrating Balanchine’s now legendary comment, "put a man and a woman onto the stage and one already has a story". They are rapidly forming a great partnership. Heymann‘s superb solo, created for the great Edward Villella, was the highlight of the piece.

After the melancholic beauty of the early tableaux came Balanchine’s tribute to the Bohemian gypsies. Interpreted by Karl Paquette and Laura Hecquet, it seemed more a throwback to Balanchine’s 1930 forays into Hollywood musicals than the culminating final of this four part work. Lagerfeld’s costumes did not help. Hecquet seemed to have escaped from La Fille mal gardé, while Paquette grinned beneath an ill-fitting pill-box hat completing an outfit which was far from showing him to advantage. Part Prince Igor, part Rothbart, he executed his difficult variations with enthusiasm rather than technical prowess. Hecquet, a long-legged ‘natural’ Balanchinian ballerina, independent and saucy, dancing with freshness and verve, fared much better despite her unbecoming frock. All dancers received a hearty reception from spectators.


Laura Hecquet and Karl Paquette in Brahms Schönberg Quartet,
Choreography: George Balanchine
Costumes: Karl Lagerfeld
Ballet de l'Opéra national de Paris
Photo: Francette Levieux

Brahms Schönberg Quartet, slow moving, with its pure, classical technique and its scenic compositions does not enjoy the timeless quality of other works in the Paris Opera repertoire by Balanchine. One cannot compare it to The Four Temperaments, to Theme and Variations, nor yet to Palais de Cristal, created for the French dancers in 1947, three masterpieces amongst the 30 works in the company’s repertoire. Following on from the lightness and modernity of Entre Chien et Loup, it seemed longer than its 50 minutes.

American Choreographers at the Paris Opera.
From 15 June to 25 September 2016

A sweeping, comprehensive exhibition concentrating on the influence and diversity of American choreographers in Paris, from Balanchine in 1947 to Justin Peck today is currently being hosted at the Palais Garnier.

The exhibition presents photographs and films on George Balanchine, the Russian born genius who became the founder of American classical-modern ballet after illness prevented him from accepting an invitation to direct the Paris Opera Ballet in 1929. Since the creation of his Palais de Cristal in 1947, he was regularly invited back to Paris, but it wasn’t until the 1970’s, and more particularly after the arrival of Rudolf Nureyev in 1983, that American choreographers were regularly invited to the Opera.

However, the march forward of American choreographers before his arrival included Merce Cunningham, Paul Taylor and Jerome Robbins, while after, using his international reputation, Nureyev brought people like Alvin Ailey, Twyla Tharpe, Karole Armitage, and Mark Morris to the fore.  In 1983, he invited Louis Falco, with his Black and Blue, and William Forsythe, then aged 33 and virtually unknown in France, with his France/Dance. Four years later came Forsythe’s In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated, and the rest of his story with the Paris Opera is history. Films and photographs of Murray Louis, Paul Taylor, Martha Graham as well as Carolyn Carlson, and Agnes de Mille abound.

Season after season, from 1990 to today, the exhibits show the evolution of the company’s neoclassical repertoire, with ‘old’ works, such as Jewels and the Palais de Cristal given new sets and costumes, but most of all, the exhibition offers a panorama of almost 70 years of exchanges and creations. For Jerome Robbins, the Paris Opera ballet was his second home and this fascinating exhibition highlights not only Balanchine and Robbins, but all the most important figures of American dance who left their mark on the company, not least Gene Kelly, who staged Pas de Dieux for Claude Bessy in 1960.

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.



[ Feedback | Home ]

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

 

Copyright © 2016 Euromedia Group, Ltd. All Rights Reserved.