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Petit and Robbins at the Palais Garnier


By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 18 November 2002 - The excellent Petit / Robbins programme which opened the season at the Palais Garnier was a mixed bill in every sense, from fireworks, pathos and emotion to the merely competent .

Roland Petit's visually beautiful Passacaille, which takes its title from Webern's 1908 Passacaille for String Orchestra opus 1, is an uncompromisingly non narrative work fraught with technical difficulties. Just fourteen dancers on an empty stage with Rolland Petit playing with abstract forms and the technical prowess of his interpreters. It was very well danced, and certainly fair enough for starters.

The evening continued with The Cage, Jerome Robbins' 1951 work inspired by the praying mantis and the spider, who both devour their prey after mating, not a work I have greatly appreciated in the past. Set to Stravinsky's Concerto in D, the one-act work tells the tale of two male intruders into a tribe of women ruled by a queen. They rapidly dispatch with the first intruder, but have a little more trouble with the second, who succeeds in seducing a novice. However, at the end her basic instincts prevail and the helpless victim is done to death with the help of her elders.

Isabelle Guerin in The Cage
Isabelle Guérin in The Cage.
Choreography: Jerome Robbins
Photo: © ICARE

Unsurprisingly, much of the success of the work depends on the quality of the two main interpreters, in this case, Yann Bridard, a powerfully expressive young dancer partnering Isabelle Guérin, sublime. What is poignant in art is authenticity. It is what makes dance great, and these two interpreters were just that. When Bridard, the second intruder, died, many in the audience almost believed he was dead for a few heart-stopping seconds. It is this kind of performance which counteracts the rumour that the French company has lost its soul, and reconciles the public to dance. Another cast was disappointing.

To be good-looking and dance prettily is simply not enough for Other Dances, the second Robbins' work of the evening . Neither Eleanora Abbagnato nor Jean-Guillaume Bart possess the technique and artistry for this deceptively simple duet. Their minds were elsewhere, their gestures empty, and consequently the ballet was somewhat pointless, particularly for those who had seen it interpreted by Makarova and Baryshnikov, for whom it was created, or by Guérin and Manuel Legris at its premiere in Paris.

The sensation of the evening, as was expected, was Roland Petit's L'Arlesienne. Directly inspired and guided by Bizet's score, the ballet itself is a masterpiece. As the curtain rises on a decor reminiscent of a painting by Van Gogh, preparations are underway for the engagement party of Frederi when it is discovered that the beautiful girl from Arles, a town in the South of France, was the mistress of another man. Frederi, beside himself, turns to his childhood sweetheart, Vivette, but remains haunted by the memory of his first love. Unable to come to terms with losing the woman he loves, he jumps to his death while all the village is celebrating Saint Eloi's day.

The dancing of all the corps de ballet with Isabelle Guérin as the innocent Vivette, was exceptional, and the performance of Nicolas Le Riche as Frédéri came close to the incredible. His long powerful jumps and impassioned interpretation showed a consummate artist now at the height of his art.

Isabelle GUERIN - Nicolas LE RICHE
Isabelle Guérin and Nicolas Le Riche in L'Arlesienne
Choreography: Roland Petit
Photo: © ICARE

While this 1974 narrative work is obviously centred on the relationship between the two young people, the role of the corps de ballet is primordial. The expressiveness of their dancing gives atmosphere to the whole work as they witness the course of the drama. And drama there is. Roland Petit at his glorious best, well served by a cast of the highest quality.

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

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