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PINA BAUSCH'S ORPHEUS CHARMS THE UNDERWORLD

OF THE PARIS OPERA BALLET

 

By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 5 July 2005—In 1975, shortly after founding her Tanztheater Wuppertal , Pina Bausch created two great works, The Rite of Spring, set to Stravinsky's score, and Orpheus and Eurydice, a dance-opera set to Gluck's opera of the same name. Both ballets show she is an outstanding, traditional, classical choreographer and a master of pure movement despite her present reputation as Germany's most influential avant-garde artist, star of dance-theatre.

Brigitte Lefèvre, artistic director of the Paris company, programmed Bausch's  famed Rite of Spring, arguably the most exciting version written, at the Palais Garnier in 1997, and now she has ensured that  Orpheus and Eurydice, which she herself saw danced in Paris by the Wuppertal company some ten years ago, has entered into her company's repertoire.

The music is divine and the ballet, divided into four parts, "In Mourning", "Violence", Peace", and "Death" is a masterpiece.

Bausch has invented dual roles, representing Orpheus, Eurydice and Love not only by the dancers, but also by singers on stage who form an integral part of the action. Orpheus, the myth goes, equals the gods with his song and music, so when Eurydice, his lovely young wife, dies from a snake-bite shortly after their wedding, the grief-stricken musician goes down into the Underworld to bring her back to earth. His music so charms the creatures of Hades that he obtains her return to the upper world on condition that, as she follows him out, he does not turn round to look at her. But, almost at the end of his journey, he succumbs to temptation.  The instant he turns to take her in his arms, she dies and disappears into the darkness for ever.   


Pina Bausch: Orpheus and Eurydice
Yann Bridard as Orpheus
Photo: Ursula Kaufmann

The work opened on the visually beautiful scene of a white, high-ceilinged room with a large transparent cube centre stage, and an uprooted, leafless tree to the side. Death has seemingly brought time to a halt, and the corps de ballet, in black, moves in slow motion, swaying, and bending, while Charlotte Hellekant, in a fluid, long black dress, sings the role of Orpheus next to Yann Bridard who is Orpheus.  Jael Azzaretti is the voice of Eurydice, and Aleksandra Zamojska that of Love.

Eurydice, interpreted by Marie-Agnès Gillot, rests on a chair raised above the stage, suspended in the air motionless, but such is her charisma that your eye is drawn repeatedly to her little 'ballerina' face, a perfect oval, with pale creamy skin and beautiful huge dark eyes.

She is unforgettable in Act 2 as she follows Orpheus, feminine and so touching in her long red dress, tender, poignant as she reached forward to slip her hand into that of Orpheus with infinite sweetness. Rarely have I seen such a demonstration of dance conveying all that words cannot.


Pina Bausch: Orpheus and Eurydice
Yann Bridard as Orpheus
Marie-Agnès Gillot as Eurydice
Photo: Ursula Kaufmann

On stage throughout, magnificent Yann Bridard was emotion made movement.   An expressive dancer at all times, his very features reflected fragility, strength, then vulnerability.  His movements were deep, powerful and fluid. He already had the advantage of being tall and dark, with a perfectly proportioned body, handsome as only the Greek gods were ,and his extraordinarily quick light way of moving suited the choreography to perfection.

He was, he told me some time before the production opened, working not only with Bausch herself who had chosen him for the role, but also with Dominique Mercy, the dancer who had created Orpheus.

"And it's very hard, "he laughed. "We don't stop even for lunch, but it's an incredible experience and I'm so happy to be working with her again. I first worked with Pina seven years or so ago on The Rite of Spring, he continued, "and she's a totally amazing person.  She's one of the most influential figure in dance in the last thirty years and has marked me as indelibly as Rudolf Nureyev. She has rigour, strength and really knows what she's doing. There's great precision in her movements, which at the same time are extremely complicated. They are of an absolute purity. Her dance is so beautiful that all you have to do is lose yourself in it. She has a vision. Moreover, she knows how to surround herself with highly professional people.

"When I began working with her she seemed very shy, but over time she builds up a real relationship with each dancer. She's very loyal to the people she knows, but we all have to audition for her when she comes to the Opéra. And make no mistake, everyone wants to be in her ballets.

Orpheus and Eurydice has all been so carefully thought out. It's very special, highly emotional with an almost spiritual element. The very images seem to come from Michelangelo's paintings. It's quasi religious ", he added. 


Pina Bausch: Orpheus and Eurydice
Photo: Ursula Kaufmann

The members of the Balthasar-Neumann Ensemble and choir in the orchestra pit, directed by Thomas Hengelbrock, doubled the corps de ballet, where each member was quite simply superlative. Soloist Emilie Cozette was sublime. She possesses a pure, mystic quality and was particularly outstanding in the last act of the first half of the work, Peace, in the Garden of the happy ones. The entire company were like something out of a Botticelli painting, with the corps de ballet in semi-transparent, peach-coloured flowing dresses with close-fitting bodices. The gardens behind them were scattered with red flowers. It was nothing short of a dream.

Bausch's Orpheus and Eurydice  seemed unearthly in its beauty, attaining  a rare and  harmonious blend of music, choreography and dance which left the spectator with a feeling of peace and a belief in the possibilities of human nature. A privileged evening.

Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe. She contributes to 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



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