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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 26 MARCH 2007—While an American company muddled through the choreography of Frenchman Marius Petipas' Bayadère at the Chatelet, sinking deeper into the mire with each step, over at the Palais Garnier, the French dancers themselves revelled in a glorious evening of all-American works! And although the whole company was not represented in the evening's programme, dancers had been selected from each level of the hierarchy and were representative of a fine company on splendid form.

An evening of elegance and style opened with George Balanchine's Apollon, (created under the title of Apollo for the Ballets Russes in 1928 and subsequently revised and refined many times), a work which predicted the purely classical style developed in Agon (1957), one of his greatest ballets, which was the last piece on the programme. Indeed, the aim of the evening, which also included pieces by Trisha Brown and William Forsythe, was to show how the classical dance form has been renewed over the last half century.

Ballanchine: Agon / Paris Opera Ballet
Photo: Laurent Philippe
Photo courtesy of Paris Opera Ballet

Apollon entered into the Paris Opéra repertoire in May, 1947, and is a work which the dancers know thoroughly, love, and dance well. On this occasion, a magnificent and god-like Nicolas Le Riche in the title role interpreted the 1979 staging which omits the birth scene, a version which particularly suits his virile, masculine style. Agnès Letestu was a pure and luminous Terpsichore, the muse of dance, Nathalie Riqué interpreted Calliope, while Eleonora Abbagnato as Polymnie provided the warmth and "French" femininity so loved by Balanchine who used to come so often to Paris to rehearse the dancers himself.

O zlozny / O composite, the unusual title of Trisha Brown's twenty minute piece, her first creation for the company which came next on the programme, originates from a work by the Polish-born poet, Czeslaw Milosz. Together with Laurie Anderson, who arranged the accompaniment, Brown discovered Milosz' poem, Ode to a bird. Recited to the sound of melancholic music and interspersed with additional poetry by Edna St Vincent Millay, it provided the perfect frame for an exquisitely lovely piece for the Opéra dancers. Created for Aurélie Dupont, Manuel Legris and Nicolas Le Riche two years ago, this second programming saw three of the younger dancers take over the roles of the established étoiles.

Muriel Zusperreguy, Jérémie Bélingard and Yann Bridard entered heart and soul into this work of mysterious beauty. From the opening movement, when Zusperreguy, clad in white, is lifted high in the air and supported aloft on both sides by the men, also dressed in white, a strange, dream-like quality pervades the ballet. The three of them run lightly back and forth, float and leap softly in inventive and unusual movements.

Trisha Brown exploited their classical training to the utmost, including putting the woman on pointe, but added her own twisting and turning of arms and heads in this apparently totally abstract but coherent work, infused with a subtle emotion. It was a beautiful demonstration of how an important post-modern choreographer with no traditional background can create a work with classical dancers. Hopefully, she will return.

William Forsythe's The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude, his exciting 1996 work set to music by Franz Schubert, has become extremely popular with the company, and it showed. Emilie Cozette, Eléonora Abbagnato and Mélanie Hurel, accompanied by Alessio Carbone and Nicolas Paul threw themselves into the frenetic choreography with zest and virtuosity. All were quite remarkable, but the revelation proved to be Nicolas Paul, a superb contemporary dancer, "sujet" in the company, and not seen at the forefront of the stage so often.

Forsythe: The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude / Paris Opera Ballet
Photo: Laurent Philippe
Photo courtesy of Paris Opera Ballet

The extremely enjoyable evening ended with the second Stravinsky work on the programme, Agon, the title of which is the Greek word for competition, and which is again particularly suited to the French dancers. Much of the brilliant choreography refers back to the structure of court dances, and was interpreted with joy.

Twelve dancers in practice clothes appear to compete for the technical domination of their colleagues and, inevitably, some indeed shone more brightly than others. Marie-Agnès Gillot partnered by Kader Belarbi almost but not quite stole the show from Yann Bridard and Laetitia Pujol, the weaker member of the pas de trois being Karl Paquette who lacked the grace and rapidity of Bridard. Myriam Ould-Braham, Nolwenn Daniel and Sara Kora Dayanova also excelled in the piece.

Ballanchine: Agon / Paris Opera Ballet
Photo: Laurent Philippe
Photo courtesy of Paris Opera Ballet


February 14th saw the last official performance of étoile Laurent Hilaire on the stage of the Palais Garnier in almost the same programme. Pure product of the Paris Opéra Ballet School , he entered the company in 1980 and was nominated étoile five years later, at the age of 22, without having been promoted premier danseur. Tall and handsome, with an exceptional technique, he created the role of Solor in Rudolf Nureyev's 1992 production of La Bayadère, just weeks before the latter's death, in January, 1993.

Partnered by Agnès Letestu as Terpsichore, Eleonora Abbagnato as Polymnie, but with Emilie Cozette as Calliope, he gave a tender and moving interpretation of the God, Apollo. The evening ended with an added and most poignant performance of Maurice Béjart's, The Wayfarer, when he was partnered by Manuel Legris. At the end, he turned slowly and left the stage under a cloud of pink rose petals and unstoppable thunderous applause.

But not to go very far; Laurent Hilaire, at 44, is now Ballet Master at the Paris Opéra, where he continues to pass on the heritage of Rudolf Nureyev

Patricia Boccadoro is dance editor at

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Book Review: Stravinsky & Balanchine: A Journey of Invention 

Dance Review: Trisha Brown Dance Company

Starlit Nights at the Palais Garnier: Balanchine's Jewels

Balanchine 100 at the Paris Opera Ballet

Dance Review: American Ballet Theatre in Paris 1999

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