PARIS, 24 MARCH 2007â€”
As far back as I remember, the Paris OpĂ©ra Ballet School has enjoyed the
reputation of being the finest of its kind in the world. It is certainly
the oldest. Opened in 1713 by Louis XIV, it began by training the court
dancers, but by 1780, it was accepting pupils alongside the existing
classes for adults. Over the years it has been directed by a number of
prestigious names including
Jean Coralli, the immortal choreographer of
Giselle, and Arthur Saint-LĂ©on whose best-loved choreography
remains CoppĂ©lia. In 1987, at the initiative of Claude Bessy, the
school left its cramped quarters in the Palais Garnier to move into
a magnificent new setting in the Paris suburb of Nanterre,
where the level of instruction, assured of today by many of the
OpĂ©ra stars who worked with Rudolf Nureyev, continues to rise.
This season, the school is celebrating thirty years of
demonstrations open to the public as well as thirty years of
highly professional public performances, and it is also the twentieth
anniversary of the move to Nanterre, just a couple of train stops away
from the OpĂ©ra.
The OpĂ©ra Ă©toile, Elisabeth Platel, who took over the post of
director in 2004, thus decided to present a special programme combining
the theatrical tragedy, Le Prisonnier du Caucase, choreographed
by George Skribine in 1951, followed by the stylistic perfection of
Bournonville's romantic Napoli, concluding the evening with
John Neumeier's neo-classical Yondering, a wonderful ballet which
traces the passage from childhood to adulthood with humour and artistic
sensibility. It's not only classical dance which is being taught, but
contemporary, character and folklore, with emphasis on artistic
George Skribine: Le Prisonnier du Caucase
Photo courtesy of Paris Opera Ballet School
Le Prisonnier du Caucase, set to an exhilarating score by
Khachaturian, is a ballet based on Pushkin's poem which tells the story of
the love of a young Circassienne girl for a captured Russian officer
during the Russian Caucasian war at the beginning of the 19th century. She
helps him escape, but then, having lost the man she loves and having
betrayed her country, she is compelled to kill herself.
The beginning of the ballet, with the build up of atmosphere as the
warriors leaped onto the stage, was tremendous. All the boys taking part
were excellent, particularly Takeru Coste, a young student who already
distinguished himself last year whilst in the second division. He was
particularly outstanding as the powerful leader of the warriors, dancing
with style, elegance and amazing precision, commanding the stage.
Moreover, the character dances with their unconventional use of point
shoes for the men was most impressive.
However, the ballet proved to be terribly dated and did not fulfil its
promising start. The scene where the girls came on was rather like a
second rate musical comedy, with no emotional content or valid
choreography. The women's movements were very ungainly, and although
Skibine is said to create along the lines of Les Ballets Russes of Diaghilev,
his work bears no resemblance to that of, for instance, Michel Fokine,
whose ballets are timeless.
Photo: David Elofer
Photo courtesy of Paris Opera Ballet
Napoli was altogether thoroughly enjoyable. But although two
of the girls stood out, the lions' share of the choreography seemed to go
again to the boys. Or is their level so much higher? Created in 1842 for
the Royal Ballet of Denmark, dancing in the pas de six and
tarentelle was bright, light and fluid. It seemed a natural piece
for the opera students.
However, it was Neumeier's Yondering, set to Irish melodies
and Anglo-American airs of the last century which was the undisputed
triumph of the evening. It is a work intended exclusively for young
performers and the students, coached by Kevin Haigen, John Neumeier's
assistant, were idealistic and full of the energy and enthusiasm demanded
by the choreography. The boys again dominated with their extraordinary
artistic sensibility and technical ability.
John Neumeier: Yondering
Photo: David Elofer
courtesy of Paris Opera Ballet School
The question that one asks is what happens to all these promising
dancers once they leave the company as, presumably, places cannot be found
for all of them in Paris. Positions in the company, and practically all
the boys who graduate this year merit their place, do depend on vacancies.
How can the French company afford to let them go elsewhere? Moreover,
dancers of the quality of Takeru Coste cannot be left to fester in the
back row of the corps de ballet. How long before this gifted
interpreter makes the forefront of the French scene?
Patricia Boccadoro is dance editor at
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