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REVIEW: PARIS OPERA BALLET SCHOOL ANNUAL SHOW 

 

By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 5 MAY 2011 — The annual show by students of the Paris Opera Ballet School, directed by Paris étoile, Elisabeth Platel, since September 2004, began with a performance of John Taras’ highly academic ballet, Dessins pour Six, created in 1948 to a score by Tchaikovsky. The twenty-minute work in three movements gave the audience the opportunity to appreciate the musicality and adaptability of six of the senior students of the school in solo roles and was beautifully danced.


John Taras: Dessins pour Six
Photo: David Elofer
Photo courtesy of Paris Opera Ballet School

However, the gem of the evening was Pierre Lacotte’s delightful 1973 restaging of Coppélia, a ballet which first saw the light of day in Paris over a century earlier. Lacotte, the French specialist of 19th century works, who learnt the ballet with Carlotta Zambelli, one of its celebrated performers, revived the original 1870 work, with choreography by Arthur Saint-Lèon to a story by Charles Nuitter, archivist at the opera. 

Inspired by Hoffmann’s story, The Sandman, Nuitter constructed a light-hearted tale, "The girl with enamel eyes", where the crazed Dr. Coppelius has made a mechanical doll, Coppelia, with whom he has fallen in love. He stoops to all means to bring her to life, including drugging the doll’s admirer, Franz, a young man who is the fiancé of Swanilda, in an attempt to infuse his soul into the body of the dummy. Swanilda, outraged that Franz appears to be enamoured of this strange girl who does nothing but sit and read in the window of Coppelius’ house, discovers that it is a mere puppet, rescues Franz, and everything ends happily ever after with their wedding.


Pierre Lacotte: Coppélia
Photo: David Elofer
Photo courtesy of Paris Opera Ballet School

While the story is of no particular interest, the sparkle and sheer richness of the choreography, conceived in symbiosis with the composer, Leo Delibes, is a hymn to the French school of dance. It’s also comical, entertaining, and opens up a vast field of pantomime while national folk dances, in which the students of the school excel, are cleverly integrated into the classical ballet. And as well as giving insight into 19th century aesthetics, the scenery and costumes, inspired by the original 1870 designs, are in total harmony with the music, choreography and story.  


Pierre Lacotte: Coppélia
Photo: David Elofer
Photo courtesy of Paris Opera Ballet School

Alizée Sicre has everything one could wish for in Swanilda, being a spirited yet warm-hearted heroine. Technically assured, she was swept effortlessly along by the lovely melodies in the score. At barely seventeen years old, she possesses elegance, sweetness and charm as well as being a very pretty girl. Her dancing was exceptional, from the first act to the attractive and tricky mechanical doll dances of act two. Her Franz was Mathieu Contat, a curly-haired, cheeky faced young man who gave an expressive yet unforced performance. He brought smiles to everyone in the audience who were enjoying the performance as much as he was, indeed, as much as the whole cast was. Their joy in dancing was infectious, and they brought out all the sheer fun of the ballet, as well as demonstrating the excellent technical level of the school. It was very hard to realize that the dancers on stage were still children and not yet young professionals for there was outstanding dancing not only from the main interpreters, but from the whole cast.


Pierre Lacotte: Coppélia
Photo: David Elofer
Photo courtesy of Paris Opera Ballet School

Not least of the enjoyment of the evening came in the intervals and at the end, when countless small children in the audience, who had clearly loved every minute of it, danced and waltzed through the chandelier-lit corridors of the Opéra Garnier. More students for the Opera school? To gain admittance, children must be between the ages of eight and thirteen, and once having been accepted, must follow a stage of 6 to 12 months. Once they enter the school, they follow six years of teaching, and attend classes in contemporary dance, character dance, folk, jazz, mime, gymnastic, comedy, musical expression, the history of dance, anatomy, as well as regular schooling. However, not everyone can be guaranteed to join the company after completing their training. Places in the company depend on positions available which vary from year to year, and for which they must compete. Not many of these gifted children will enter the French company.  

The programme also benefitted from the Orchestre de l’Opéra National de Paris, admirably and sensitively conducted by Marius Stieghorst.

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. She wrote recently on the Bengali choreographer Akram Khan 

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Paris Opera Ballet School: Boys Upstage The Girls



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