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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 21 MAY 2010  — Three of Jerome Robbins’ most loved ballets, plus a work by Benjamin Millepied, were presented at the Palais Garnier in a recent tribute to the great American choreographer who died just over 10 years ago.

The programme opened with Robbins’ En Sol, a small gem set to Maurice Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G and polished to perfection. It was created in 1975 on the 100th anniversary of the composer’s birth. The twenty-two minute ballet follows no particular story, the choreography merely echoing the music while based lightheartedly on Broadway style. It is a joyous fusion of classical and modern dance, with snappy jazz overtones, and is, as are most of Robbins’ ballets, ideally suited to the Paris Opera dancers with whom he used to work tirelessly, ensuring they became completely faithful to his style. Today, it is Jean-Pierre Frohlich, ballet master at New York City Ballet and member of the Robbins Rights Trust, who supervises rehearsals, ensuring the works are performed in accordance with the choreographer’s requirements.

Aurélie Dupont and Nicolas Le Riche in En Sol
Photo courtesy of the Paris Opera Ballet

Aurélie Dupont and Nicolas Le Riche led a superb corps de ballet of six men and six women, several of whom are soloists in their own right. It was particularly hard to tear ones eyes away from Alice Renavand or young Amandine Albisson, but all were outstanding in their attractive pastel striped outfits designed by Erté who was also responsible for the pleasing décor representing a beach under sunny skies.

The work, fluid and relaxed in style, also provided Robbins with the opportunity to create one of his most beautiful pas de deux. It was sublimely interpreted by Dupont and Le Riche, Le Riche demonstrating yet again his prodigious gifts in his ability to infuse his whole being into a role and to carry his partner along with him. Their performance deservedly received a thunderous ovation.

2010 is Chopin’s year, and as he was Robbins’ favourite composer, the last two ballets on the programme were set to Chopin scores. In the Night, one of the most popular works in the French company’s repertoire, is an exquisite ballet combining poetry, musicality, and atmosphere, qualities inherent to Robbins’ work and where the movement itself surges out from the music. Each time that it is danced it is as fresh as the first time it was presented in Paris over twenty years ago and on this occasion, the audience was fortunate to see Manuel Legris, who retired last year, invited back as guest artist.

Emilie Cozette and Karl Paqette in Jerome Robbins' In the Night
Photo courtesy of The Paris Opera Ballet

It is a more serious work than En Sol, taking the form of a long pas de deux, carefully constructed to show love in its various stages. Three couples represent three different states of being in love, at different moments in their life.

The elusive quality of her role escaped  Ludmila Pagliero, for she and her partner, Jérémie Bélingard, had little to say in the opening pas de deux, the latter being more at home in strong character roles. Their dancing was technically correct, but neither tender nor lyrical.

However, once Emilie Cozette and Karl Paqette took over the stage, harmonious and serene, they provided the necessary dramatic thread leading on to the impassioned and stormy third couple, superbly interpreted by Manuel Legris and Aurélie Dupont. Both are highly expressive artists, and feelings were also high due to the fact that this was also their final performance together at the Palais Garnier. One no longer was aware of the choreography, for all was pure dance and emotion.

Paris Opera Ballet in The Concert
Photo courtesy of the Paris Opera Ballet

The Concert is a work full of humour and elegance. It’s a comic ballet whose jokes remain amusing each time it is performed, although Robbins himself insisted that the work be not performed too regularly lest the comedy palled. However, having seen the ballet at least a half dozen times, if not more, I still laughed as much as the next person.

Dorothée Gilbert was very funny as the scatterbrained ballerina, never missing an opportunity to draw attention to herself, while Alessio Carbone, (her husband offstage), really let loose as the hen-pecked husband ready to trade in his wife for the pretty Gilbert.

Dorothée Gilbert in The Concert
Photo courtesy of The Paris Opera Ballet

Simon Valastro was also remarkable as the shy student, comical yet moving and full of grace. The choreographer also stages, with enormous success, the misadventures of an ensemble of women who simply cannot get the hang of dancing together.

But underlying all this hilarity is the fact that Robbins has managed to put on stage the fantasies of a group of vulnerable people who have supposedly just come to enjoy a piano recital. Vessela Pelovska gave an excellent performance as the long-suffering pianist.

However, sandwiched between these three masterpieces, was a reprogramming of Benjamin Millepied’s Triade, created for the French company in 2008 and dedicated to the great American choreographer.  It is a work full of jagged edges, where the four protagonists run around frantically in all directions and arrive nowhere. It was saved from a certain emptiness by the brilliance of the French dancers, Marie-Agnès Gillot, Dorothée Gilbert, Vincent Chaillot and Nicolas Paul, who threw their all into the work.

Benjamin Millepied: Tirade
Photo courtesy of Paris Opera Ballet

Millepied, a good-looking young Frenchman who worked with Robbins since the age of 16 claimed his ballet, a meeting of four people, was inspired by Jerome Robbins 1944 masterpiece, Fancy Free. Let the spectators be the judge of that. It was also hard to appreciate the strident bangs and clashes of the score by Nico Muhly, admirably conducted by Koen Kessels with the Orchestre de l’Opera National de Paris, inserted as it was  between Ravel and Chopin, in this otherwise splendid programme.

Patricia Boccadoro is the dance editor for and last wrote on Angelin Preljocaj’s Siddartha. 

Related Culturekiosque Dance Archives

Please click here for Patricia Boccadoro's archive of interviews with international choreographers and dance stars.

New York City Ballet in Paris: Great Expectations, Disappointment for Some

George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins at the Paris Opera Ballet

Petit and Robbins at the Palais Garnier

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