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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 27 MAY 2011 — Despite the fact that the Portuguese choreographer, Paulo Ribeiro, has won numerous awards in Europe for his works for many companies including his own, he is still relatively little known in France. Consequently, it was of great interest to see two of his highly inventive, visually beautiful ballets performed by the Ballet of Lorraine at the Theatre de la Ville in Paris last month. White Feeling and Organic Beat were created in 2003 and 2005 respectively for the Ballet Gulbenkian which he directed from 2003 to 2005, a company founded in 1965 by the Portuguese Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon.  Unhappily, the troupe suffered heavily from recent cutbacks in grants from President Anibal Cavaco Silva, a man indifferent to culture in general, and its future has become uncertain.

White Feeling, began with ten male dancers wearing black trousers and sleeveless black t-shirts walking solemnly onto a starkly lit black and white stage. Accompanied by four accordionists from Dancas Ocultas, they moved with big, slow, deliberate movements before teetering, off-balance, into fast-moving sequences bursting with energy.  Curiously, while they were all using different gestures, the choreography was such that the whole ballet remained harmonious and balanced. There were solos which turned into duos, the dancers communicating to each other with each expressive gesture. All the while, the music, spellbinding and hypnotic, blended imperceptibly into the action, helping to contribute to a distinctive choreographic language completely in tune with the changing rhythms of the score.  It was repetitive but never ever boring. 

Paulo Ribeiro: White Feeling
Ballet of Lorraine

Amazingly, the men all seemed to be of the same height and build, though seeing them off-stage later, this was far from being the case. What they did have in common was their classical heritage, one of the senior members of the company, 36-year-old Dimitri Domojirov told me. He himself was trained at the Perm school, one of the most prestigious in Russia, with teachers from the Vaganova Institute in Saint Petersburg.

"Eighty-five per cent of the company are classical dancers", French-born Cyril Griset continued. "Several of us studied at the Paris Opera Ballet School, although I myself was rejected by Claude Bessy after a stage when I was told that at 14, I was too tall!" The young dancer, who stunned the audience with the grace, height and amplitude of his jumps, grinned and said he regretted nothing as he has met his wife in the company, and was, moreover, leading a fascinating career. "I wanted to work with Ribeiro very much and was actually on the point of joining the Gulbenkian Ballet when it was closed down, so I’m more than happy to have had this opportunity to interpret these ballets. I think everyone here is; he’s a great person to work with."

Paulo Ribeiro: Organic Beat
Ballet of Lorraine

This feeling that choreographer and dancers were in league was reinforced in the second piece, Organic Beat, an exhilarating work for thirty dancers wearing flesh coloured shorts and tops, and where mirror images projected onto a white backcloth gave an almost sculptural aspect to the work. Every dancer became a soloist and there were gravity-defying leaps which made it impossible to tear your eyes away from the action on stage to watch the orchestra where four musicians were playing John Cage’s 2nd and 3rd constructions credo inus, an astonishing piece of music, ideally suited to the work, and which used a huge variety of unusual "instruments", including large-size tomato cans. At one point, five or six dancers came on rustling voluminous white plastic gowns, interacting with the score. Many spectators scrambled down to the orchestra pit at the end of the performance to get a closer look.

Ribeiro played with mirrored images on the backcloth in a totally original way to create spectacular pictures, particularly towards the end when the whole troupe lay flat on the stage, arms spread out, the picture being reflected on the backcloth behind which moved slowly upwards. The dancers seemed as if airborne; a flock of giant birds. There can be little doubt that his choreography was ideally suited to this young company, created in 1978 and which began life as the Théâtre Français de Nancy.

Paulo Ribeiro: Organic Beat
Ballet of Lorraine

Struggling for identity under various directors including Patrick Dupond and Pierre Lacotte, the company has had more than its share of teething troubles, with the style of the company going from classical to contemporary to classical, and with changes of direction as frequent as their changes of name. However, they have been under the guiding hand of Didier Deschamps since 2000, where his emphasis has been on creation. In July this year, Petter Jacobsson will take over the troupe and after seeing  this excellent programme, superbly danced, it can only be hoped that the company will continue to develop a personality uniquely its own and the place it deserves on the European scene.

Headline image:  Paulo Ribeiro: White Feeling
Ballet of Lorraine

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 last wrote on the Franco-Albanian choreographer Angelin Preljocaj.

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