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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 14 JANUARY 2013 — Two very different programmes of dance were on offer in Paris over the Christmas period. While audiences were laughing and enjoying Rudolf Nureyev’s sparkling production of Don Quixotte at the Opéra Bastille, presented almost daily despite the avalanche of injured étoiles, over at the Palais Garnier, the public were treated to a celebration of William Forsythe, rather than Santa Claus.

Nicolas Le Riche and Jérémie Belingard
Photo: A.Deniau

At the Garnier, the evening opened with Forsythe’s most popular and frequently danced piece, In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated, created for the French dancers and particularly for Sylvie Guillem in 1987. It is a concentration of everything Forsythe stands for with his ultra-rapid, off-balance, post classical technique with its almost impossible angles for the dancers taken to its limits.

And while it is true to say that a Forsythe work changes according to its interpreters, In the Middle remains an uncompromising work created for outstanding interpreters, namely the étoiles of the Paris Opéra Ballet, but in the performance at the Opera Garnier in December, there were unhappily no étoiles in the cast at all.

Aurelia Bellet in In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated
Photo: A.Deniau

Indeed, the role created for Sylvie Guillem was given to little Laurène Levy, picked out of the lower ranks of the corps de ballet. She and the rest of the dancers, with not even a première danseuse amongst them, danced their best, but lacked that special sense of humour and exhilaration so necessary to the work.  Audric Bezard, in the role normally given to a dancer of the quality of Laurent Hilaire was too mannered, particularly in his affected way of walking off stage, and he distracted from the purity of the piece. The cast was not good enough for this most exciting and exacting of pieces which is a dramatic challenge to classically trained bodies. 

Pas./Parts is a piece in a very different mood and style. Created for the company in 1999, Forsythe conceived a work in 20 brief sequences, twenty ballets within a ballet, an inventive piece which again demands exceptional interpreters to lift it from slipping into a certain tediousness. Marie-Agnès Gillot’s role was too short to have any lasting impact, and it was left to the brilliance of Jérémie Bélingard, who well deserves his promotion to the rank of étoile, to galvanise the rest of the cast. Dance, movement and music, again to a score by Thom Willems, were as one to him as he lifted the piece into one of pure enjoyment. He, as well as Alexandre Carniato, who made a  remarkable entry earlier in the piece, (and one can only wonder why this excellent contemporary dancer languishes on the bottom rung of the opera hierarchy), understood and enjoyed dancing Forsythe as the choreographer intended his work should be danced. After a prosaic beginning, one simply did not want the  work to come to an end.

Marie-Agnès Gillot and Audric Bezard in Pas./Parts
Photo: A.Deniau

Finally, Woundwork, again created for the French company to a score by Willems, completed the trio of Forsythe works. The fifteen minute piece was excellently danced by four étoiles, Agnès Letestu, Hervé Moreau, Isabelle Ciaravola and Nicolas Le Riche so there was nothing to complain about here, but it is hard to get worked up by this pas de quatre, or two pas de deux, which so resembles an exercise in style. Why not have programmed these outstanding dancers in In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated, a ballet they have excelled in in the past?

Agnès Letestu and Nicolas Le Riche in Woundwork
Photo: A.Deniau

The programme was completed by Trisha Brown’s twenty minute piece, O zlozony/O composite which the American choreographer created for the company in 2004. It is a visualization of the poem, Ode to a bird, where movement is interwoven with verses by the poets Czeslaw Milosz and Vincent Millay. Three dancers in white move in lines, in circles and in broken angles, creating letters of the alphabet against a backcloth of a sky full of stars, representing the infinite. It was beautifully and elegantly interpreted by Aurélie Dupont who created the role eight years ago, partnered this time round by Jérémie Bélingard and Nicolas Le Riche. Their movements, lovely to watch, were inspired first by traditional classical technique, then by more adventurous ‘post-modern’ language. But the voice of the Polish actress, Agnieszka Wojtowics-Vosloo, reciting the poem impinged a little on the impact of the piece.

Nicolas Le Riche, Aurélie Dupont, Jérémie Bélingard in O zlozony/O composite
Photo: A.Deniau

For the spirit of Christmas and a sense of joyful festivities, audiences flocked to the Opéra Bastille where the two outstanding casts to see were Mathilde Froustey and Alice Renavand as Kitri, both partnered by the prodigious young dancer, François Alu as Basilio, a young man barely out of the opera school, just 18 years old. After the retirement of José Martinez and the imminent departure of Nicolas Le Riche, now 41, such exciting casting surely marks the beginning of a new era.

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 Merce Cunningham and John Cage 

Related Culturekiosque Archives

William Forsythe Returns to Paris

Evolution: Balanchine, Nureyev, Forsythe

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