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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 3 FEBRUARY 2010 — A mixed, star-studded  programme at the Palais Garnier combined works by three young contemporary choreographers, Benjamin Millepied, a Frenchman from New York City Ballet, Nicolas Paul, from the Paris Opéra itself, and Wayne McGregor, who hails from Stockport in the U.K., and who studied dance at the José Limon School in New York before founding his company, "Random Dance" in 1992.

But the evening was unexpected in the sense that Millepied’s work, not all that well-received on a first showing three years ago, improved significantly on a second viewing, while McGregor’s piece, not without interest two years previously, palled on its second staging, while in between these two works was a remarkable short work, the first choreography commissioned for the company on the large stage of the Palais Garnier by company member, Nicolas Paul.

Aurélie Dupont and Nicolas Le Riche in Amoveo
Choreography: Benjamin Millepied 
Photo: Agathe Poupeney

Amoveo, Millepied’s piece set to extracts by Philip Glass and with décor by Paul Cox, was restaged with new costumes by the latter, more harmonious and successful than those designed by Marc Jacobs which featured in the original staging. The choreography too had been reworked, and the interpreters, dancing with total conviction, seemed to have grown into their roles. Certainly, the performance given by Nicolas Le Riche and Aurélie Dupont was stunning, with total complicity between the two artists. One was actually left with the impression that, after all, this ballet was a pas de deux expressly made for them, and that the other participants, no matter how well they danced, were mere corps de ballet. 

While the choreographer has developed no new language of his own,  having little to say, the moving scenery, projected on to the back of the stage and consisting of vertical and horizontal lines in pink, grey and two shades of green slowly edging their way along, echoed the movements of the choreography itself, making the whole work most attractive to watch. Moreover, the dancers were now clad in clear, primary shades of red, blue, green and yellow which complemented the background. Each dancer wore a shirt of one colour and trousers of another, only the lead interpreter, Le Riche, being clad all in blue. They moved around in mathematical groups, their gestures reflecting the rigorous, repetitive structure of the music, and the entire work proved most enjoyable to watch despite being a little empty.

On the other hand, the revival of Genus, which is not one of Wayne McGregor’s finest works, proved somewhat tiresome, being saved only by the presence of a pleiad of outstanding dancers. It’s certainly rare to have the opportunity to see the outstanding classical ballerina, Agnès Letestu in such a work, but she showed a full understanding of how the choreography should be danced with her clarity of movement and unforced grace.  

Agnès Letestu in Genus
Choreography: Wayne McGregor’s  
Photo: Agathe Poupeney

McGregor has drawn his inspiration from Darwin’s 1859 The Origin of Species, but in this particular work, the choreography that he pushed to the limits of virtuosity, with its frenetic movements, bears little relationship to the topic he was dealing with. For many years now, McGregor has been fascinated by the relationship of the body to the sciences and technology, and makes no secret of the fact that much of his dance is experimental.

It was a visit to the Natural History Museum of London which gave him the idea of creating a piece around man and his thoughts, going back to the origins of man. The result is, as stated in the programme notes, this "original voyage to discover several modes of evolution that call upon all the stage has to offer in expressive resources". He thus pushes the dancers' bodies to their limits, with varying degrees of success, against a bewildering background of musical and cinematographic technology. One could only applaud the brilliance and tireless energy of the dancers.

But the most interesting part of the evening was the visually lovely piece, Répliques, by Nicolas Paul with scenery designed by the architect, Paul Andreu, the man responsible for designing the opera of Peking, which lifted the evening out of a gloomy greyness. The creation is a well-thought out, beautifully constructed work for eight dancers set to the music of Gyorgy Ligeti, with the luminous ballerina, Emilie Cozette, at its centre. I spoke to Nicolas Paul, who joined the company in 1996 at the age of eighteen, a young choreographer who has already created a number of interesting and original works.

Emilie Cozette and Vincent Chaillet in Genus
Choreography: Nicolas Paul
Photo: Agathe Poupeney

"I began working on my ballet as soon as I received the commission from Brigitte Lefèvre over a year ago", he told me, " and I very quickly decided on the theme of the mirror and one's double for a work which was to be neither narrative nor totally abstract.  And it was that, together with my choice of Ligeti's strongly contrasting score which gave me the base for my creation. My choreography, which I work on a lot, is constructed around the music, and I began to question the notion of doubles, one's reflection, in front, behind, and the notion of time passing. The score itself leaves the impression of a broken mirror, and, working with that in mind, I wanted to reveal what the mirror cannot show, what is underneath."

"Happily", he continued, "Brigitte Lefèvre introduced me to Paul Andreu who conceived the light, transparent décor, and then Adeline André designed costumes to evoke this interiority and suggest what was underneath the wrapping. An atmosphere of serenity was created by the use of beiges, soft peach and flesh-coloured tones which were discreet; appearing yet disappearing".

Paris Opera Ballet in Genus
Choreography: Nicolas Paul
Photo: Agathe Poupeney

"However it is the music which determines, even dictates my choreography", he explained. "There's no room for improvisation in my work which is highly structured, and I feel I am very fortunate to work with dancers who trust me implicitly. Several of them, including Josua Hoffalt, Jean-Christophe Guerri and Stéphane Bullion have worked with me since I began to choreograph works, some nine years ago. They have always taken me very seriously and have traveled, be it to Roissy, Lausanne or Marbella, to dance my creations".

Répliques is thus a happy meeting of dance, scenery and music enhanced by excellent lighting by Madjid Hkimi and a close interaction between the dancers who gave themselves totally to this remarkable work, leaving the bemused spectator torn between the beauty of the images presented and intensity of the deeper meaning behind them. In particular, Emilie Cozette, partnered by the newly promoted premier dancer, the expressive Vincent Chaillet, was sublime in a superb, evanescent pas de deux.

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. Ms. Boccadoro is the dance editor for She last wrote on the Paris Tribute to Merce Cunningham.

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