Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Paris Opera Ballet Visits Gotham

Mathieu Ganio and Aurélie Dupont in Giselle.
The Paris Opera Ballet came to New York with a production of Giselle—one of my favorite story ballets—with a version that's new to me. Exciting, right? Yes, but it's also slightly irritating, because while watching it, I spent half my mental energy comparing it to the version done by regularly by ABT (staged by Kevin McKenzie after Coralli/Petipa/Perrot). Ooh, the cottages are painted flats rather than built structures. The costume palette is primarily warm with the exception of Giselle and the Count. Hilarion is more masculine and wears nearly the same costume as Albrecht, making the playing field more level. There are no Borzois or kids! And so on, one relatively small detail after another.

But there were some significant differences. While Giselle is being feted by her friends on the occasion of her birthday, she is placed on the seemingly mandatory hay cart and in addition to receiving a flower headband, is given a sprig of flowers, with which she gaily conducts her friends—the same one used by Myrtha later on to dispense her magic. This dramatic foreshadowing strongly links Giselle to the consigned fate of becoming a resurrected spirit of an unwed dead woman, perhaps even a successor to Myrtha, and gives this carefree scene a shot of gravitas. In contrast, in ABT's production, there are some oddly out-of-place children in the cart, merrily waving their beer steins back and forth as Giselle watches. In general, the POB production (same roots, restaged by Patrice Bart and Eugene Polyakov in 1991) is more somber in the first act, emphasizing less Giselle's girlishness and youth, and more her mutability and mortality. She's less happy-go-lucky and seems conscious of her fate. 

The company uses a shiny floor surface, so that in Act 2, the Wilis are reflected as if in water, adding to the supernatural illusion. They are arrayed more like an army, in neat columns, to be deployed by Myrtha efficiently and ruthlessly when a man strays into the area. And when Hilarion does, he is banished down the line of Wilis with flicks of their hands, one at a time. The lighting is particularly effective, with white tones that read as silvery moonlight. The schemes particularly contrast with those by both NYCB (same house) and ABT (across the plaza), which are murkier. 

And yet I was less moved by this production than ABT's. In fairness, I saw one of the most heartfelt performances ever at ABT, featuring Marcelo Gomes and Diana Vishneva; their technical prowess combined with their range of expressivity was simply alchemical. POB's cast was led by Aurélie Dupont and Mathieu Ganio. Dupont is serene and confident, but I felt that she was too mature to play the teenage Giselle, and I don't mean old. She worked her lovely feet to best advantage; the womens' toe shoes appeared to be slightly more flexible than their American counterparts, with more care given to rolling through the foot. Ganio fit the bill as the callow prince, yet didn't explore the movement and expand on its potential.

Dupont was far better suited to Béjart's Bolero (1961), on the French program. Occupying the center of a round red table, she was surrounded by men seated on red chairs on three sides. There was nothing unpredictable in the way she pulsed seductively to the inexorable rhythm, rocking foot to foot, the movement building in scope as the bare-chested men increasingly gathered around her, echoing the primal beat. Here, her maturity commanded and intrigued. At times, the strikingly modern imagery evoked The Green Table by Kurt Jooss, driven by games of love rather than war. 

and... Dupont and Ganio in Suite en Blanc
This program led off with Suite en Blanc (1943) by transplanted Russian Serge Lifar, which displays the academic accomplishments of a large company by showing each dancer's strengths in sections of varying dynamic and mood. Its striking black and white aesthetic (uncredited, oddly) gave it a flat, dramatic appearance underscored by numerous MGM spectacle-like tableaux and stage compositions. Emphasizing ballet's artificiality to an extreme, it's a fragmentary representation of what Balanchine's counterparts abroad were producing in the post-Romantic period. 

L'Arlésienne, by Roland Petit (1974), utilizes Bizet's catchy, familiar music. Petit drew on folk dance motifs that, when paired with the marriage theme, brought to mind the feel of Nijinska's Les Noces—flat shapes, lines of peasants underscoring the Van Goghesque painted panels. Only a too-long solo for the lead male, toward the end, put the brakes on this charming short ballet.

Paris Opera Ballet will further reveal its scope this week with Pina Bausch's Orpheus.

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