PARIS OPERA BALLET/MIXED BILL
July 12, 2012
Classical purity, grace and charm define the Paris Opera Ballet. These traits were evidenced in the first of three programs performed as part of the Lincoln Center Festival. Entitled: “French Masters of The 20th Century,” the selections represent different spokes of the French dance ethos.
Serge Lifar’s “Suite en Blanc” scores deep into the abstract, classical elements of traditional ballet technique. A star with Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe, Lifar was born in Kiev, Russia, and studied with two major figures: Bronisiava Nijinska and Enrico Ceccehitti. After Diaghilev’s death in 1929, Lifar assumed a berth at the Paris Opera Ballet until 1958.
Clean and precise, the steps connect the roots of ballet to contemporary developments. The corps assembles in an assortment of patterns, circles and lines, delicately forming shapes that outline supple torsos, easily weighted arms, taut legs and precise body facings. Six female leads demonstrated different technical capabilities with some excelling in balances, others in turns, intricate pointe work or leaps.
All held their torsos lightly over working legs and all the men were substantive partners, but no one was truly outstanding. Performed to the lilting music of Edouard Lala, the stage was an ocean of women in white tutus and men in black tights and white shirts.
A student of Serge Lifar’s, Roland Petit danced with the Paris Opera Ballet for several years until he branched off to form his own companies. Although schooled in the classical style, Petit’s choreography delves into emotional and dramatic elements expressed through motion. A storyteller, Petit’s “L’Arlesienne," based on Alphonse Daudet's play, forms a tragic love story between Vivette (Isabelle Ciaravola) and Frederi (Jeremie Belingard). Set against a tapestry sized faux Van-Gogh rural landscape, a young man and woman prepare for marriage rites surrounded by their community. Much like Bronislava Nijinska’s “Les Noces” men and women are segrated and perform strong folk inflected group dances around the dedicated couple.
After the union, the relationship starts to fall apart. An extremely sympathetic dancer, Ms. Belingard’s expressive, highly arched feet etch clear, strong circles on the floor and crystalline point work. But the weight of the dancing and acting falls on the fully capable and dreamy Belingard.
Why he starts to go mad is not clear, but there’s no arguing the impact of fluid leaps that riff into effortless turns and then melt into the floor. Simultaneously athletic and lyrical, Belingard’s duress is magnified through his expressions and escalating steps until he flings himself out the window into the black abyss.
Guaranteed to blow the roof off of any theater, Maurice Bejart’s “Bolero” closed the Paris Opera Ballet’s opening night program. A “chosen” bare-chested male stands on top an enormous, raised disk surrounded on all sides by bare-chested men in black pants. With the first notes of Maurice Ravel’s Bolero, Nicholas Le Riche raises his arm, hand catching the light, fingers flair slowly pressing down a smoothe, hairless chest to the groin. The second arm repeats the pattern over a pulsating lunge.
In the grand tradition of postmodern dance, gestures accumulate one after another, pulsing lunges getting deeper and deeper mounting alongside the music’s orgiastic waves. Silently, two men rise in front of Le Riche. They begin another movement accumulation referencing Le Riche’s trajectory and adding pelvic pumps echoed by Le Riche that build into full tilt, seductive pelvic rotations.
Two by two, four by four and more the men rise encircling the disk and all along, Le Riche never stops dancing. At one point Bejart references a Greek sailor folkdance when a circle dance breaks into a line of men, arms on each other’s shoulders facing sideways, bent legs raised, as the standing leg slowly lowers to the ground and everyone snaps back up, twisting bodies to the opposite side. By the time all the men stand throbbing to the music in unison, the climactic end releases a tumult of applause.
When this ballet was first choreographed in 1961, it created a palpable stir because it preceded the days of gender politics, best-selling soft-porn books and mainstream male strip bars. No, nothing subtle here, but utterly captivating and loads of fun.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipitois