Opera Bastille, Paris, France; 18 May 2014

Grace Milandou

After Agnes de Mille’s intriguing Fall River Legend, the Paris Opera Ballet continues its investigation of American repertoire with a more mainstream double bill evening of George Balanchine and Benjamin Millepied.

The program opened with “Le palais de Cristal (The crystal palace)”, created in 1947 for the Paris Opera. In this piece, Balanchine characterizes each movement of this piece with a specific colour: Allegro in red, Adagio in Black (or dark blue), Allegro Vivace in green, second Allegro in pearly white. These colours and the choreography reveal and illustrate the music and its structure. Balanchine later reworked the piece for his New York City Ballet.  He cut on the colours and the scene setting, but kept the structure of the piece, what is widely now known as “Symphony in C”.

 

These last years, POB dancers developed a fear of Nureyev’s choreographic work, to the point that his position at the core of the company’s repertoire is questioned. The Nureyev style is dangerous, challenging and hardly rewarding and for those who make it through.  The choreography complexities always give the dancers a very hard time onstage. This year, however, we had an excellent Sleeping Beauty (one of his most complicated piece for women soloists). Our best interprets and a young generation of soloists showed the extent of their talent, and the corps de ballet rivaled in enthusiasm and perfection.

Balanchine didn’t fare as well. Last Saturday, “The Crystal Palace” seemed a complicated exercise. Instead of simply dancing and being, dancers were trying too much. Balanchine wrote his movements inside the music and very few interprets were confidant enough to let go of their feet and legs in order to focus on the music and the ensemble. Ludmila Pagliero had the lightness and musicality to make the green movement a feast, but she got injured onstage. So we had to wait for Valentine Colassante in the 4th movement to see beautiful epaulement. However it is only the beginning of the performances, they will have until June to work things out. If the company is getting over its fear of Nureyev, it is fortunate a former NYCB dancer can help the Parisians overcome their fear of Balanchine.

The Paris Ballet community doesn’t like outsiders. POB, after being a French company led by an American (Rosella Hightower) and a Russian (Rudolf Nureyev), was dramatically shut to foreigners for many years. When Benjamin Millepied was appointed in-coming director of POB, he was an outsider. He never studied in Paris, never danced there either. He studied in Lyon and had an American career. Needless to say his new creation for POB was the most awaited moment of the season. Mr. Millepied proved his talent and genius craftsmanship.

“Daphnis and Chloe”, by Benjamin Millepied, is a beautiful display of what makes POB so great. Brigitte Lefèvre commissioned this Ballet long before anyone knew Millepied would be the next company director, and she is the one who suggested Daniel Buren as stage designer. Fate decided it would be the first great creation of the on-coming director. Talent and a good dose of work made it a success and so far the high point of this season. The choreography was fluid, written to fit its five star interprets perfectly, and, suddenly, the corps came to life with an unforeseen energy. Eleonor Baulac (from the corps de ballet) showed she is definitely a dancer who will count in the company’s future. Seeing Aurélie Dupont at that level and in this repertoire was a reminder of why she is probably the most acclaimed French ballerina after Sylvie Guillem. She is less athletic than Ms Guillem but has Russian technique, French precision and the intelligent flow of an American. She formed a very cute couple with the naïve Daphnis/Hervé Moreau and her duet with Briaxis/ François Alu was one of the best moments of the evening.

In a recent interview to the newspaper le Figaro, Benjamin Millepied declared his admiration for the Parisian company and said “I have given it a thought and I really don’t see who we could have as guest dancers in POB. However what I see is a potential for great stars to emerge out of the company, who could be invited to dance in New York.”  His idea of New York as the world’s ballet capital is debatable, but his vision of potential stars in the company is not. François Alu is definitely one of them. Benjamin Milepied wrote him a virtuoso jumpy part where he can display his amazing elevation, convincing acting and charismatic personality.

So far, Brigitte Lefèvre has been the facilitator of all these great artistic encounters. When her ventures are so successful, it is only normal she receives the praise. I sincerely hope her successor will share her audacity.

The Crystal Palace: Amandine Albisson, Joshua Hoffat, Agnès Letestu, Vincent Chaillet, Ludmila Pagliero, Emmanuel Thibault, Valentine Colassante, Christophe Duquenne

 

Daphnis and Chloe:  Aurélie Dupont, Hervé Moreau, Eleonora Abbagnato, Alesio Carbone, François Alu.

 

This program will be broadcast worldwide in movie theatres with

 

The Crystal Palace: Amandine Albisson, Mathieu Ganio, Marie-Agnès Gilot, Kark Paquette, Pierre- Arthur Raveau

 

Daphnis and Chloe: Aurélie Dupont, Hervé Moreau, Eleonora Abbagnato, Alesio Carbone, François Alu

 

http://youtu.be/y8fouutlxWw

Daphnis et Chloe (online ‘till Dec 5th 2014)