Palais Garnier, Paris, France; 3 May 2014

Grace Milandou

“Orpheus and Eurydice” holds a very special place in the history of performing arts. The first Operas ever written and performed were both about Orpheus and Eurydice. Music was at the centre of the plot as a Promethean art, which, combined with true love, gave Orpheus the strength to overcome death. The 17th century French were found of Opera Ballet – large Opera performances including dance parts. Pina Bausch invented Ballet Opera. She rearranged the score of the German version of the Gluck opera , choreographed on it, with singers onstage interacting with dancers.

In her version, Pina Bausch ripped the story of its happy end. This ballet is a meditation on mortal condition. Here, Orpheus is not music but love, and the choreographer has transformed love and music’s victory over death in a plaintive allegory on human fragility. For Pina Bausch, Orpheus and Eurydice, like Romeo and Juliet, are reunited in death. In this deeply emotional piece, there is only one moment of bliss: when Orpheus penetrates the depth of the kingdom of the dead. At the end of his journey, Orpheus realises rebirth only brought more pain; only in death can he find peace. Before, his life was only grief, sorrow and fear, bringing his love back form the dead was all uneasiness, fear of loss, shock, pain, then finally, love triumphs in death.

Eurydice’s part is very short. She is the confirmation of the peace that only death can bring. This Saturday’s performance marked the return of Marie Agnès Gilot after her maternity leave. From her first appearance, her pleasure to be back on stage was palpable and her presence radiated. In her second solo, she made clear the succession of emotions her character experiences before dying a second time. Insecurity, fear, incredulity, despair, love –  she made a choreographic story of an emotional journey. This unique ballerina seems to have Pina Bausch written in her flesh.

If both Marie Agnes Gilot (Eurydice) and Muriel Zusperreguy (Youth) kept the parts the German master gave them ten years ago, none of the interpreters who’ve worked on the main feature character with her is still active in the company. Thus, it is only Stephan Bullion’s second appearance of a part he took in 2012. He has learned the part from Dominique Mercy, for whom Orpheus was choreographed and who’s long association with the company insures that Pina’s legacy will always be safe in POB.

Stephane Bullion showed a clear understanding of the choreographer’s intension though his interpretation sometimes lacks depth. There was much to admire in the elasticity of his movements and his sensitivity. The unity of intensions between him and his vocal counterpart was amazing; they were always on the same page, which wasn’t always the case of youth/love parts.

Orpheus holds a special place in the recent history of the Paris Opera Ballet. It is a signature work, a masterpiece representative of the evolution of the company’s repertoire in the last 14 years, under the direction of Mrs Brigitte Lefèvre.

Next season, Benjamin Millepied will take over. In his first press conference, he shared his wish to develop more cooperation and mixed bills between Ballets and Operas. This week, he will premiere Daphnis and Chloe, a large-scale choreographic symphony, in collaboration with the Opera music director. Not an Opera yet, but it is an ambitious project and the little glimpses I’ve had so far seem very promising. Last Saturday as he saw the curtain fall I can’t imagine he didn’t have a respectful thought for the German choreographer. As I saw the serious look on his face after the performance, I couldn’t help but think: “Mr Millepied… you’re up next!”