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Paris Opera Ballet

By Evan Namerow

Paris Opera Ballet
Opéra Bastille
Paris, France
June 11–July 15, 2010
Reviewed by Evan Namerow

 

Marie-Agnès Gillot in Kylián's Kaguyahime. Photo by Anne Deniau.

 

The ancient tale of a Japanese moon princess seemed an unlikely choice for Paris Opera Ballet, but the company gave a powerful performance of Jiří Kylián’s 1988 Kaguyahime. Based on the 10th-century story Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, this revived and revamped production (originally created for Nederlands Dans Theater) follows the story of Kaguyahime’s descent to earth, the violence among the village’s men caused by her beauty, and her eventual return to the moon. Kylián honors the narrative’s symbolism—particularly themes of envy, rivalry, war, and peace—while vibrantly bringing it into the 21st century with an abstract set design, elegant black and white costumes, and Maki Ishii’s dynamic, eerie score.


As she arrived on earth, Kaguyahime, cautiously portrayed by Marie-Agnès Gillot, slowly pliéd on one leg, balanced for what felt like eternity, and serenely circled her arms around her torso. This tranquil presence gave way to chaos among the villagers as the men’s limbs tangled in lurching jumps and kicks. Kylián’s choreography shined in these powerhouse sections of frenetic yet grounded movement, as well as in the folk-flavored ensemble of women who thrust their torsos and attacked the space with urgency. While Kaguyahime is the title character, the piece was most memorable for the precision of the corps. With their vivid performance, the turmoil was palpable.


Enhancing the ominous environment were long black poles suspended above the stage, which continuously tilted to create severe diagonals. At the most intense moment of battle, the musicians, including the Kodo Ensemble on taiko drums and a trio on ancient Japanese wind instruments, scrambled onto the stage and formed lines beside the warring villagers. Drumming vigorously, the musicians were now completely immersed in the pandemonium.


At times the music and sets were even more impressive than the choreography. Flashing projections and shadowy lights dramatized the battle, and later a silken gray sheet enveloped the stage, marking the end of the war. Kaguyahime, in a shimmering white unitard, was only a remote presence throughout the work. Yet her impact on the village was immense, which Kylián conveyed through the changing moods and drama of the piece. The story came full circle as she ascended to the sky in order to bring peace to the community. Brightening lights, slow melodic sounds, and supple movement evoked the return of calm in the village. Kaguyahime’s strength and poetic beauty lay in its ability to integrate contemporary artistry into an ancient story—a rare achievement.