Paris Opéra Ballet

December 17, 2010

Paris Opéra Ballet

Palais Garnier, Paris, France

December 17, 2010

Reviewed by Laura Cappelle


Paris Opéra Ballet in Bausch’s
Rite of Spring. Photo by Sébastien Mathé, courtesy POB.


Would any other ballet company dare to present Nureyev’s Swan Lake and Pina Bausch’s Rite of Spring at the same time, in two different opera houses? The Paris Opéra Ballet prides itself on the extremes it covers in terms of repertoire, but their Christmas contemporary mixed bill was a hit-and-miss flirt with foreign styles.

has been seen more often than any other Balanchine ballet in Paris in recent years, most likely because of the limited number of dancers required. The company’s placid classicism and cool demeanor make for polished performances, but sadly evacuate what in the choreography is space for subversiveness—the muses in particular are so polite that Balanchine’s metaphorical ballet looks at times uncannily like a misogynistic ode to a man arranging his obedient harem.

It may not help in that respect to see the hugely charismatic Nicolas Le Riche in the title role. His bright energy and jazzy musicality are almost incongruous on this stage, and easily eclipsed Ludmila Pagliero and Aurélia Bellet’s muses. Even his Terpsichore, the strikingly angular Marie-Agnès Gillot, didn’t quite look beyond the steps, eschewing the internal sense of character Le Riche brought to his solar god.

Trisha Brown’s 2004 O zlozony/O composite has also been seen repeatedly in recent years, and still comes with a puzzling literary apparatus. We learn that Brown created a series of “dance alphabets” to “translate” Edna St. Vincent Millay’s Renascence for this work, performed to a Polish poem read aloud. The result, however, doesn’t close the gap between concept, dancers, and movement. With the original, extensively trained cast unavailable, Brown and the POB seemed to cancel each other’s style out in this revival, and the deceptively simple choreography and quiet partnering looked more lethargic than dreamlike against their starry backdrop. Isabelle Ciaravola, Vincent Chaillet and Josua Hoffalt were their elegant selves, but merely took the audience through the motions.

The long-awaited revival of Pina Bausch’s Rite of Spring was clearly the raison d’être of the evening, and indeed all was forgiven at the end of this visceral, terribly human work. Remarkably, any sense of theatrical illusion vanishes throughout—from the earth-covered stage prepared in plain view during the interval to Bausch’s instinctive response to Stravinsky, everything in this 1975 masterpiece seems raw, inexorable. The 32 dancers rise, fall, tremble, their bodies bound to the floor and transfixed by timeless guilt, more vulnerable than they have ever been on this stage.

Géraldine Wiart was selected by Bausch herself to be a Chosen One in 1997, and her harrowingly mature performance, after 25 years with the company,  is a revelation. The curtain calls said it all: As she and the rest of the cast bowed, still dazed, stripped of their usual make-up and restraint, the ballet boys and girls were gone—we were seeing adult artists, and Bausch could have given the Paris dancers no greater gift than that catharsis.

Thoughts on this review? On Balanchine, Brown, or Bausch in general? Let us know. Email [email protected].