Paris Opéra Ballet's Different Moods

July 15, 2012

Paris Opéra Ballet has sent critics scurrying to find both superlatives and condemnations. After all, it’s been 16 years since they’ve been in NYC. No one can deny the stylistic unity, the almost frightening precision, and the sense of history in everything they’ve shown so far. But they have also been truly moving.

The first offering, the three-part “French program,” progressed from a behind-glass type of display of technique (Serge Lifar’s Suite en Blanc), to an emotional story of a man that looked a lot like Nijinska’s Les Noces except that he goes crazy instead (L’Arlsienne by Roland Petit), to the outrageously sensual Bolero by Béjart. (In this last, Marie-Agnès Gillot was every bit of the étoile you’d expect after reading our cover story.) This program gave a satisfying glimpse of POB’s 20th-century achievements.

Their Giselle, depending on the cast, was impressive in a different way. Personally, I was very moved by Isabelle Ciaravola as Giselle at the Saturday matinee. Delicate and vulnerable, she was completely convincing in her love for Albrecht and her unraveling at his deception.

Last spring, I wrote rhapsodies about Diana Vishneva’s dramatic Giselle and also about Cojocaru’s more spiritual Giselle.

But Ciaravola’s was equally moving. She was so soft and shy in Albrecht’s presence, so sweetly taken with his attentions, that you could believe it would drive her crazy to learn of his deception. When shown the evidence of his aristocracy, she at first refused to believe it. But there was a moment downstage left when she was hugging him, that she suddenly realized it was true—not because of what Bathilde mimed, but because she could feel it in his body. She recoiled from him slowly. During her mad scene the whole audience got very quiet as she withdrew into her own world.

There were some very different things about this production, for instance that Act II opens in the forest with five hooded guys playing dice a few yards from Giselle’s grave. But, hey, it’s always interesting to see other productions.

More Giselles this week, and then, on to the ballet/opera production of Orpheus and Eurydice by Pina Bausch on Friday. —Wendy Perron