What Makes the Paris Opéra Ballet the Paris Opéra Ballet?

New Yorkers are getting revved to see this company, which hasn’t come to the U.S. in 16 years. We know they are elegant, refined, and highly technical. But isn't that true of any ballet company? What, really, sets them apart? Most of the dancers come right out of the POB school, but what does that training emphasize? It’s not the Balanchine style of moving large and fast; it’s not the big bravura leaps of the Bolshoi or the ethereal port de bras of the Mariinsky (Kirov) Ballet. What does POB have that's unique?


We do know that Paris Opéra Ballet has incredible étoiles, which is a source of excitement in itself. As artistic director Brigitte Lefèvre says about the étoiles in our cover story on Marie-Agnès Gillot: “They have something from the au-delà [the other world], at the same time beautiful and fragile.”

 

POB in Pina Bausch's Orpheus and Eurydice. Photo courtesy Lincoln Center Festival.

 

I will be indulging in étoile-watching this week when POB comes to Lincoln Center Festival. (And by the way, Gillot really is a special creature on the stage.) But I will also be looking to see if I can discern a POB style. Stay tuned for my blog on this, and for dance historian Lynn Garafola’s review, which will be posted on our reviews page after the season is over.

 

POB in Maurice Bejart's Boléro. Photo courtesy Lincoln Center Festival.

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Luke Isley, Courtesy Ballet West

How Do Choreographers Bring Something Fresh to Music We've Heard Over and Over?

In 2007, Oregon Ballet Theatre asked Nicolo Fonte to choreograph a ballet to Maurice Ravel's Boléro. "I said, 'No way. I'm not going near it,' " recalls Fonte. "I don't want to compete with the Béjart version, ice skaters or the movie 10. No, no, no!"

But Fonte's husband encouraged him to "just listen and get a visceral reaction." He did. And Bolero turned into one of Fonte's most requested and successful ballets.

Not all dance renditions of similar warhorse scores have worked out so well. Yet the irresistible siren song of pieces like Stravinsky's The Firebird and The Rite of Spring, as well as the perennial Carmina Burana by Carl Orff, seem too magnetic for choreographers to ignore.

And there are reasons for their popularity. Some were commissioned specifically for dance: Rite and Firebird for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes; Boléro for dance diva Ida Rubinstein's post–Ballets Russes troupe. Hypnotic rhythms (Arvo Pärt's Spiegel im Spiegel) and danceable melodies (Bizet's Carmen) make a case for physical eye candy. Audience familiarity can also help box office receipts. Still, many choreographers have been sabotaged by the formidable nature and Muzak-y overuse of these iconic compositions.

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