Opera ballet

Ballet de l’Opéra de Paris/New York City Ballet, Paris — the review

When it comes to ballet companies, Paris Opera Ballet and New York City Ballet could hardly be more different. French dress has centuries of classic history and has mainly looked to contemporary European trends to adapt to changing times. American society, meanwhile, still respects the neoclassical style and vision of its 20th-century founder, George Balanchine. By a happy coincidence, however, the two currently find themselves performing similar repertoire in Paris.

NYCB is moving to the Théâtre du Châtelet as part of the Etés de la Danse festival, with five different programs. We could have wished for a more varied diet: out of 20 works, 14 are by Balanchine. Instead of Apolloa first job exhausted by almost every business under the sun, or Mozartiana light confection destined to join POB’s repertoire next season, a substantial selection from Jerome Robbins or several of Alexei Ratmansky’s NYCB creations would have been welcome.

However, it is a company that dances with such vitality that it is essential. Since his last Parisian tour, in 2008, an exceptional generation of school directors has established themselves, from the imposing Sara Mearns to Tiler Peck, Sterling Hyltin and Taylor Stanley. They took no prisoners in the opening program “Balanchine Black and White”, permeating classic works such as The four temperaments with thrilling and audacious musicality.

In Balanchine’s grand imperial-style ballets, however, you would be forgiven for tossing between the sometimes brutal attack of NYCB and the more elegant discipline of old-world companies. In NYCB’s all-Tchaikovsky program, moments of brilliance alternate with awkward line-ups and port de bras.

Meanwhile, POB successfully co-opted Balanchine’s Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet at the Opera Bastille. The transatlantic fare has been a feature of the tenure of Benjamin Millepied, the former NYCB principal named director in 2014, and Brahms-Schoenberg came decked out in sleek new suits by Karl Lagerfeld, drawing inspiration from Daniel Buren-style stripes to folk coifs. More importantly, the POB dancers felt at home in the piece’s evocation of the opulent Austro-Hungarian ballrooms. Dorothée Gilbert and Mathieu Ganio formed a romantic duet, while Laura Hecquet and Karl Paquette cheerfully played the character dance of the fourth movement.

Balanchine isn’t the only name the NYCB and POB programs have in common. Both present ballets by Justin Peck, soloist and resident choreographer of the NYCB, to whom Millepied entrusted the creation of his first European work in Paris. The result, Between dog and wolf (“between dog and wolf”, a French expression meaning twilight or twilight), boasts striking production values, including John Baldessari’s 1989 “Rollercoaster” print as a backdrop, but falls short of New York creations of Peck.

As a score, he opted for Poulenc’s Double Piano Concerto, which was also used in 2010 by Liam Scarlett for Asphodel meadows. Peck’s take is structurally more ambitious than Scarlett’s, but less suited to the complex and changing texture of the music.

As another homage to Baldessari, Peck chose to saddle his cast of 11 with round masks, mimicking the colored dots the California artist hides faces with in some works. More could have been drawn from the resulting tension between the individuals and the anonymous crowd, but Peck, true to his Balanchine roots, focused on forms in space. He and the French dancers failed to meet halfway: there’s a bright, earnest quality to Peck’s work that few cast members have truly made their own, despite some striking male solos.

Peck was back in his comfort zone with NYCB, which featured the impressive Everywhere we go at the Chatelet. The choreographer’s American colleagues filled his steps and kaleidoscopic patterns with remarkable energy and presence. On the same program, an offbeat treasure, 2014 by Ratmansky Pictures at an exhibition, proving that dance can dialogue with the abstract moods of its Mussorgsky score and Kandinsky projections. What a time to watch a ballet in Paris.

POB ‘Peck/Balanchine’, until July 15, operadeparis.fr

NYCB, until July 16 chatelet-theatre.com