Opera ballet

Choreography falls down the pecking order at the Paris Opera Ballet

What do we say of a dance company when the choreographers are no longer the stars of the premieres? The Paris Opera Ballet opened its season with a new work, At the Falcon’s Well, loosely based on the 1916 play by WB Yeats. A visual artist, the Japanese Hiroshi Sugimoto, is considered its main author.

Ballet choreographer Alessio Silvestrin was only the fourth name on the program, after Sugimoto, Yeats and composer Ryoji Ikeda. It’s a vexing throwback to an art form whose hard-won independence in the 20th century and whose pecking order has manifested itself on stage.

The steps – a listless combination of Forsythe-influenced lines and vaguely dramatic poses – felt eerily like an afterthought. The costumes seemed to be designed for static effect rather than movement: Ludmila Pagliero (as guardian of the well) had to maneuver red wings three times her size, while the male principals were saddled with papier-mâché diapers. The choreography was also cut short by the presence of a nô actor, Tetsunojo Kanze, who interpreted the final scene of the work.

As Yeats’ play is openly inspired by Noh theatre, this is not an absurd choice. Still, Sugimoto’s emphasis on minimalist visual arrays, which featured vivid colors on a large curved screen, fits into a pattern for the French company.

Since the departure of Benjamin Millepied as director in 2016, the Paris Opera Ballet appears less and less interested in the choreographic profession. days before At the Falcon’s Wellthe company’s lavish season-opening gala included a unique performance of a rare ballet by Serge Lifar, from 1953 Variants. Neither the general public nor critics were allowed to see this significant revival: its purpose seemed to be to feature new costumes by gala sponsor Chanel.

Contrast At the Falcon’s Well with the ballet that followed it, Blake works I, which marked the return of choreographer William Forsythe to ballet in 2016. Suddenly, the dancers’ abilities were at the center of the action. Forsythe has a fascinating way of matching classical phrases to pop music, here by James Blake, and the younger generation of POB took their rarely seen class steps as if a fire had been lit beneath them.

When the ballet is so good, you experience it vicariously; the spirit escapes from the stillness of the auditorium to dance. It is a happy and elusive art form. Dance should not be content to fill the space of the Palais Garnier. Either it is the event, as in Blake works Ior he is lost.

★★★☆☆

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