Opera ballet

Does the Paris Opera Ballet lack meaning? New works by Marco Goecke and Pontus Lidberg reviewed

The great ballet companies do not need an artistic policy to exist. Due to their size and history, they can usually move forward without clear direction. Yet the ripple effects are felt through the repertoire, as the Paris Opera Ballet’s latest triple program suggests.

Almost three years to the day after her appointment, director Aurélie Dupont presented two of the rare novelties planned for the season. Both are fundamentally flawed, one more than the other, but the problems are as much about the programming as the artists involved.

To begin with, Marco Goecke’s The dogs are sleeping and Pontus Lidberg The wedding are tuned to scores that seem to take place in a universe far removed from choreography. Goecke, who has spent much of his career in Germany and the Netherlands, has a characteristic but narrow style. Its stiff, frantic upper body articulation tends to portray dancers as flawed humanoids desperately trying to approximate human movement, and failing.

Marc Moreau and Juliette Hilaire in “Faune” by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui © Ann Ray

While the lightning-fast coordination required is impressive, it’s totally unsuitable for the mysterious, slow-burning texture of the two Toru Takemitsu. Requiem for strings and Ravel Noble and sentimental waltzes. Goecke sometimes crams a dozen jerky movements into a quiet musical phrase; Maddeningly, it left the seven gifted soloists and directors involved looking like obsessive clones with a tin ear.

Sweden’s Lidberg delivered more solid work, but the contrast between the pits and the stage still seemed stark. Stravinsky’s 1923 score for The wedding, originally choreographed by Bronislava Nijinska, is rarely used by ballet companies these days, not least because of the large and expensive choir involved. It’s a shame, because it’s epic, gripping, urgent; it draws on Russian folk material to talk about rituals and engagement (the original plot centering on a peasant wedding) and gives them a sense of deep permanence.

Lidberg responds with a 21st-century take on relationships that feels more like a Benetton ad — sleek, gender-fluid, fluid of engagement. In itself, it is often seductive, with an extraordinary performance from the flexible Antoine Kirscher. But his humanity is far from that of Stravinsky, which gives the action an air of superficiality.

These are all problems that the Paris Opera could have tackled in the planning phases. The preface of the new works was that of Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui Wildlife, which lacked some of its usual erotic charge on opening night. It was a program that had the potential to boost the business. I left the Palais Garnier discouraged.

★★☆☆☆

As of March 2, operadeparis.fr