Opera ballet

Paris Opera Ballet, Palais Garnier, Paris — blurring boundaries

While contemporary dance creators have made inroads into the repertoire of classical companies, their presence has periodically been dismissed as a gimmick. In some ways, however, they are changing the world of ballet – blurring the top-down choreographic structures and gender distinctions the art form otherwise maintains.

The Paris Opera Ballet’s new quadruple program is perhaps the clearest embodiment of this change to date. Company creations by James Thierrée, Hofesh Shechter and Iván Pérez failed to eclipse a cover of Crystal Pite’s stunning creation. The cannon of the seasonsfrom 2016, but the evening as a whole told an engaging story.

The focus was entirely on bands (hierarchy be damned) with a queer genre twist, starting before anyone set foot in the auditorium. Thierrée, trained in the circus, perpetuates the recent tradition of performing in the public spaces of the Palais Garnier, and his Let’s be frenzied is the best yet.

It employs no less than 58 dancers, dressed in spectacular gold-spotted jumpsuits and masks. They looked like swamp creatures that had wandered out of the artificial lake hidden under the Garnier and into the POB costumers’ dyehouse; circus-like tamers followed them as they crawled and shuffled around the grand staircase and foyers of the theater, sometimes brushing past the spectators.

The choreographic content is light, but Thierrée knows how to create an atmosphere: the horde finally gathered in the stalls of the orchestra, and, as people took their places, went up on stage and disappeared in a whirlwind of hangings.

In contrast, the next two works proved conceptually promising but disappointing. The first, that of Shechter The art of not looking back, features nine women; as a counterpoint, the director of the POB Aurélie Dupont commissioned Pérez to create a piece for 10 men, The male dancer.

Shechter’s work was done in 2009 for her company, and it shows: her grounded stomp and articulation don’t sit well with the women of the Paris Opera, who have been trained to use their weight in other ways.

Still, Shechter eschews female stereotypes, and Pérez has done the same for men, with a collection of gender suits. Unfortunately, the choreography (by Arvo Pärt Stabat Mater) remained generic, with an effective partnership. It was left to the dancers to make it their own, from Marc Moreau, who channeled the voguing into a hot pink jumpsuit, to Hugo Marchand, his latest melancholic solo performed in a dressing gown.

The only triumph of the evening belonged to Pite. The cannon of the seasons is both a superbly chiseled choreography, with work of dizzying complexity for 54 dancers, and a humanistic approach to the relationship between groups and the individual. Pite will return in 2019 with a new one-night work; judging by the instant standing ovation after The cannon of the seasonsthe Parisian public will be waiting impatiently.

★★★★☆

Until June 8, operadeparis.fr