Opera ballet

Review: ‘La Nuit S’Achève’ by Benjamin Millepied at the Paris Opera Ballet

PARIS — Cries of “Thank you! and “Bravo!” broke out from the audience on Friday evening when Benjamin Millepied greeted the dancers of the Paris Opera Ballet after a performance at the Palais Garnier. It was a highly guarded moment: a day earlier the opera had announced that Mr Millepied would leave as dance director in July and be replaced by Aurélie Dupont, a retired company star. (Not everyone agreed with the cries of “Ridicule!” a French audience member commented during intermission.)

On the program, the creation of the ballet of a new work by Jérôme Bel and its first performance of the “Goldberg Variations” by Jerome Robbins on the work of Bach.

But it was the creation of a piece choreographed by Mr. Millepied that the public was waiting for. The work “La Nuit S’Achève” is a sextet on Beethoven’s tumultuous Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor, known as “Appassionata” (performed by Alain Planès); it shows Mr. Millepied’s fluidity and skill in his smooth transitions from complex ensemble interactions to tender or tempestuous pas de deux.

The ballet presents three couples (Amandine Albisson, Hervé Moreau; Sae Eun Park, Marc Moreau; Ida Viikinkoski, Jérémy-Loup Quer — all wonderful), who embody different emotional states during a romantic love. Ms. Albisson and Mr. Moreau appear as the storm-tossed central pair; maybe the others are memories of their past or possibilities for their future. (It was a pleasure to see Mr. Moreau, a beautifully refined dancer who has been injured a lot in recent years.)

A fleeting sense of narrative emerges most powerfully in the second and third sections (“Andante con moto” and “Allegro ma non troppo — Presto”). Here, the dancers, dressed in simple shirts, are happily freed from the harsh red, blue and purple tones (by Alessandro Sartori) of the opening section, “Allegro assai”, and Mr. Millepied calms the rhythm of the together sometimes too detailed. choreography, using stillness as a counterpoint to hammered musical passages.

Mr. Bel’s work also caused outbursts from the public, with boos and cheers intertwined after his 30-minute piece, “Tombe”, in which three dancers from the Paris Opera (Grégory Gaillard, Sébastien Bertaud and Benjamin Pech) appeared on stage with a non-dancer stranger.

Mr. Bel is a controversial figure, a fearless tester of theatrical expectations who doesn’t actually create a dance move. Her 2004 “Véronique Doisneau” for the Paris Opera Ballet was a brilliant exploration of the life of a ballet dancer. “Tomb”, which successively stages a supermarket cashier (Henda Traoré), a woman with a leg amputated (Sandra Escudé) and an elderly dance fan (Sylviane Milley, via a projected film), is less coherent. Mr. Bel raises fascinating questions, among which, what is allowed, by what are we repelled, who enters the opera? But no segment is fully developed, and the tight theatrical timing that often makes Bel’s play captivating isn’t always in play.

After all that, Robbins’ 100-minute “Goldberg Variations” (performed sensitively by Simone Dinnerstein) was not a performance for the faint-hearted. Both rigorous and playful, academic and whimsical, it allowed the dancers to demonstrate the technical precision and formal perfection that characterize them, as well as a renewed musicality and spirit. The work showed particularly well the beautiful lines and finesse of the male soloists. Congratulations to them, as well as to Myriam Ould-Braham, dazzling among her excellent female colleagues.