Opera ballet

Review: ‘Les Applaudissements’ by Maguy Marin at the Paris Opera Ballet

PARIS — The French choreographer Maguy Marin, whose work “Les applassements ne se mange pas” is performed by the Paris Opera Ballet, is a controversial figure in contemporary dance. Coming from a fertile generation that emerged in France in the 1980s, Ms. Marin has never had an identifiable style and aesthetic. His work, which first came to prominence with the brilliant “May B” in 1981, is tough, austere, relentless, and at times charming and funny.

But it has constantly evolved and, over the past decade, has often excluded anything that might classically be called dance.

In “Umwelt” (2004), the dancers perform random tasks between vertical mirrors, sometimes crossing them to observe the audience. In “Ha! Ha! its dancers laugh for an hour as bricks crash into seated mannequins. In “Turba” (2008), they move through a dreamlike landscape of tables strewn with flowers, putting on and taking off costumes and wigs while reciting texts from “On the Nature of Things” by Lucretius.

Although Ms. Marin has forged an international reputation for a “Cinderella” that she created for the Ballet de l’Opéra de Lyon in 1985, her work has rarely migrated into the repertoires of companies abroad. (On Thursday, it was announced that she had won the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement in Dance, awarded by the Venice Biennale.)

He had not even migrated to the repertoire of the Ballet de l’Opéra de Paris; Apart from a commission from Rudolf Nureyev in 1987, “Leçons de ténèbres”, the company had not performed Ms. Marin’s work until the opening of “Les applause ne se mange pas” at the Palais Garnier on Monday.

It’s a surprising omission, given the Paris Opera Ballet’s emphasis on contemporary work under the direction of Brigitte Lefèvre, who led the company from 1995 to 2014 and brings in important choreographers. like Pina Bausch, Angelin Preljocaj, Jérome Bel, Robyn Orlin and Sasha Waltz.

This was rectified by Benjamin Millepied, who took over from Ms Lefèvre last year, and shocked the dance world when he announced in February that he would be leaving at the end of this season, after just 15 months. (He will be replaced by Aurélie Dupont, a former standout.) During his short tenure, Millepied focused primarily on new ballet, but he spoke at his first press conference about the importance of the work of Ms. Marin and her belief that the Opera dancers should interpret her.

He was right. Wednesday’s hour-long performance “Applause Can’t Be Eaten,” which lasts until May 3, is tough and brilliant, an unflinching portrait of human beings outliving each other — or not. .

The work was created for the Biennale de la danse de Lyon in 2002, whose theme was Latin American and which evokes a world where people are victims and oppressors, hunted and hunters, dead and alive.

The title comes from the writings of Edouardo Galeano, whose book “The open veins of Latin America” ​​is cited in the program by Ms. Marin as the direct inspiration of the work. But there’s nothing literal or specific shown on stage, where only brightly striped curtains hung on its three sides might suggest Latino exuberance.

On a humming and creaking electronic score by Denis Mariotte, Ms. Marin’s regular musical collaborator, the performers, dressed in street clothes, enter several times through these curtains, which turn out to be strips of colored plastic. Sometimes these meetings are individual, sometimes in groups. They still eye each other suspiciously, cautiously, eventually lowering their eyes. Fear creeps in. Bodies are dragged through the curtains, evoking those who have disappeared and an unknown darkness beyond.

Ordinary movements – walking, running, standing, falling – are intertwined with sweeping movements that resemble martial arts, as the dancers wrap their arms around each other or fall in unison to the floor.

Ms. Marin manages to make everything feel so naturalistic and deceptively simple. Images of execution, crippling fear, group obedience and numb acceptance come and go. A brief embrace is surprisingly moving; the only evocation of human warmth in the hour’s work.

As the play progresses, Ms. Marin suggests growing tension and fear without any obvious tricks. M. Mariotte’s score rises and falls in volume and density; the lights go out and brighten. Sequences repeat and patterns become recognizable: the inescapable and inescapable power games, the fear and hope of those caught in a world beyond their control.

All the dancers — Myriam Kamionka, Camille De Bellefon, Lucie Fenwick, Sofia Rosolini, Aurélien Houette, Alexandre Carniato, Takeru Coste and Antonin Monié — are superbly rigorous. There is no emotion, no game in “Applause”.

Not everyone likes that. Several spectators on Wednesday were visibly irritated; a man booed loudly at the end. Nevertheless, Ms. Marin dares to show us her uncompromising truth.