Opera ballet

The Paris Opera Ballet delivers Rite and Rhapsody

It’s easy to believe we know everything there is to know about The Rite of Spring. Vaslav Nijinsky’s historic choreography may have been lost after its creation in 1913, but in 1987 Millicent Hodson and Kenneth Archer crafted a reconstruction that has since become a staple of the repertoire – and that adds to the hundreds of reinvented Ritehaunts theaters around the world.

Today, the Paris Opera Ballet offers a fresh look at Nijinsky’s style, thanks to Dominique Brun, in his Ashton/Eyal/Nijinsky triple bill. The French choreographer and specialist in reconstruction first reconstructed the original Rite with contemporary dancers in 2014, drawing on new research conducted with two historians. Today, their meticulous work can be seen on the scale it deserves, with sets and costumes by Nicolas Roerich carefully reproduced at the Palais Garnier.

Most fascinating is Brun’s attention to the then shocking posture that Nijinsky demanded of ballet dancers. While the Hodson/Archer production has seemed somewhat amorphous in recent years, the 36 Parisian dancers engaged in the stoop and turn positions with striking force. The group of maidens seemed convincingly crushed by the weight of the ritual, including calls to the forces from above and, at one point, an audible scream.

Brave Effort: Frederick Ashton’s Devilish “Rhapsody” © Yonathan Kellerman

Some thumbnails are a welcome addition. During a musical transition, the bearded elder who leads the sacrifice converses with a young man; after that, a circle is drawn on the stage with a piece of chalk to select the chosen one. Alice Renavand’s last solo in the role seemed stripped of any pastiche. Although outwardly more restrained than previous iterations – the character’s two-dimensional stances are meticulously sculptural – Brun has restored an inner urgency to his attempts at evasion and quivering expectation.

This Rite is an intriguing step for the Paris Opera Ballet, which has otherwise steered clear of the global trend towards period reconstructions. By contrast, another work by Nijinsky, Afternoon of a Faun, was reinvented on the same poster by contemporary choreographer Sharon Eyal. It is also sculptural, with eight dancers dressed in skin-tight, skin-coloured costumes that put a new, undulating spin on the frieze quality of the work.

In ‘Faunes’, the dancers give a new undulating twist to the frieze quality of the work © Yonathan Kellerman

Yet Eyal Fauna lack of dramatic arc to make the most of Debussy’s score. As for the third work on the program, bless the hearts of the Paris Opera Ballet for even attempting Frederick Ashton’s magnificent and diabolical. Rhapsody, from 1980 (with garish costumes and sets by Patrick Caulfield, just abandoned in London). His plunging British style is totally foreign to them. Ludmila Pagliero made a brave effort, but the sullen faces behind her suggested Rhapsody could have used the level of care Rite has received.

★★★★☆

As of January 2; operadeparis.fr