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When Paris Opera Ballet announced that the 19/20 season would include a new choreography by Crystal Pite, I thought JJJ. Exhilaration subsequently turned into hesitation when the company’s web site showed a planned duration of just 60 minutes plus interval for this new piece (it turned out to be around 90-100 minutes including interval) as I thought, well, not really, given Paris prices for tickets and travel … Things changed for the better when Bejart Ballet Lausanne announced that they’d perform Ballet for Life in Paris at the end of October. Adding a few temporary exhibitions, and there it was, a two-day trip to Paris, packed with cultural activities. Paris Opera Ballet with Crystal Pite’s Body and Soul on Wednesday night. Both The New York Times and the Financial Times had published their reviews before I was heading to the Opera House on Wednesday and neither of them were particularly jubilant. I’ve taken a more positive stance on the work. Key to the work is a text that Crystal Pite had written herself and that is read by Marina Hands. The text features in all three parts of Body and Soul. It describes what is happening on stage e.g., steps taken (“gauche droite gauche droite gauche”), parts of the body that are touched (“touchant son front, son menton, sa poitrine”) or moved (“bouge les epaules, la tete, les pieds; se retourne de nouveau”), interaction and fight between figure 1 and figure 2. Figures 1/ 2 can both be performed by individuals, by an individual interacting with a group of dancers, or by groups interacting with each other. The same text is read to combative situations, to tender encounters and to a woman grieving over a man’s dead body. And so Body and Soul refers to the range of relationships from love and harmony to conflict and grief between individuals, between individuals and groups as well as between body and soul within an individual. Part 1 starts with the text read out in a neutral, descriptive manner to a combative situation between two men. Later on, the same text is applied to a much more tender encounter between a man and a woman. The ensemble forms a wave that crashes against a shoreline and that increases in intensity, together with rising chants that reminded me of a sports event with clashing fan groups. Conflict emerges from within the wave, and Part 1 ends with the text being spoken with audible empathy to a woman’s grief over a dead man’s body – this time, the touching of front, chin, chest, etc. is not on the figure's own body but on the body of the deceased man i.e., the other figure. Part 2 to Chopin’s Preludes with a series of PDD and dancers in groups. Some of the movements that featured in Part 1 reappear (e.g., figure 1 on the ground, stretching out his hand to figure 2 but without establishing physical contact; a figure turning and manipulating the head of the other figure). The scenography then changes to what reminded me of a crypt. The text is spoken again, and this time the grieving woman touches the floor rather than the deceased man’s body as the body is not there anymore and yet she is still in the midst of her grieving process. The grieving woman and the dead man are performed by Muriel Zusperreguy and Alessio Carbone. I’ve read somewhere that they will both retire at the end of the run of Body and Soul, and I so I think their roles in Body and Soul are particularly fitting. Costumes for part 1 and 2 are identical for man and women – black trousers, white shirts with white vests underneath, black ties, long black coats (coats, ties and shirts are then taken off). The voice refers to figure 1 and figure 2 as only names of those on stage. So everyone looks the same, everyone is called almost the same. This creates a sense of anonymity and universality of the content of Body and Soul in my view. Change in scenography and costumes for Part 3. Dancers look like insects with their shiny black body suits and black face masks, arms extended with what looks like a sting, women now on pointe. Tall structures have been lowered down from the top, reminiscent of a forest or of cave-like areas underground that the insects inhabit. The insects move in groups of different sizes, then the female insects threaten the male insects. A figure with hair falling down to his waist appears – my initial thought was that this was showing events during the Stone Age but I now think the figure with the long hair is a “king insect” just as bees come with a queen bee. The insects continue to dance, the voice over can be heard again but in a much fragmented way. Teddy Geiger’s Body and Soul is played, and everyone – male and female insects and the figure with the long hair start to dance; this was rhythmic, uplifting, fun, inducing head bobbing on my part. Having since read the lyrics for Geiger’s song, I think it goes way beyond rhythm and fun though e.g. "All that I want is a piece of your heart. Your body and soul, body and soul". So the insects experience the same range of emotional situations in relationships, emphasising the universality and ubiquity of the content of Pite's new work in my view. Most of the 10+ reviews of Body and Soul that I’ve read are mixed (positive exceptions being Le Figaro and the Sueddeutsche Zeitung) but I found it fascinating to see how what was shown on stage has been interpreted differently by different reviewers. To give a couple of examples the costumes – city wear or military clothing? The figure with the long hair in part 3: part human/ part animal, a figure from a sci-fi work or a figure from the Barbapapas? The ensemble moving as wave a hint of current street protests? I’ve taken this as yet another sign of the universality of what was shown on stage and that, depending on the social context that a viewer is in or applies to the work, Body and Soul allows itself to be read everywhere and at anytime, and this makes Pite’s newest work even more fascinating in my opinion. I don’t know how many visitors from abroad who don’t speak French go to performances of POB but as the programme came – as usual - with a 2-page overview of the piece in English, I guess it will be a fair few. Based on this, I think the text that was the basis for Pite’s new work should have been included in the programme in English, too, or even better, featured in the cast sheet which is handed out to all spectators, whether they buy a programme or not. Links to two reviews that include short video extracts of Body and Soul https://www.lefigaro.fr/culture/decouvrez-la-creation-mondiale-de-crystal-pite-a-l-opera-de-paris-20191028 https://mobile.francetvinfo.fr/culture/spectacles/danse/danse-a-la-rencontre-de-la-choregraphe-crystal-pite_3676669.html Ballet Bejart Lausanne with Maurice Bejart’s Ballet for Life on Thursday evening. This piece had been on my wish list for some time. An homage to life, to Freddie Mercury, to The Queen, to Jorge Donn. Musical, immensely creative, eclectic, wondrous, at times surreal, some poses that are reminiscent of The Queen, some laughing, some shouting. Marvellous costumes by Versace, including a black unitard resembling a costume that Freddie Mercury had worn, bathing costumes for Seaside Rendez-vous, more formal dresses for one of the Mozart interludes, a pair of tights featuring the Union Jack for one of the songs, etc. The penultimate song came with a number of videos with Jorge Donn, including how he arranged huge white cloths in the form of a cross on a studio floor. This was when I got the significance of the white sheets that the dancers lie beneath at the start, which they then handle in the first and the last songs, and which they cover themselves with at the very end of the last song. It is always a joy to see Julien Favreau and Elisabeth Ros perform live but the dancer that stays in my mind from Thursday’s performance is Gabriel Arenas Ruiz with his two substantial rather balletic solos to Mozart’s Thamos Overture & Masonic Music – bravo. I loved the way the curtain calls were handled – Gil Roman inviting dancers to come on stage one by one/ in twos/ in threes, and then hugging/ greeting/ bowing to each of them. I just wish their programme booklets were cheaper, this one cost 20 EUR L A few words about some of the exhibitions that I went to. Da Vinci at The Louvre - no surprise that the exhibition space was busy but it seems to me that ticket sales have been somewhat slower so far than for the Da Vinci exhibition at the National Gallery in 2011, relatively speaking. 170+ exhibits; I was particularly impressed by the mathematical and scientific investigations on display. For anyone who plans to see the works – entry is by timed ticket only; the ticket then gives access to the Louvre for the remainder of the day. El Greco at the Grand Palais – I thought I’d seen a fair few works by El Greco in the past but this exhibition included lots of items that were new to me as they stemmed from museums and collectors in the US. Definitely worth seeing for lovers of El Greco’s works. There is also – among many others – an exhibition with works by Degas at the Musee d’Orsay Degas at the Opera that prs59 referred to in a post in another thread, and that I didn’t go to. Putting my legs up now after lots of walking through Paris over the last few days.
When I walk through town the day after the performance, outlining some of the movements that I saw the day before, my head bobbing to the music that keeps playing in my head … (… well, then the post gets very long? sorry!). I saw the matinee and the evening performances of Bejart’s 9th Symphony based on Beethoven’s 9th Symphony in Brussels on Saturday, delivered by Bejart Ballet Lausanne and The Tokyo Ballet, with an orchestra and choir from Antwerp, 4 soloist singers and a number of (non-professional local?) dancers. Following three years of research and preparation, performed in Tokyo in 2014 and in other locations since, it was initially scheduled to be shown in Brussels last spring - back in the city where the piece was premiered in 1964 - and then pushed back to the end of last week. As on the DVD from one of the performances in Tokyo in 2014, The Tokyo Ballet performed the 1st movement and Bejart Ballet Lausanne the 2nd and 3rd movements, before they came together for the 4th movement, joined by the additional dancers for the corps. The programme book states that Bejart described the four parts as earth/ struggle to reach an ideal, fire/ joy of dance, water/ love and liberty/ air. The colour of the costumes (shades of brown, bright red, white, shades of warm yellow) and the choreography follow along these lines. In the first movement, dancers yearn – they raise a leg, stretch out an arm. They struggle – they make a fist, they lie in a foetus-like position on the floor, men carry women who seem to be devoid of life. Repeatedly double tours for the men into plie in second, clenching fists. A high lift shows a woman, clenching fists. Individuals break out from their group and yet go back into their group, or are held back in the first place. The atmosphere changes completely in the second movement, to boundless joy. A virtuoso male solo is followed by a female solo which replicates the man’s movements. They take it in turns to dance, looking at each other smilingly. I was in awe at Masayoshi Onuki on Saturday evening, who was able to jump up unbelievably high into the splits (sissones?) from a squatting position, all while smiling at his partner. In the matinee, I much enjoyed Lawrence Rigg’s dancing as the male lead, his winning smile, open eyes, sunny outlook. There was a moment in the matinee performance when I was so much fascinated by Kathleen Thielhelm as female lead that I needed the evening performance with Kateryna Shalkina to take in what else was going on. The other dancers hold hands up high while they dance in circles, they hop on one leg, on one occasion even with a movement of their arms as if skipping. The high lift from the first movement reappears, this time with the woman stretching out her fingers rather than making fists. Fists do appear however are then changed to fingers stretched out wide, illustrating the move from struggle to joy. Change of emotions again with the third movement. Zubin Metha described the music as “the love song of all times” (see below link on Youtube). The choreography is tender, intimate, calm. The male lead for this part slowly walks forward with developes and lies down on the floor. The female lead has a very similar solo, walking towards the man. They dance a tender PDD side by side, flexing and pointing their feet, turning their heads to both sides and towards each other in unison, emphasising their common understanding. They dance one behind the other, providing emotional proximity and intimacy. Elisabet Ros and Julien Favreau on Saturday evening displayed such dreamlike fluidity and understanding, they looked so much in tune with each other, as if the two were just one. Two other couples and then three more couples joined the stage, and the light that was a single spot at the start grew wider and wider. The fourth movement starts with a male soloist (Connor Barlow from BBL in both the matinee and the evening performances on Saturday) who is then joined one by one by the male leads from the first three segments, each coming on stage – still wearing the colour from their own movement - with a trademark movement (in the evening, Dan Tsukamoto for the first movement, Masayoshi Onuki with a wonderful grand jete that seemed suspended in air, Julien Favreau with a develope), and then one by one synchronising their movements until they dance as quartet. This is also when the clothing for all subsequent dancers changes to yellow. Other soloists join and are followed by the corps, dancing solos, in groups, in circles, in lines. They hold hands, walking forward to the front of the stage to the words of “all men become brothers”. At the close of the music, they run in several concentric circles, holding hands, with a female soloist in the centre, her arms stretched out high, endlessly, joyful, free, as brothers and sisters. “All men become brothers”, a timeless and universal message. The fitting floor design was reminiscent of celestial arrangements, showing symmetrical lines and circles of different diameters – such as planets as part of the universe. BBL on their Facebook page say the four performances between Friday and Sunday were seen by 25,000 spectators. While there were shouts of bravo after the second and third movements in the matinee, the audience on Saturday evening kept it all to the end of the performance. It was thunderous. Kudos to all involved for their commitment and stamina for the four performances in the space of 48 hours. The cast sheets for the two performances on Saturday showed the same names for the dancers from The Tokyo Ballet; equally most dancers with BBL were on stage both times, and often in the same roles. The same four soloist singers, the same orchestra, the same two percussionists. There are lots and lots of photos and videos from the performances on Instagram, in particular of the fourth movement (try hashtags such as bejartballet, bejartballetlausanne and tokyoballet, and the event location Forest National - Vorst Nationaal). An exhibition at the Musee Bejart Huis in Brussels about Bejart’s 9th Symphony runs until mid-February. It shows press reviews of the premiere in Brussels in 1964 and of subsequent performances in Moscow, Italy and Paris as well as photographs and videos of rehearsals over the years. The DVD of one of the Tokyo performances in 2014 runs on a loop. There will be a series of exhibitions in 2017 in memory of Maurice Bejart. The documentary “Dancing Beethoven” by Arantxa Aguirre about the preparation of the 2014 performances in Tokyo will be shown in cinemas in Switzerland from Feb 2017 (other countries?). Short extracts of the documentary have been published by BBL on Youtube, here the link to the first part https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BbTs15mV02M&index=1&list=PLd3QIPr4xOcImxzF9EVaN6F4JqtZ3oU0B edited for typo
1987 saw the creation of Béjart Ballet Lausanne, 2007 the death of Maurice Béjart. The current programme “Béjart fête Maurice” honours the double anniversary; I saw the double bill on Saturday evening. Part 1 is a new piece with the title t’M et Variations, choreographed by Gil Roman. It is inspired by the many letters that Maurice Béjart wrote to Roman during his lifetime, and Roman’s choreography is seen as a response to these letters through dance. It celebrates dance, and it is, to quote from the programme book, a “declaration of love to Maurice Béjart and to life”. Roman explains the piece as “the heritage provided by Maurice as I see it and as it continues to live …”. There is no explanation given in the programme book as to what “t’M” stands for; I’ve been reading this in terms of “t’aime”, “t’aime, Maurice” or “toi, Maurice”. t’M et Variations shows dancers in the studio and in their interaction with others through a series of PDD/ pas de trois, a solo and a few group elements. Performed to a marvellous mix of percussion live on stage by Thierry Hochstaetter and jB Meier (and using a lot more than just drums) and music on tape by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, dancers wear smart colour-coordinated practice clothing. Dancers react in amazement at a colleague’s arabesque. A dancer takes a bow at the audience’s applause which is played on tape. In a solo, Elisabet Ros is unhappy with her dancing on pointe, takes off the shoes, puts them on her hands as if they were gloves, and uses her hands to practice the virtuosity that she was unable to achieve with her feet. Another part shows a relationship triangle between a woman and two men. Etc etc. The part that I enjoyed most was a duet to string and guitar music on tape by Gabriel Arenas Ruiz and Vito Pansini, walking casually next to each other, almost holding hands, moving to a PDD, and in the end splitting up. If the first part was looking into the future, the second part “Béjart fête Maurice“ was showing where the company has come from. Sitting in a corner of the stage, Gil Roman read a text about the barre, the mirror and the floor as part of a dancer’s daily routine while various dancers came on stage to do basic exercises at the barre. What then followed were ten short extracts that Roman chose from the many works that Béjart had created. Most of them were from works that I hadn’t even heard of previously – 1789… et nous, Heliogabale, Wien Wien nur Du allein, Light, Patrice Chéreau, Dibouk, Hamlet, Rossiniana, Bhakti. Using music from different corners of the world, making references to theatre and historical figures across the centuries, and using a vast range of choreographic styles. The last part was particularly moving as the dancers who performed an extract from 1789… et nous were joined one by one by the dancers of the other pieces, all still in their respective costumes. They then all performed signature movements from their own pieces until the whole company, and including Gil Roman, was united on stage, and the barre that featured at the beginning of the piece was carried back on stage so as to complete the circle. The audience was ecstatic. Many loud and admiring shouts of bravo. Rhythmic clapping. Standing ovation across the stalls. The woman next to me was very much at the shrieking end of shouting (and I don’t mean this in a negative way). I had bought the ticket when the details of the programme had not been confirmed yet, and I was a little disappointed initially when I realised that I wouldn’t be seeing any of Béjart’s trademark pieces. It turns out that the evening was an eye opener for me. It highlighted the breadth of topics covered and choreographic styles used by Béjart. What struck me with regards to many dancers of the company was the intensity of their glances, their eyes. The one dancer, however, who positively stunned me on Saturday evening with his intensity and expressiveness was Julien Favreau. Based on what I’ve been watching on the web since, I guess next time I’ll be at the shrieking end of shouting, too. --- edited for typo