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  1. This programme premiered in Mulhouse at the end of October, and I got attracted to it when I saw a review that included a video extract of the works shown. Luckily, train fares to Strasbourg were still fine at the time of booking, and so I saw the matinee performance on Sunday. .... This being the 3rd time in France within the space of a month, the trouble is, however, that the more often I am there, the more time I’d like to spend there Pagliaccio by Mattia Russo & Antonio de Rosa to Shostakovich. Bells are ringing, and the curtain opens to show members of an ancient circus mourning Auguste who has passed away. A despotic clown in white with a whip directs and torments the members of the circus – a juggling acrobat in a shiny silver unitard, a Marylin-Monroe lookalike on a unicycle, a ventriloquist, a harlequin, and others more. There is a short passage whereby the artists worship the white clown (gymnastic clubs are used to celebrate the clown in white) but the artists retreat, it seemed in fear, just to then reappear and laugh at the despotic clown. A whistle is blown, military music is played, and the artists illustrate the carrying of guns and marching to the tune of the music. What looked like a battle scene left some artists injured/ dead. A strongman overpowers the clown (symbol of a fight for power, of resistance or an uprising against the despot?), and they leave the stage. Russo & de Rosa got inspired by Shostakovich’s experiences and the environment that he lived in (though I think that this work could equally be applied to other events and circumstances elsewhere and at different times). Magnificent costumes. Dance theatre, with the performers superbly in character throughout, including during the curtain calls. Stunning performances by all involved, thought-provoking, memorable. Bruno Bouche’s 40D to Rachmaninov and Scriabin. Bouche dedicated this work to Eva Kleinitz, Director General of the Opera du Rhin who sadly passed away, far too young, earlier this year. 40D – the title is intentionally enigmatic – is a beautiful, poetic and melancholic homage to Kleinitz. Dancers in black-ish leotards and tights/ vests, women on pointe. Bodies stretching upwards, bending forwards/ backwards and being close to a breakdown, full of despair and non-acceptance of fate; consoling hugs; dancers carrying others in pieta-like movements; a scene that reminded me very much of Gericault’s painting The Raft of the Medusa with a huddle of dancers lifting their arms in desperation in the midst of a tumultuous situation. I found 40D incredibly moving, and it triggered an intense and deep emotional response in me, comparable to Tetley’s Voluntaries. Helene Blackburn’s Les Beaux Dormants to a remastered version of Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty. Initially created for children and now reworked to turn it into a piece for all age groups. Les Beaux Dormants will be shown at the Lynbury next week. The piece is based on the story of The Sleeping Beauty. I guess the emphasis is “based on”; this relates to the story (Blackburn’s piece is about the transition of individuals from childhood through adolescence into adulthood), the movements (including a virtuoso solo that made think that it was inspired by Bluebird’s solo), the music (a collage of what has been remastered, quite a lot of this did sound really beautiful, like an electronic rhythm laid over minimal piano music, plus a few clips that I think were the original musical score), the scenery (partitions that resemble stone walls/ overgrown bushes and trees); the costumes (no tutus in sight, women in heels/ in flats/ on pointe, Carabosse in the form of a man wearing a skirt on top of a pair of trousers and with one foot in a ballet flat and the other on pointe) and those on stage (dancers portraying young people, without there being someone identifiable as the other fairies, at least not for me, unless they were a group of men who were sitting on a bench at one point in time). A video shows children playing and hopping across the stage. They talk about how they imagine a prince to be (e.g., “intelligent”, “elegant”, “rich”, “lives in a castle”). Tall grey moveable partitions illustrate the walls of a castle. Dancers in black suits and white shirts appear between the partitions, they look for others and disappear again, some of them encounter others, they look at them, there is a kiss, and still others are pushed back as if to show that contact has been rejected – there is a plethora of human interaction being evoked. A dancer briefly tells the story of Sleeping Beauty (I presume there’ll be surtitles at the Linbury for this part just as for the initial video?). Balletic movements come to the fore e.g., pas the chat, assemblees, arabesques; solos turn to a number of PDD (male/ female and also a male duet). The tone of the PDD changes from tender encounters to women throwing themselves into men’s arms and kissing them, to interaction reminiscent of mature relationships – and with different individuals going through these transitional steps into adulthood at different points in time and in different ways. A woman in a white shirt wakes up (the Sleeping Beauty?) and hugs a man (the Prince I presume?) … adulthood has been reached? I found the retelling of the story very catching and loved the minimal piano music with electronic sounds on top. As this piece will be performed at the ROH next week, it'd be great to read thoughts by other forum members about Les Beaux Dormants. Video extract as part of a review https://www.francetvinfo.fr/culture/spectacles/danse/le-ballet-du-rhin-sonde-l-ame-russe-avec-chostakovitch-tchaikovski-rachmaninov-et-scriabine_3675057.html Video of rehearsals https://www.dna.fr/culture-loisirs/2019/10/21/video-mulhouse-soiree-russe-pour-le-ballet-du-rhin A number of stage pictures https://www.lalsace.fr/haut-rhin/2019/10/26/sous-le-grand-chapiteau-du-ballet-du-rhin
  2. Bruno Bouché, Sujet with Paris Opera Ballet until the end of the 2016/17 season and choreographer, has been AD of the Ballet de l’Opéra du Rhin since the start of the 2017/18 season. I was lucky to catch the final performance of “Ghosts of Europe” in Strasbourg on Sunday afternoon, a mixed bill consisting of a prologue, a piece made by Bouché himself (Fireflies) and the seminal The Green Table by Kurt Jooss. The programme notes are full of references to statements by Pier Paolo Pasolini (a decrease in the number of fireflies as metaphor of the loss of popular culture) and other writers (the dance of the fireflies as symbol of resistance) about said insects. In fact, not only Bouché’s work dealt with fireflies but also the prologue. The prologue took place while audience members were still entering the opera house. It consisted of 5 performers in black trouser suits who strolled through the entrance foyer of the building, taking it in turns to talk about fireflies. The sentence that has stayed with me referred to their decreasing numbers, a development that has caught a lot of media attention recently with regards to the consequences for societies and livelihoods. Bouche’s work is for a lead quintet and a large corps, all clad in shiny grey with white shirts for the men. It started with a member of the lead quintet slowly walking across the stage as if searching for something, pausing at the front of the stage and looking down (I thought, this resembles looking into an abyss, but actually, an online review that I read following the performance mentioned that the front of the stage was shiny as if it was a reflection of the world, something that I wasn’t able to see from where I was sitting). One dancer then wraps another dancer into a large blanket. Another dancer carries a large flower across stage in a nod to Pasolini. The quintet dances in slow movements. Some more standing at the front of the stage, looking into the orchestra pit. All this happens in complete silence. The music kicks in and the corps appears. What now follows is a series of solos/ duos/ trios etc., alternating with larger groups. Movements are smooth, dreamy, in loose canon (e.g., a movement is repeated by other dancers, each facing a slightly different direction on stage and/or with a slightly different line of the body) and in a variety of geometric forms (e.g., dancers in the centre surrounded by a moving large circle of other dancers). The classical training becomes evident with clearly delineated steps such as e.g., pas de bourree, pas de chat, sissones, and with women on pointe. Dancers wave tiny lightbulbs in the dark, illustrating the movements of fireflies. Some running on stage, too – in this case, perfectly matching the activities of flying insects. It was these group movements that I enjoyed most. In addition to the references to fireflies and them being a symbol of resistance in the programme book, Bouché explains in an interview on the company’s web site that the work questions whether the artists can be this area of resistance. With so much background research, processing and thinking that went into this piece, if I have one regret, it is that I didn’t have sufficient time to read and digest the complete programme notes before I saw the work on Sunday as surely my viewing would have benefitted from it. On to Jooss’ The Green Table after the interval, and my main reason for attending this performance. Hugely memorable, timeless and timely at the same time. A captivating series of negotiation postures (sitting straight and looking at each other, pausing to think, leaning forward, banging on the table, clenching fists, fencing, etc.) that made me think that negotiation tactics can be akin to a dance. Death is always prevailing. Each and every one who is not at the negotiation table will, sooner or later, succumb to death, including the figure who initially benefits from the others' fate. Fittingly, the programme notes include pictures of a couple of recent international negotiations that depict some of the negotiating stances that can be seen in the piece. I was sitting there thinking, well, if there are lists of “places to see”/ “things to do”/ etc. during one’s lifetime, then The Green Table should be on the list of “ballet/dance works to see”. While I sense that some of Bouche’s programming may be slightly too contemporary for me, I find his approach refreshing and inspiring – e.g., evenings that centre on a composer (Bach last season, Mahler this season), a country (Japan last season, Argentine this season, both as part of a multi-disciplinary festival at the Opera du Rhin), equally Bouche’s thought process and research that went into Fireflies. Ghosts of Europe had been the only programme at the Opéra national du Rhin this season that found its way into my shortlist of cultural events. Based on what I saw on Sunday, I think I’ll have another look. Pictures of both Fireflies and The Green Table on the French site Danses avec la plume https://www.dansesaveclaplume.com/en-photos/1043617-photos-spectres-deurope-par-le-ballet-du-rhin/
  3. Brigitte Lefèvre organised a number of – I understand informal – choreographic events for the company’s dancers when she was at the helm of POB. Benjamin Millepied changed this into something more formal and set up a Choreographer’s Academy, with Sébastien Bertaud, Simon Valastro, Bruno Bouché and Nicolas Paul – all dancers with POB – participating, and with William Forsythe as – then – mentor (I’ve read somewhere that Aurélie Dupont has since put the Academy on standby, and I can’t see any choreographic events scheduled for next season at all). The mixed programme at Palais Garnier last week presented the results of the Academy’s work. I saw the performance on Sunday afternoon. The four dancers all started to produce their first choreographies some 10 to 15 years ago, though I hadn’t previously heard of any choreographies by Valastro or Paul. Bertaud’s Renaissance for 15 dancers was undoubtedly the piece that received by far the most press coverage before the opening night, due to the designs by Olivier Rousteing/ Balmain. The costumes looked sparkly in the pictures and even more so on stage, reflecting the strong lights. The choreography to Mendelssohn’s 2nd Violin Concerto was vivid and fluid, alternating corps, PDD and small groups. Some movements gave a hint of a story (a dancer running to the side of the stage, pausing, his hand on his front as if thinking about something, and running back into the centre of the stage; also some of the PDD), other elements were purely abstract. While I thought at times that, given the passionate music, a stronger narrative element would have been great, the work was just beautiful to look at. The uncontested star of the performance and indeed of the whole programme for me was Pablo Legasa (Coryphée), who stepped in for Mathias Heymann the day of the opening night, and thus danced his corps role plus the role created on Mathias Heymann with its many intricate and incredibly fast solos. And dear me, he delivered! With astonishing fluidity, assuredness, precision and an immensely visible joy of performing. In one of these allegro solos, following a fast section, he took his leg into a high developé à la seconde (with the leg at say, 10 o’clock) on demi pointe, and then he held that position for a second or two or three, all while smiling exuberantly … followed by the next fast section of that solo. I fell in love with his dancing rather helplessly! Great also to see Joseph Aumeer on stage in a corps role that put him centre stage. Simon Valastro’s Little match girl Passion (Passion with a capital “P”) is based on Andersen’s story and uses David Lang’s music. This is a multisensorial work – live Passion-like music in the orchestra pit, 4 singers – one singer wears a soutane, the others are dressed in black from head to toe, they start in the pit, then walk onto the stage where they walk around to sing and tell the story, they hold and comfort the little match girl (Eleonora Abbagnato, superb) on her deathbed, they end the piece back in the pit. I sensed that the singing was the driving force and the dancing was shaping out its content. I guess I will have read the story as a child but had forgotten its bitter end, and I found the piece incredibly emotional. If Pablo Legasa in Renaissance was the star performer of the programme for me, Simon Valastro’s choreography achieved this for me in its story telling cum choreography, and I would love to see more of him as choreographer. Bouché’s Undoing world is about refugees; to quote from the programme book, “seeking out rare halos of resistance in a society torn between chaos and survival”. Dancers use golden rescue sheets to highlight their plight, and they dance simple steps in circular groups as a means of calm and resistance. While there were elements of the choreography that went beyond me, I found the group sections very effective. Paul’s Seven and a half metres above the mountains uses Renaissance music and, based on the programme book, refers to “submersion in all its forms”. Dancers in everyday clothes walk up the stairs from the orchestra pit onto the stage and then towards the back of the stage, where they disappear, just to walk up the stairs again, etc., creating an endless and possibly hypnotising flow of such movements. Some dancers walk towards the centre of the stage where they perform contemporary solos, duos and trios, while other dancers continue to walk past them. A number of comments on social media praised this work very highly, so, clearly, I will have missed something there (as I really didn’t get it). It’s a pity the work of the Academy is not continued as it not only gives dancers the opportunity to present and further explore their choreographic talents on the main stage; it also gives some of the more junior dancers who may not be in a featured role that often the chance to shine more prominently. I understand that with new works, the duration of the programme may be difficult to tell upfront. In this case however, something clearly went wrong. The programme was shown – up until the last performance – as 1 hour 50 minutes in duration. It took in fact 3 hours, and I understand the first night even went beyond that. I normally travel back the evening of a matinee performance which allows for a performance of up to around 2 hours 40 minutes in duration; the only reason why I was staying in Paris until Monday this time was because the train fare was so much lower on Monday that the savings even outweighed the costs of a cheap hotel on Sunday night. Lucky me that I did as I would have otherwise had to leave during the – one – interval. Who knows, though, how many others will have been affected. The first four minutes of the video in the following link show short extracts of the four choreographies https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p6Hog0RQaJI.
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