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  1. This was going to be a few days’ hiking following the ballet performance that I watched in Biarritz on Sunday evening. I had also been hoping that I would be able to see the documentary Relève in or around Biarritz during this time as this would allow me to make up my own mind about it. I then realised that the nearest cinema to see the film would be in Bordeaux (it will be shown locally in October, when Millepied’s L.A. Dance Company will perform there), thus taking a full day off the outdoors, and I thus wondered which activity I would sacrifice. The weather forecast made that decision for me. The documentary traces the development of Millepied’s ballet “Clear, Loud, Bright, Forward” from receipt of the music in June 2015 to its premiere at the Gala in September 2015. This makes it an interesting insight into the creation of a ballet, from the conceptual development of some of the choreography on paper and early rehearsals with just a few dancers to increasingly larger groups of dancers rehearsing parts of the ballet, the fitting of costumes and their alteration late on, the orchestra playing the music with the composer and Millepied present, a rehearsal with the lighting designer, through to backstage just minutes before the premiere, and finally extracts of the premiere and the reaction backstage afterwards. Shown in beautiful pictures, dancers seen close up, the performance intertwined with rehearsal footage. Paired with the hectic of “premiere minus x days” and getting everything finished in time for the opening night. Léonore Baulac is shown in a PDD with Hugo Marchand, and even though this is an abstract ballet, the emotions that her face displays while she dances on stage do remind me of her marvellous performance of Juliet in April. So far so good. Maybe tellingly, however, the documentary is shown under the title “Benjamin Millepied Relève”, and this is where the problem starts for me. The documentary is a co-production with the Opéra de Paris; to what extent the OdP was involved in editing the film before it was shown on Canal+, or whether it was simply about giving access to the film crew, I am not clear. As the documentary stands, however, it is inevitable that it did cause so much controversy. The rehearsal footage is interspersed with aspects that have nothing to do with the creation of the new ballet and are instead a mix of “POB under Millepied” and “Millepied at POB”. One of these aspects relates to “before Millepied and now” e.g., some of the dancers involved in the creation of the new ballet talking about seeing more opportunities, an example of such showing footage of Letizia Galloni’s debut as Lise in Ashton’s La fille mal gardée; medical professionals talking to dancers about the importance of rehydration; Millepied asking questions about the dance floor on the main stage of Palais Garnier, etc. Plus a variety of footage and comments by Millepied outside rehearsals e.g., watching videos of rehearsals on his phone while his assistant talks to him (and he responds without looking at her), his preference of the creative process over administrative aspects, and the various comments that have been much discussed here and in the press such as his dislike of the annual concours/ of the hierarchy within the company and his questioning of the company’s excellence. Moreover, his remarks about the composition of the company being in contrast to that of the population was shown against footage of the Défilé, there is one comment in which he also criticises the POB School (something about phrasing that I didn’t quite catch, not knowing what this means when it comes to ballet), and there are a number of side glances by Millepied at the camera. I left the cinema wondering what the documentary was meant to show – the creation of a new ballet? Millepied at work? Paris Opera as organisational entity? It does show elements of all three, and in doing so illustrates that the latter two were not a good match, as much as a number of dancers did benefit from his time there. Finally - I had gone to the cinema with an open mind, open eyes and open ears. Having now seen the content of the documentary - how could the film not have triggered the debate that it did when it was shown on Canal+ initially?
  2. A return ticket for the opening night became available the evening I arrived in Paris earlier this week (what a week to be there, dance wise!). I hadn’t previously seen any choreography by Bel or Millepied (or even heard of Bel) however thought “if all fails, at least I’ll enjoy the music to Robbin’s Goldberg Variations”. As it turned out, the piece by Bel was my definite favourite and Goldberg Variations was the piece that I liked least last night. I am writing this as someone who does not tend to watch contemporary dance as too much of what I’ve seen so far wasn’t much too my taste. Jérôme Bel’s Tombe (grave) has its title from Giselle’s grave in act 2 of Giselle. The stage shows a tombstone, the scenery trees to both sides as well as the back of the stage. An article in the weekend magazine of Le Monde yesterday explained that Giselle is the preferred ballet of the dancers in Tombe. The piece is set in three parts, each related to Giselle. In each section, a male dancer from the company is paired with a woman with whom they would normally never be able to share the stage – a woman who worked in a supermarket close to where one of the dancers trained (NB the review in Le Monde today says that the woman is a baby sitter – in which case I misunderstood last night), a woman in a wheelchair, a woman well beyond eighty years old. The first part starts with a dialogue between a man and a woman from off stage (I actually missed the first sentence, thinking it’d be a stage announcement that had gone wrong). The man explains, in a very warm and gentle manner, the scenery on stage and the story of act 1 of Giselle, and the man and the woman walk on stage and continue their dialogue. He (the male dancer) explains how the scenery can be moved and how the spotlights can be used. He has a spotlight directed onto the woman (the woman who had worked in a supermarket close to where the dancer had trained// the babysitter based on the review in Le Monde), and she asks whether he is also in the spotlight. He replies that no and explains “I am in the corps the ballet, I dance behind the soloists” (this produced laughter in the audience, and I thought, what a link to comments about hierarchy in the press this week). He has the lights switched on in the auditorium, and upon seeing her amazement, explains to the woman some of the wonders of the auditorium (the golden paint, the ornaments that look like jewels). She hands her phone to a technician off stage (who is actually the choreographer) and starts to dance – disco style - to music that she has on her phone (modern music that I presume will be on French radio at the moment), and he joins in with a few jumps. They then sit down near the edge of the stage to watch what happens next. The second part sees mist flowing in on stage, music from Giselle and Albrecht – in Albrecht costume and with a bouquet of flowers – coming on stage, looking for Giselle. Giselle – in Giselle costume – rolls across the stage in a wheelchair, and Albrecht keeps missing her a few times. He finally sees her and begins to dance with her while she is in her wheelchair. In lifting her overhead and upside down, it becomes clear why the woman is in a wheelchair – one of her legs has been amputated below the knee. He puts her back down and they dance some more. At the end, he gently sits down on her lap, and she rolls offstage with him. The third part has the male dancer walking on stage and explain that unfortunately that the woman he had chosen to perform with would be unable to do so. With great appreciation, he talked about the woman – a woman well into her eighties, who had come to the Opera House since the late 1940s and followed his career from the start, always talking to him when he left the building after a performance. With palpable pain in his voice and face, he explained that he had received a call that the woman had been hospitalised and wasn’t well. And that he and the choreographer had chosen to show a video of the most recent rehearsal with the woman. And so he sat down on stage and watched the video together with the audience, showing him gently guiding the elderly woman across the rehearsal room in small and slow steps, and repeatedly gently and carefully lifting her. What started as intriguing and funny in the first part quickly became hugely thought provoking and charged with emotions in the second and third parts. The modern choreography was tailored to the personal situation of each woman with immense sensitivity, and it showed the dancers with a connection to their environment outside the opera building. Powerful and courageous; kudos to the choreographer and to everyone on stage, in particular the three women. Millepied’s piece “La nuit s’achève” (“The night ends”) comes in two parts. In the first part, three couples, clothed in warm red, raspberry and blue day wear (dresses and trousers/ shirts) dance in combinations of short PDD and male or female solos, duets and trios. The clothing in the second part changes to night wear (pyjamas and night dresses in white, dark grey, dark blue or black), the dancing switches to long PDD of the three couples. The choreography is fluid and musical, jumps are mostly small and lifts are mostly low level. There are geometric patterns in the first part where often all three couples or dancers perform the same movement, then one couple/ dancer starts another movement which the next couple/ dancer repeats a few counts later, the same for the third couple/ dancer, and then all three couples/ dancers become synchronised again. My main impression of Robbin’s Goldberg Variations was that it was long, very long. Maybe it was the pure length of the ballet (80 minutes), maybe it was that the music that played very slowly (similar to the 1981 Gould version whereas I much prefer the faster 1955 recording). In each of the two parts, dancers perform in combinations of solos, duets, trios, quartets, up to larger formations, and each part has three leading couples. Dancers change costumes – an introductory couple in period costume later dances in practice clothing, others who start in practice clothing later change into costumes. I found it difficult to identify individuals however from an attempt to match names in the cast sheet against their role in the ballet against the position in the company, I got the impression that the relatively more junior dancers who were having a prominent role in the ballet enjoyed it more, in particular with regards to the male dancers. On a few occasions though, a male dancer put their partner back on the floor when they hadn’t fully disappeared yet into the wings, and a few lifts looked like they were an effort. However maybe I was looking at these details in much more detail than usual, given the various comments about standards, so I would not want to overemphasise this. The audience reacted a lot more positively to Millepied’s piece than the other two. “Tombe” received applause mixed with some sounds of “uuuh” where I wasn’t sure whether this was a local form of booing or of showing appreciation. “La nuit s’achève” received repeated enthusiastic ovations, in particular when Millepied came on stage. The applause for Goldberg Variations was sufficient for a few curtain calls however seemed rather polite following the enthusiasm after “La nuit s’achève”. Or maybe people were tired at the end of the evening – at least I was. If anyone reading this post happens to attend one of the performances – last night ended a good 20 minutes later than advertised in the cast sheet so total running time was 3 hours 20 minutes; and some knowledge of French is really useful for the first piece.
  3. The link is necessarily in French, but Paris Match is carrying a report that Benjamin Millepied will be leaving his post as Director at Paris Opera Ballet. No date is given, but the 2016-17 Season is already fixed. Reasons speculated upon include the possibility of his wife, Natalie Portman, wanting to resume her film career, or that he is unhappy as an Administrator. If the news is confirmed, this will have been an extremely short-lived appointment - he took over in September 2014. http://www.parismatch.com/Culture/Spectacles/Benjamin-Millepied-sur-le-depart-907585 News of the appointment broke back in January 2013: http://www.balletcoforum.com/index.php?/topic/2786-benjamin-millepied-to-be-next-director-at-paris-opera-ballet/?hl=millepied
  4. The New York Times has just posted this news under Roslyn Sulcas byline: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/24/arts/dance/benjamin-millepied-to-be-paris-opera-ballet-director.html
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