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  1. 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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