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  1. http://www.arte.tv/fr/videos/073441-000-A/la-fille-de-neige-de-nikolai-rimski-korsakov-a-l-opera-de-paris This was live streamed last night and is now available online. While I can't see the programme on the English-speaking site of Arte, there is a comment on the French site that the programme is available worldwide. The reviews that I've seen in the media where rather positive, in particular about Aida Garifullina in the role of the Snow Maiden. Information about the production here https://www.operadeparis.fr/en/season-16-17/opera/la-fille-de-neige#head
  2. A new documentary about the Opera de Paris has been in cinemas throughout France since 5th April. I saw it in Nice on Sunday. The documentary traces individuals, groups and events behind the scenes and on stage over at least one season. In doing so, it shows what I would summarise as the human side of work at an opera house – such as facial expressions of participants in discussions (e.g., expressing disagreement), worries and doubts of performers during the rehearsal process as well as the successful performance, challenging managerial aspects (dealing with a strike that has been announced for the opening night of a performance; the search to find a replacement for a lead singer for an opera at two days’ notice), the commitment and success on stage coupled with the exhaustion of a performer as soon as the artist is in the wings, etc. While I guess some French will be helpful, I think that focussing on facial expressions and the atmosphere shown might work just as well. Most of the documentary focusses on opera, with some content about POB and organisational aspects of the Opera de Paris (who sits where in the most prestigious box for the opening gala of the 2015 season; the approach to ticket prices in light of budget constraints and the need to be accessible). Specifically, in relation to opera it follows a young Russian tenor (Mikhail Timoshenko) from his successful audition for the Opera’s Academy programme, his arrival in Paris, rehearsals and coaching, some doubts, and through to a successful performance, presumably towards the end of the season a group of primary school children who come in for a monthly rehearsal in preparation for an end-of-the year concert performance in front of their proud relatives various opera rehearsals, with e.g., the conductor looking to get the sound from the orchestra that he is looking for, looking to synchronise the chorus with the lead singers, preparations for a new opera through to the successful premiere some funny aspects, too – the new opera that is being prepared involves a bull on stage. The documentary shows how the bull is chosen (pictures of a massive bull) … followed by a sequence that shows the bull in his stable with a loudspeaker a couple of yards away, playing the music of said opera at full volume, so as to get the bull acquainted with what will be happening on stage (this made me wonder whether Peregrine gets to listen to music from La fille mal gardee even now and then, or did so before the very first performance?) In relation to ballet (and to avoid a double posting in a separate part of the forum) a short extract of the defile as part of the opening gala a brief segment from La Bayadere (and showing the dancer completely exhausted once in the wings) a rehearsal extract for Millepied’s Appassionata (interrupted by him replying to an email … with the music changing dramatically to something much darker, followed by Stephane Lissner on the phone to Millepied with what sounds like an intense discussion in relation to the latter’s potential departure and as if they had a number of prior discussions whether this may happen or not, an extract from the press conference that announced Aurelie Dupont replacing Benjamin Millepied, an extract from a related announcement (and yet with different words and a different tone) by Millepied himself to the dancers, followed by the successful premiere of Appassionata in early February 2016 In case some here are in France over the Easter break ... the following link provides a list of cinemas that show the documentary plus a trailer http://www.allocine.fr/film/fichefilm_gen_cfilm=253361.html My only regret is that the staff of the Paris Opera House and the artists were not introduced by name when they first featured in the documentary e.g., with just the name and the title or role displayed on screen, as it is done in many other documentaries (the credits at the end of the documentary do provide a long list operas that featured in the documentary as well as the artists involved). I did recognise Stephane Lissner, Philippe Jordan, Benjamin Millepied and some of the dancers shown, plus I think Bryn Terfel and Toby Spence however there were many others whom I didn’t recognise. Not having the names did not prevent me from enjoying the documentary but it would have given a little more context. Though maybe that’s not an issue for those who watch opera more often than I do.
  3. “This is so contemporary”, shouted four performers who were approaching and surrounding me with their dancing when I walked into Palais Garnier yesterday afternoon. A fitting description for the mixed programme which had its final performance yesterday, and which started with performances in various public places of the Opera House, choreographed by Tino Sehgal. One of these was a couple enlacing each other in various kissing poses, taken from art works e.g., Rodin and Brancusi, and moving from one art work to the next in slow motion. A fascinating concept. Undoubtedly, however, there will have been art works that I didn’t recognise, and I wish there would have been a list of those depicted. Justin Peck’s In Creases, taken into the POB repertoire in March 2016, was shown again, and both Vincent Chaillet and Marc Moreau shone in it. William Forsythe’s Blake Works I was premiered in July 2016 as part of an all-Forsythe programme and also performed again. Danced to songs by James Blake that showed different aspects of love in relationships, I preferred the choreography to the tracks that were more melodious. A clear favourite was “I hope my life” (see the POB teaser on its web site), led by Ludmila Pagliero, Leonore Baulac, Hugo Marchand (splendid!) and Germain Louvet. I also enjoyed particularly “Two Men Down” (imagine a group of friends dancing in a club, a male member of the group goes into the centre to perform a virtuoso solo, then another male member follows suit … two men down!) and a closing PDD “Forever”, possibly the most academic choreography of the whole piece, danced beautifully by Ludmila Pagliero and Germain Louvet. Crystal Pite’s The Seasons’ Canon to Max Richter’s version of Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Season followed after the interval. To answer the question that was raised in another thread – this is very different to Akram Khan’s choreography for Giselle. Pite uses the music to show natural phenomena through dance and thereby creates visually stunning and stunningly visual scenes. The solo violin plays at the start of the Spring section, and single heads rise above the tight mass of bodies (think plants emerging from the soil in spring --- this and the following my own interpretation of what I saw) before the dancers move in rippling waves. This was so incredibly poetic that tears were rolling down my face, something I hadn’t experienced previously right at the start of a ballet. Summer sees dancers carried aloft (maybe birds flying high up in the air). Autumn again stunning. The dancers stand behind each other and move their arms to the music – arms in 5th position, then individuals move their arms sideways, down, etc., some dancers step to the side and back in line again. The dancers open their arms from 5th to 1st in a wave from front to back (think grains ripening and opening, or trees losing their leaves). Winter with rolling waves of dancers, resembling snowdrifts across the landscape. I haven’t seen any other of her choreographies, however based on The Seasons’ Canon, Pite’s piece for the Royal Ballet in 2017 will be a treat. The programme closed off with a new piece “Untitled” by Tino Sehgal. Reviews of this piece on social media were rather mixed, and someone even suggested leaving the auditorium in the short pause following The Seasons’ Canon. I am very glad I stayed. It was funny, intriguing, and it turned sideways and upside down the concept of the audience watching dancers perform on stage. The music starts to play (think pop music), and the lights go on and off in tune with the music, followed by the curtain opening and the black panels and side panels moving down and up in various rhythmic combinations – the scenery indeed was dancing. A large group of dancers bourree across the stage on demi-pointe. Three of them climb down to the orchestra pit, and one of them climbs up to stand at the front of the orchestra stalls – and starts to dance. And she is not alone - other dancers appear in all parts of the auditorium and dance along to the music. The fun then really started when some audience members joined in, predominantly in the amphitheatre, but also in the centre of the balcony and in some of the boxes. By the time I had mustered the courage to also stand up and dance (with everyone wide around me still sitting and watching those who did), the performance was unfortunately already nearing its end. The dancers exited the auditorium together with the spectators and gave some final performances on the main staircases, both inside and outside the building. I left the building with a huge smile on my face. edited to increase font size
  4. 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?
  5. Something from Paris that is not related to the news about Benjamin Millepied … Dance studio ÉLÉPHANT PANAME near the Paris Opera is hosting an exhibition about Clairemarie Osta and Nicolas Le Riche http://www.elephantpaname.com/fr/programmation/exposition-etoiles. All text and all interviews in the exhibition are in French however given the number of exhibits and the beautiful building it is in, there is a lot to look, at even if a visitor doesn’t speak much French. I’d never seen Osta dance and Le Riche just a couple of times and found it hugely interesting. The exhibition traces their careers through pictures from childhood to their current activities, personal mementos (Osta’s first ballet slippers/ her first tutu, posters and an armchair from Le Riche’s changing room, etc. etc.), letters they received, an essay written by Osta at school in which she analysed Des Grieux from Manon, and a variety of costumes. Two ballets, Le Jeune Homme et la Mort and Manon feature prominently. The bed from Le Jeune Homme et La Mort and the writing desk (complete with feather and candle) from Manon are on display, and both with a number of pictures taken at performances, plus a short film that shows extracts of Osta preparing for and dancing in her final performance before she retired, which was Manon. A roughly hour-long film runs in a loop on the ground floor, showing Osta and Le Riche rehearsing for/ dancing in a variety of ballets, some of them together, some with other partners, or on their own – e.g., performances in Japan, a rehearsal by Mats Ek, and more of Manon. The displays are arranged such that visitors are able to walk in the midst of them, creating an immersive, even intimate atmosphere. A series of films and conversations with the artists accompany the exhibition which runs until the end of May 2016. The exhibition is in a beautiful old building with wonderful stucco to the ceiling and the remnants of romantic paintings along the walls of the central staircase … another thing to look at independent of language. I came across this exhibition when I was searching for cultural events in Paris this week on a holiday from London. It was a lucky find, I really enjoyed it and spent nearly three hours there today. ------------ Edited for typo
  6. 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.
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