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Duck

Giselle - Paris Opera Ballet, 2016

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I had never been to any of the performances of Giselle at the Royal Opera House in the past, thinking that the choreography would be too classical for me. Then, back in February, Jérôme Bel’s Tombe hit me with all its power and emotion. So I went to the cinema broadcast of Giselle in April and saw Giselle Reimagined, and however enjoyed the latter much more than the former. I thus concluded that I would not go and see POB’s version of Giselle unless it would be with a specific cast. This remained valid … until a week ago, when I listened to the Giselle podcast on the Opéra de Paris web site. There was the music that had been used in Tombe, taken from the PDD in Act 2 when Albrecht brings flowers to Giselle’s grave! Enthralled, I went with a return ticket that became available early the next day, and this happened to be for last night.

 

Vadim Muntagirov and Dorothée Gilbert were a wonderful lead couple, and I fully believed in their story. Albrecht is besotted with Giselle; he is free, happy and relaxed in his interactions with the peasants, in stark contrast to the stifling atmosphere of the court and his engagement with Bathilde. His lips tremble when he is asked to kiss Bathilde’s hand as a sign of honour and commitment. All this makes his devastation at Giselle’s death so truly believable. Equally, Giselle’s emotional journey from in love to desolate to protective of him is immensely convincing – just because Albrecht is so down to earth and likeable. The superbly realistic acting was coupled with excellent dancing from both - on their own and together.

The POB version has a peasant PDD rather than a Pas de Six in Act 1. François Alu danced his variations with incredibly high elevations in his jumps (triple cabrioles if I saw this correctly) and received a huge ovation on the spot. While his elasticity is really impressive, thinking about it today, this was in some contrast to the much more lyrical style of his partner, and so I was missing some connection between them yesterday.

One of the aspects that impressed me most in the cinema broadcast in April was Myrtha’s fierce stare and dominant body language throughout, emphasising her menacing presence and the real threat for Albrecht. I didn’t see much of this last night – I didn’t find Myrtha threatening or dominant. I don’t know whether this is intended to be softer in the POB version and/ or whether other Myrtha’s in the current run show more of it however it left me unconvinced last night.

There was immense applause at the curtain calls for Vadim Muntagirov and Dorothée Gilbert and also for Koen Kessels, however much more polite for everyone else.

 

Following the performance, it was wonderful to meet capybara & spouse at the stage door!

 

Coming back to how it all started - it was a joy to see the backcloths and the scenery again that had been used in Tombe. What was so much more though - I was able to see how very closely the middle section of Tombe had been choreographed for Sébastien Bertaud and Sandra Escudé based on the PDD in act 2 of Giselle – Albrecht running across the stage carrying flowers, wearing a cape, the ground covered in fog; Giselle appearing and disappearing (in Tombe, rolling across the stage in a wheelchair); Albrecht pursuing Giselle; Albrecht dancing with Giselle (in Tombe, Albrecht holding Giselle’s hand while running across the stage in a small circle and pulling Giselle in her wheelchair in a larger circle all around him), Albrecht lifting Giselle (in Tombe, the overhead lift from Giselle is translated into a lift upside down)  – all with the same steps for Albrecht and translated for Giselle in her wheelchair, with the same music, at the same locations on stage. If there are some aspects of last night’s performance that I am less convinced of, what it has achieved, taken all three parts of Tombe together, is illustrating how extraordinary I believe Jérôme Bel’s achievement is.

 

--- edited to tidy up as I had clicked on "save" to early

Edited by Duck
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Duck, do you find the French audiences more reserved than those at, say, the ROH? Was there any particular reason that Koen Kessels was conducting?

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Koen Kessels was scheduled to conduct the performances of Giselle, and the programme notes show that he has also done this in 2009. The programme actually lists him as conductor for a series of ballets at Paris Opera Ballet between 2005 and 2014. I hadn't realised that he's been there so often!

 

I've been to Paris only a few times and to Nice just once so I've got rather limited experience, and I am sure others on this forum will have more information :)    From what I've seen, last night the applause at the end was weaker than for Romeo & Juliet in April, or for Millepied's La nuit s'acheve in February. Applause mid-performance in Paris has been stronger than what I've seen in London (F.Alu last night during the peasant PDD, V.Muntagirov during the series of entrechats). Curtain calls at the ROH seem to come with a set number of curtains whereas in Paris/ Nice, this seemed more based on the intensity of the applause, maybe this has an influence? If the audience is really enthusiastic about a performance, the applause turns into rhythmic clapping (I haven't figured out yet how the audience members, from one moment to the next, are able to align the rhythm of their clapping!) rather than a standing ovation or stamping. I've seen rhythmic clapping both in Paris (most prominently when Benjamin Pech retired in February, also at Romeo & Juliet, and briefly last night), and equally in Nice.  So maybe appreciation is shown differently? On the other side, I've haven't seen any booing of ballets at the ROH yet whereas this did happen from some audience members after Tombe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Duck, do you find the French audiences more reserved than those at, say, the ROH? 

 

Not being familiar with the behaviour of French audiences I found the atmosphere quite different from that at the ROH: the general hubbub is quieter, there is no applause for Giselle or Albrecht's entrances, tricksy pieces are quickly - too quickly? - applauded (in the peasant pas de deux and for Albrecht's 32 fouettees), curtain call applause is quite muted (except for that for Gilbert and Muntagirov which raised the beautiful roof). and there is (even) more photography going on than at the ROH.

 

It will be interesting to  experience the reception for ENB's Le Corsaire in a fortnight's time.

 

More generally, on the basis of the one performance of Giselle I saw, I have to say that I feel that the reputation of the POB far exceeds its current standards - both in terms of the corps (nowhere near as eerily united as the RB's) and the quality of the soloists it can field (Myrtha was so seriously underpowered in both technique and interpretation that the narrative of Act 2 was rather undermined). With her frail appearance and long neck, Dorothee Gilbert looks every inch a Giselle but, although her epaulement was lovely, her dancing had many weaknesses and she seemed to be taking some short cuts with the choreography.

 

Vadim Muntagirov turned in yet another stellar performance. although I feel that he was seen to even greater advantage in the RB's production. In Paris, it felt as if his dancing came from a far more luminous planet than that of everyone around him.

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The different casts for Giselle received a mix of reviews. Focussing on the two leads - the first night had been scheduled for Laëtitia Pujol and Mathieu Ganio, and when Laëtitia Pujol became unavailable, this changed to Myriam Ould-Braham and Mathieu Ganio. Then also Myriam Ould-Braham became unavailable (she is however still scheduled for her performances with Mathias Heymann), and the cast for the opening night thus changed to another cast, Amandine Albisson and Stéphane Bullion. This cast received very mixed reviews, both artistically and technically. There was quite some discussion on French social media about Stéphane Bullion replacing entrechats with another step. Performances by Dorothée Gilbert* and Mathieu Ganio were lauded as was the one performance by the only cast of lead dancers that are not Etoiles, and the latter triggered comments on social media about more support for young talents.

*see however capybara's comments about Dorothée Gilbert's dancing on June 7, and it would thus be really useful to also see the other casts with "RB eyes".

 

Looking at Giselle, it does seem to be very much depend on who is cast. When I saw POB in February and April, I often enjoyed the younger dancers more (e.g., Leonore Baulac, Germain Louvet, Marc Moreau, Sebastien Bertaud), usually Premier Danseurs or Sujets (Sujets are still in the corps de ballet), one of the reasons why the planned casts for Giselle didn't entice me sufficiently initially to see Giselle. A number of Etoiles are in their mid to late 30s. With a retirement age of 42, I would personally start to reflect this situation by casting more younger dancers in lead roles.

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From what I've read (which may not be accurate) there are two issues with POB currently. First, the company is almost two separate companies, one classical and one contemporary. Secondly, many of the male etoiles are in their mid to late thirties and some are no longer dancing some or much of the classical rep, which creates problems when there are long runs and dancers are injured. The company also seems to be plagued with injury problems but perhaps it is no different to other companies in this respect. As I said on another thread, I think that the company is in a stage of transition at the moment with many older dancers winding down. However, I wonder whether there is also a more existential crisis in the company. It seems to be unsure of its identity and the direction in which it should be going. Millepied was brought in presumably to shake things up a bit but this didn't work out. Dupont is probably a Monica Mason figure but will she do more than steady the ship after a period of turbulence? Can she improve technical and artistic standards and revitalise the company or will it be a return to the old days and ways?

Edited by aileen
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The article about Millepied in today's links does not refer to his having issues with artistic standards but I am sure I read that that was a key factor for him both during his tenure and underlying his decision to leave.

Edited by capybara
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I don't think the annual Concours as a means to promote dancers helps either. What the Concours does, surely, is to give those dancers who are not cast as much as they like the opportunity to present themselves. However presenting to a jury two short pieces (one set by the jury, the other the dancer's choice) does not require the stamina of a full season (or even of a full evening), the emotional involvement of a larger acting role, the partnering skills, the dancing in unison with fellow dancers. This may not be as important for a promotion to Coryphee however will start with Sujet, and surely applies to Premier Danseur. Instead, the specific form on the day of the Concours is decisive. I am not saying that all those who have been promoted have gained promotion for the wrong reasons as I've seen wonderful Sujets and Premier Danseurs on stage in Paris however the possibility will surely exist. If then casting decisions are made based on seniority, this can prevent more junior dancers from gaining additional experience in larger roles. I think this is where Millepied brought in change as he was casting more of the more junior ranks (which was heavily criticised and will have contributed to his departure), and I hope that those dancers will not be left disappointed after the end of this season.

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The article about Millepied in today's links does not refer to his having issues with artistic standards but I am sure I read that that was a key factor for him both during his tenure and underlying his decision to leave.

 

Back around all the hubbub around his departure, one of his criticisms that was most ill-received by the dancers was that he was highly critical of their standards in classical ballet. I haven't seen POB in enough classical repertoire to comment, but this was generally echoed by the posters on Dansomanie at the time (who then added that the dancers leading the rebellion were generally the ones most lacking in their technique).

Millepied very specifically said at one point that he didn't think he had enough dancers able to dance Giselle or La Sylphide, and that he was hoping to fix it.

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Well, if that opinion is genuine and is well founded that's pretty worrying. That must account for why Hernandez and Muntagirov, both very strong classical dancers, were brought in to dance Bayadere and Giselle respectively. Matthias Heymann does not seem to have gone down too well when he guested in Corsaire at ABT recently but, to be fair, it's probably not the right ballet for him and he was 'competing' with some of the previous greats in a work which has long been a favourite with ABT audiences.

 

Happily, in the UK technical and artistic standards are currently at a high.

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Back around all the hubbub around his departure, one of his criticisms that was most ill-received by the dancers was that he was highly critical of their standards in classical ballet. I haven't seen POB in enough classical repertoire to comment, but this was generally echoed by the posters on Dansomanie at the time (who then added that the dancers leading the rebellion were generally the ones most lacking in their technique).

Millepied very specifically said at one point that he didn't think he had enough dancers able to dance Giselle or La Sylphide, and that he was hoping to fix it.

 

This is very interesting. A Frog. Thank you.

 

One wonders how a company can lapse into a decline of this kind. It could take years to fix.

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 Many of the systems in place at the POB are there for reasons that were good at the time that they were introduced. Whether they remain beneficial today is questionable. An institution that has been in existence for more than three hundred years is always going to present problems for anyone who wants to change things, because every aspect of its institutional culture  is going to be defended to the hilt. Any proposed change to what the organisation does and how it does it is likely to be presented as an attack on the Institution by the opponents to the changes. Not surprisingly the POB's institutional culture, is very different and far more deeply entrenched than that of NYCB  a fact which neither Mr Millepied nor those who appointed him seem to have considered. In the NYCB it extends to repertory, style and a comparatively open attitude to casting. The most obvious aspects of institutional culture at work at the POB cover the sourcing of the company's recruits; its performance style; its method of promotion; its repertory; its comparatively strong adherence to company hierarchy in casting ; some use of emploi and the old fashioned idea of not broadcasting your dissatisfaction with your employees to the press. Mr Millepied seems to have managed to fall foul of most of these during his time in charge of the company.

 

 

The Concourse was, as I understand it, introduced in the nineteenth century to counter the adverse effects of the power of rich protectors. It was intended to ensure that promotions were awarded on the basis of technical ability rather than who the candidates slept with. I think that we have to remember that not only is the POB a venerable artistic institution it is also an arm of the French state and its dancers have from its earliest days enjoyed the benefits that go with service to the state. Just as in this country where the mid nineteenth century civil service reforms introduced the concept of the competitive examination, appointment and promotion by merit the same century saw the same concepts applied to the dancers of the POB, hence the Concourse. It may no longer be needed to protect the institution from the influence of the dancer's lovers but it does protect the institution's upper echelons from being dominated only by the type of dancer whom the director favours to the exclusion of all others.

 

The Concourse is not simply tradition, it is part of the company's culture and as it is the company's way of doing things it will be seen by many who work within the organisation as an essential part of its identity. In a recent interview that Mr Millepied gave in connection with a film about his time as director he explained his vision for the company. He had wanted a company which represented modern France; narrative ballets on modern themes and updated productions along the lines of the sort of transformative productions that one sees on the opera stage. Although he appears to have accepted  that his was not an ideal appointment and is reported as saying "Perhaps I was too American" he does not, it seems to me, really understand the company which he was running.

 

Running the POB has never been easy. I don't think that Nureyev had a particularly easy time when he was in charge of the company. If you want an idea of what he was up against the senior  dancers were very much a law unto themselves and chose what ballets they danced in. I seem to recall that when MacMillan  worked there during Madame Verdy's directorship the Etoiles refused to dance in the Song of the Earth because they did not think it was really a ballet. Today Nureyev is revered because of the late nineteenth century ballets which he introduced into the POB's repertory and the way in which he developed its dancers and enhanced its reputation but he had a hard time doing it. Before Nureyev the company was, in many ways, a company which pursued the new at the expense of the old. As an institution it did not seem that concerned with its own history or the history of ballet in general. Coppelia and Marante's Les Deux Pigeons were the only part of its historic repertory with anything like a continuous performance history. It also danced Giselle and  Act 2 of Swan Lake but only because Lifar had staged the works for the company during the late 1920's. In the space of thirty or so years POB has gone from being a company with few of the staple nineteenth century classics in its repertory to one which is firmly and deeply attached to Nureyev's staging of them.

 

Perhaps Millepied was unlucky to be appointed to run the company at this point. In the past his modern vision probably would not  have appeared anything out of the ordinary. However in the last thirty years or so the POB has become interested in preserving a version of the past. Its association with Nureyev has become an essential part of its own identity and that it seems to me was what Millepied was really up against. At least Madame Dupont knows and understands this. It will be interesting to see how much she feels the need to tinker with the 2016-2017 season which has been announced. If the company is currently more at home dancing contemporary work than Nureyev's Petipa productions the answer is surely to programme more rather than fewer of the classics until the company has re-established its technical and theatrical mastery of them.

 

Whatever the cause of the POB's current malaise it is nowhere near the magnitude of what Mason faced at the RB when she took over. If the problem is the fact that Mr. Millepied does not actually relinquish his post for a few more weeks then things could well perk up immediately she is actually in charge much as they did at the RB when Mason took over. Morale seemed to soar in the company and in its audience virtually overnight. I don't think that Madame Dupont is necessarily going to have an easy ride nor that she is going to give the company an easy time. In a recent interview she is reported as commenting adversely on dancers who enter the company and wait for their pension and dancers who fake it by hiding behind their technique. Next season at the POB could be very interesting and exciting for all sorts of reasons. Let us hope that it is, for all the right reasons. I find it difficult to believe that the POB could possibly have got itself into a position similar to that of the RB during Norman Morrice's directorship where as the older generation of great dancers retired their replacements seemed, by and large, not to be of the same calibre either as far as technique or theatrical skills were concerned. 

Edited by FLOSS
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Floss's comments on possible tinkering with the 2016/17 rep are very much to the point. I have just received an email, as a POB subscriber, notifying me that the Tudor/ Millepied programme (In December) has been replaced by a Kylian triple bill. Another Millepied ballet has already been replaced, some weeks back; but as Tudor fan I regret that The Leaves are Fading has also now been cancelled.

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Floss's comments on possible tinkering with the 2016/17 rep are very much to the point. I have just received an email, as a POB subscriber, notifying me that the Tudor/ Millepied programme (In December) has been replaced by a Kylian triple bill. Another Millepied ballet has already been replaced, some weeks back; but as Tudor fan I regret that The Leaves are Fading has also now been cancelled.

 

The Millepied/ Parreno bill that was planned for towards the end of the 2016/17 season was cancelled as, I recall, Millepied felt unable to combine the work involved with his role at his dance company in L.A.

 

Dance critics on social media and in the press reported on the cancellation of the Millepied/ Tudor evening already last Friday, it's a surprise that it has taken the Opera de Paris a week to publish the new bill on their web site and inform the subscribers (and the bill did feature on the web site until Monday). I've read somewhere that the rehearsals for Millepied's ballet had already started. In relation to the Tudor piece, an article in Le Figaro last Friday stated that the dancers "hardly like" the repetiteurs ("Il faut dire que les danseurs de l'Opéra de Paris n'apprécient guère les répétiteurs d'Antony Tudor.") http://www.lefigaro.fr/culture/2016/06/03/03004-20160603ARTFIG00303-opera-de-paris-benjamin-millepied-annule-encore.php. This looks like some events behind the scenes to me.

 

Tudor sometimes is mentioned on this forum so I really would have liked to see this ballet, and a ballet to French songs did sound very interesting. Replacing the Millepied/ Tudor bill with Kylian at least frees up a weekend for me.

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