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Paris Opera Ballet: Crystal Pite, Body and Soul/ Bejart Ballet Lausanne: Ballet for Life

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When Paris Opera Ballet announced that the 19/20 season would include a new choreography by Crystal Pite, I thought JJJ. Exhilaration subsequently turned into hesitation when the company’s web site showed a planned duration of just 60 minutes plus interval for this new piece (it turned out to be around 90-100 minutes including interval) as I thought, well, not really, given Paris prices for tickets and travel …  Things changed for the better when Bejart Ballet Lausanne announced that they’d perform Ballet for Life in Paris at the end of October. Adding a few temporary exhibitions, and there it was, a two-day trip to Paris, packed with cultural activities.


Paris Opera Ballet with Crystal Pite’s Body and Soul on Wednesday night. Both The New York Times and the Financial Times had published their reviews before I was heading to the Opera House on Wednesday and neither of them were particularly jubilant. I’ve taken a more positive stance on the work.

Key to the work is a text that Crystal Pite had written herself and that is read by Marina Hands. The text features in all three parts of Body and Soul. It describes what is happening on stage e.g., steps taken (“gauche droite gauche droite gauche”), parts of the body that are touched (“touchant son front, son menton, sa poitrine”) or moved (“bouge les epaules, la tete, les pieds; se retourne de nouveau”), interaction and fight between figure 1 and figure 2. Figures 1/ 2 can both be performed by individuals, by an individual interacting with a group of dancers, or by groups interacting with each other. The same text is read to combative situations, to tender encounters and to a woman grieving over a man’s dead body. And so Body and Soul refers to the range of relationships from love and harmony to conflict and grief between individuals, between individuals and groups as well as between body and soul within an individual.

Part 1 starts with the text read out in a neutral, descriptive manner to a combative situation between two men. Later on, the same text is applied to a much more tender encounter between a man and a woman. The ensemble forms a wave that crashes against a shoreline and that increases in intensity, together with rising chants that reminded me of a sports event with clashing fan groups. Conflict emerges from within the wave, and Part 1 ends with the text being spoken with audible empathy to a woman’s grief over a dead man’s body – this time, the touching of front, chin, chest, etc. is not on the figure's own body but on the body of the deceased man i.e., the other figure.

Part 2 to Chopin’s Preludes with a series of PDD and dancers in groups. Some of the movements that featured in Part 1 reappear (e.g., figure 1 on the ground, stretching out his hand to figure 2 but without establishing physical contact; a figure turning and manipulating the head of the other figure). The scenography then changes to what reminded me of a crypt. The text is spoken again, and this time the grieving woman touches the floor rather than the deceased man’s body as the body is not there anymore and yet she is still in the midst of her grieving process.

The grieving woman and the dead man are performed by Muriel Zusperreguy and Alessio Carbone. I’ve read somewhere that they will both retire at the end of the run of Body and Soul, and I so I think their roles in Body and Soul are particularly fitting.

Costumes for part 1 and 2 are identical for man and women – black trousers, white shirts with white vests underneath, black ties, long black coats (coats, ties and shirts are then taken off). The voice refers to figure 1 and figure 2 as only names of those on stage. So everyone looks the same, everyone is called almost the same. This creates a sense of anonymity and universality of the content of Body and Soul in my view.

Change in scenography and costumes for Part 3. Dancers look like insects with their shiny black body suits and black face masks, arms extended with what looks like a sting, women now on pointe. Tall structures have been lowered down from the top, reminiscent of a forest or of cave-like areas underground that the insects inhabit. The insects move in groups of different sizes, then the female insects threaten the male insects. A figure with hair falling down to his waist appears – my initial thought was that this was showing events during the Stone Age but I now think the figure with the long hair is a “king insect” just as bees come with a queen bee. The insects continue to dance, the voice over can be heard again but in a much fragmented way. Teddy Geiger’s Body and Soul is played, and everyone – male and female insects and the figure with the long hair start to dance; this was rhythmic, uplifting, fun, inducing head bobbing on my part. Having since read the lyrics for Geiger’s song, I think it goes way beyond rhythm and fun though e.g. "All that I want is a piece of your heart. Your body and soul, body and soul". So the insects experience the same range of emotional situations in relationships, emphasising the universality and ubiquity of the content of Pite's new work in my view.

Most of the 10+ reviews of Body and Soul that I’ve read are mixed (positive exceptions being Le Figaro and the Sueddeutsche Zeitung) but I found it fascinating to see how what was shown on stage has been interpreted differently by different reviewers. To give a couple of examples the costumes – city wear or military clothing? The figure with the long hair in part 3: part human/ part animal, a figure from a sci-fi work or a figure from the Barbapapas? The ensemble moving as wave a hint of current street protests? I’ve taken this as yet another sign of the universality of what was shown on stage and that, depending on the social context that a viewer is in or applies to the work, Body and Soul allows itself to be read everywhere and at anytime, and this makes Pite’s newest work even more fascinating in my opinion.

I don’t know how many visitors from abroad who don’t speak French go to performances of POB but as the programme came – as usual - with a 2-page overview of the piece in English, I guess it will be a fair few. Based on this, I think the text that was the basis for Pite’s new work should have been included in the programme in English, too, or even better, featured in the cast sheet which is handed out to all spectators, whether they buy a programme or not.

Links to two reviews that include short video extracts of Body and Soul




Ballet Bejart Lausanne with Maurice Bejart’s Ballet for Life on Thursday evening. This piece had been on my wish list for some time. An homage to life, to Freddie Mercury, to The Queen, to Jorge Donn. Musical, immensely creative, eclectic, wondrous, at times surreal, some poses that are reminiscent of The Queen, some laughing, some shouting.

Marvellous costumes by Versace, including a black unitard resembling a costume that Freddie Mercury had worn, bathing costumes for Seaside Rendez-vous, more formal dresses for one of the Mozart interludes, a pair of tights featuring the Union Jack for one of the songs, etc. The penultimate song came with a number of videos with Jorge Donn, including how he arranged huge white cloths in the form of a cross on a studio floor. This was when I got the significance of the white sheets that the dancers lie beneath at the start, which they then handle in the first and the last songs, and which they cover themselves with at the very end of the last song.

It is always a joy to see Julien Favreau and Elisabeth Ros perform live but the dancer that stays in my mind from Thursday’s performance is Gabriel Arenas Ruiz with his two substantial rather balletic solos to Mozart’s Thamos Overture & Masonic Music – bravo.

I loved the way the curtain calls were handled – Gil Roman inviting dancers to come on stage one by one/ in twos/ in threes, and then hugging/ greeting/ bowing to each of them.

I just wish their programme booklets were cheaper, this one cost 20 EUR L


A few words about some of the exhibitions that I went to.

Da Vinci at The Louvre - no surprise that the exhibition space was busy but it seems to me that ticket sales have been somewhat slower so far than for the Da Vinci exhibition at the National Gallery in 2011, relatively speaking. 170+ exhibits; I was particularly impressed by the mathematical and scientific investigations on display. For anyone who plans to see the works – entry is by timed ticket only; the ticket then gives access to the Louvre for the remainder of the day.

El Greco at the Grand Palais – I thought I’d seen a fair few works by El Greco in the past but this exhibition included lots of items that were new to me as they stemmed from museums and collectors in the US. Definitely worth seeing for lovers of El Greco’s works.

There is also – among many others – an exhibition with works by Degas at the Musee d’Orsay Degas at the Opera that prs59 referred to in a post in another thread, and that I didn’t go to.


Putting my legs up now after lots of walking through Paris over the last few days.

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Thanks for the review - I was in Paris the weekend before last for the Leonardo and did look at what was on at POB as we were staying very close to the Louvre for the exhibition - I decided against the Crystal Pite in the end as I was taking my mother for her birthday and it was unlikely to have been to her taste! 


I also enjoyed the Leonardo - especially the chance to see Vitruvian Man (although I understand that this is only on display for the first 8 weeks of the exhibition) and the scientific and mathematical drawings.  I would add that to be aware if you don't read French well that both the free exhibition guide detailing the works and the exhibition catalogue were only available in French (although we went on opening weekend so wondered if translated versions were running behind).  The audio guide was available in English, but offered insights on only 22 or so of the works.

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Thanks so much for your replies, Sim and onemouseplace.


With regards to Da Vinci - I hadn't realised that the Vitruvian man will only be shown for the first 8 weeks, so I guess we were both lucky in that respect. The free exhibition guide is now available in English, too - cf. the link to "exhibition booklet" here https://www.louvre.fr/en/expositions/leonardo-da-vinci. The exhibition catalogue, on the other hand, still seems to come in only French, which I find rather odd - surely such an exhibition will attract an international audience that will not only want to see the works but also buy the catalogue. I didn't go with the audio guide as that would have required handing over an ID card, and the examples mentioned on the Louvre's web site say e.g., passport/ ID card/ credit card ... and these are exactly the cards that I won't be parting with under any circumstances (moreover, the booklet looked more than detailed enough on its own). Reading that the audio guide covered only around 22 works, I am glad I just kept it to the booklet. Did they actually accept other ID cards than those mentioned on their web site?


As for Body and Soul - for those who understand spoken French, the link here https://www.franceculture.fr/emissions/la-dispute/theatre-please-please-please-body-and-soul-isadora-duncan includes a discussion about Pite's new work for POB. What makes the review special in my view is that from around 21 min 50 sec onwards, the full text that is spoken by Marina Hands at the start of Body and Soul and a number of times thereafter can be heard.


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The POB has released a superb interview with Crystal Pite, providing lots of insight into Body and Soul. The interview is in English with French subtitles. It also includes extracts of studio rehearsals. A number of stage pictures have been added just above the video on the same page.






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Re the Leonardo celebrations, I have just seen the new film by the excellent team EOS ( Exhibition on Screen)- 'Leonardo- the Works'- which is absolutely excellent and ravishingly beautiful: I can very highly recommend seeing it - all the paintings, shown in high definition, very slowly and carefully with expert commentary and no nonsense...



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9 hours ago, Mary said:

Re the Leonardo celebrations, I have just seen the new film by the excellent team EOS ( Exhibition on Screen)- 'Leonardo- the Works'- which is absolutely excellent and ravishingly beautiful: I can very highly recommend seeing it - all the paintings, shown in high definition, very slowly and carefully with expert commentary and no nonsense...



They show a shortened version of many of their films on TV, (ITV 3) called Great Art. I find them very interesting and informative. 

10 hours ago, Duck said:

Thanks so much, Janite.


The stay in Paris was superb (... and left me longing for more).



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  • 4 weeks later...

Crystal Pite's Body and Soul was breathtaking in my point of view. The repeating narrative that accompanied the dance; the versatile abilities of the dancers... the unity of the costumes.

Whenever I make it to Paris I always try to see a performance of POB. I suppose this was one of the best I'd seen from them.

And it is such a good feeling to see a contemporary woman's work; very inspiring for my DD who is just 14 and tries to adapt Paris on her own to be a dancer and choreographer one day as well.

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