How Paris Opera Ballet paid tribute to Balanchine

December 09, 2016 17:44
Dorothée Gilbert and Mathieu Ganio in Mozartiana. Photo: Sébastien Mathé / OnP

The Balanchine program presented by the Paris Opera Ballet at the Opera Garnier last month was a real treat. It's a fitting tribute to George Balanchine, the greatest ballet choreographer of the 20th century who died in 1983. The excellent three-part program was planned by Benjamin Millepied, the former artistic director of the company who left last season.

Balanchine is ranked with Stravinsky and Picasso as the three greatest artists of the 20th century. This program showed Balanchine at his most versatile in styles -- pure classical, romantic as well as modernist.

The evening opened with the company's premiere of Balanchine's last masterpiece Mozartiana, created in 1981 for his last muse Suzanne Farrell. Balanchine incidentally has also been often compared to Mozart. The opening prayer section is deeply holy and religious. The ballerina attired in black as if in mourning seems to be communicating with God in her prayers. Then there follows a sublime duet for the ballerina and her cavalier in the theme and variations section.

Dorothée Gilbert was expressive in her pointe work. Mathieu Ganio was noble as her cavalier, dancing musically and with smooth phrasing. François Alu was exciting as the male soloist.

Mozartiana was followed by a 5-minute film tribute to Violette Verdy, the illustrious French ballerina who was an enduring source of inspiration to Balanchine during her career at New York City Ballet for nearly two decades. Verdy, also a former artistic director of Paris Opera Ballet, died early this year.

One of the many ballets that she created for Balanchine was the Ravel ballet, Sonatine (1975). This duet is full of grace and charm. Mathias Heymann impressed with his easy virtuosity, partnering Myriam Ould-Braham.

Violin Concerto set to Stravinsky is a blaze of energy and is simply electrifying. It's a typical 'black and white' ballet created by Balanchine for the New York City Ballet’s famous Stravinsky Festival in 1972. At the heart of the ballet are two contrasting duets. The first duet is harsh and slightly antagonistic, and ends with the two dancers apart. The second duet is sadder and seems to be intended as a farewell. The finale is spiky and electrifying. The whole cast were splendid in this Stravinsky masterpiece.

This program was completed by Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet (1966) which Paris Opera Ballet premiered last summer. For this ballet, Karl Lagerfeld created sets and costumes inspired by Viennese palaces and villas, which are symbolic of the faded grandeur of old Europe. The ballet seems to be plunged into a twilight world. Though not among Balanchine’s famous masterpieces, it’s a superb large-scale company work spanning a variety of moods in its four movements.

The first movement is a romantic ballroom scene. The second movement is intimate, while the third movement has formal beauty for the female corps de ballet. The last movement is a rousing Bohemian country dance.

It’s certainly an ideal showcase to display the strength of the company. In particular, Dorothée Gilbert was alluring in the first movement, impressive in her brilliant virtuosity. And Mathias Heymann was spectacular in his solo in the third movement.

There is nothing in dance like a Balanchine experience. It clears the mind and purifies the senses. One feels more alive than usual.

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Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet performed by le ballet de l'Opera national de Paris. Photo: Sébastien Mathé / OnP

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