Delightful ballet premieres in Paris and London

April 07, 2017 19:00
Sae Eun Park (L) and Karl Paquette in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Paris Opera Ballet. Photograph by Agathe Poupeney/OnP

In mid-March, the Paris Opera Ballet premiered at the Opera Bastille a new production of George Balanchine's A Midsummer Night's Dream staged by Sandra Jennings. 

Balanchine's 1962 two-act version for the New York City Ballet is the greatest dance version of this Shakespeare play. It offers a full panoply of the play as well as a glorious feast of dancing. The recounting of the story is in Act 1, which features a touching scene of two pairs of human lovers in a forest.

Act 1 ends with the resolution of the conflicts -- the quarrels of the human lovers as well as the petty quarrel between Oberon and Titania over a changeling Indian boy, while Act 2 is purely a wedding celebration in Theseus' court.

Balanchine's choreography for the wedding divertissements is felicitous and blissful; the patterns are harmonious. Crowning the divertissements is a long and heart-stoppingly melting duet, one of the greatest of Balanchine's oeuvre. It seems to be an apotheosis celebrating an ideal spiritual love beyond the human level.

The performance that I saw was led by Eleonora Abbagnato who was luminous and radiant as Titania. As Oberon, the newly promoted étoile Hugo Marchand looked handsome and noble in his golden regal costume. He impressed in his solo with his dazzling batterie. Emmanuel Thibault was a humane Puck.

In Act 2, the six lead couples and the corps de ballet all shone brightly in the sunny divertissements. The long duet saw ecstatic dances by Sae Eun Park and Karl Paquette, who wove it seamlessly as if in one long phrase. Mention must also be made of the excellent students from the Paris Opera Ballet school.

Christian Lacroix’s magnificent sets and costumes added a new Parisian chic and glamour to Balanchine’s masterpiece. The backdrop showing the garden of a palace with classical architecture in Act 2 is particularly beautiful.

Balanchine's "Dream" is definitely a worthwhile addition to the Paris Opera Ballet’s repertory. It is also a valuable legacy of Benjamin Millepied’s unexpectedly short tenure as artistic director.

The Rite of Spring

Pina Bausch's version of Rite of Spring set on a stage full of brown soil is the best dance version of Stravinsky’s work. It conveys a feral primitiveness that surpasses the choreography in other ballet versions. The choreography for the ensemble is striking. At the end, the chosen victim dressed in red dances herself to death in a long anguished solo.

This Bausch masterpiece was premiered in late March by the English National Ballet (ENB) as part of a mixed program for its season at Sadler’s Wells Theatre. Outside Bausch’s own company, ENB is only the second ballet company licensed to dance this work besides the Paris Opera Ballet. The first performance saw admirable dance. Francesca Velicu was impressive as the chosen victim.

ENB also premiered in this program Adagio Hammerklavier, a chamber ballet for three couples choreographed by Hans van Manen of Dutch National Ballet. It was well danced, especially by Tamara Rojo, ENB’s artistic director. But the choreography was pretty dull and lacked variation.

In the Middle

The last work was In the Middle, the most famous work of American choreographer William Forsythe. Multiple foci are common, instead of a central focus. Dancers face the front as well as the back and the side. This 1987 work still seems very avant-garde after 30 years. The choreography is cutting and razor-sharp. ENB danced this work excellently. The company’s programs have become more and more diverse since Rojo became its artistic director five years ago.

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Hugo Marchand as Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Paris Opera Ballet. Photograph by Agathe Poupeney/OnP
Pina Bauch's Rite of Spring, English National Ballet. Photograph by Laurent Liotardo

veteran dance critic