Bon spectacle! Paris Opera Ballet’s Opening Gala 2021 at Palais Garnier is exactly that

FranceFrance Paris Opera Ballet’s Opening Gala: Etoiles, Premier Dancers, Corps de Ballet and the Paris Opera Ballet School’s students, The Paris Opera Orchestra / Vello Pähn (conductor). Livestreamed (directed by Floris Bernard and Jean-Luc Antoine) from the Palais Garnier, Paris, on 30.1.2021. (JO’D)

Défilé du Ballet at Paris Opera Ballet’s Opening Gala (c) Julien Benhamou

Défilé du Ballet
Choreography – Albert Aveline, Serge Lifar
Music – Hector Berlioz

Grand Pas Classique
Choreography – Victor Gsovsky
Music – Daniel-François E. Auber
Costume design – CHANEL

Dancers – Valentine Colasante and Hugo Marchand

In the Night
Choreography – Jerome Robbins
Music – Frédéric Chopin
Piano – Ryoko Hisayama
Costume design – Anthony Dowell

Dancers – Ludmila Pagliero, Mathieu Ganio, Léonore Baulac, Germain Louvet, Alice Renavand, Stéphane Bullion

The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude
Choreography – William Forsythe
Music – Franz Schubert
Costume design – Stephen Galloway

Dancers – Amandine Albisson, Ludmila Pagliero, Paul Marque, Hannah O’Neill, Pablo Legasa

The camera swoops, high and low, around the empty auditorium of the red and gold Palais Garnier. But voices on the soundtrack suggest a theatre filling up, an audience taking its seats. Filmmakers Jean-Luc Antoine and Floris Bernard find poetry in the current restrictions. After each piece of dance, repeated curtain calls are taken in a silence broken only by the sound of a smaller number of voices. It was gratitude I felt, after so many months, at this resolute reminder of curtain calls, of the way things used to be.

Gratitude for the dance and the dancers, too. The gala starts with a Défilé du Ballet, from élève to étoile, to a ‘Trojan’ march from Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens. Choreographed by Albert Aveline and Serge Lifar, this is nothing more and nothing less than posture, port de bras and the pas marché. To watch it is to see classical ballet distilled to its thrilling essence, and also to understand its hierarchical nature. All the necessary drama is there in the sparkle of the tiara worn by a female étoile, in the different way each dancer points a foot, extends an arm, or executes a light run towards the audience before a révérence.

Valentine Colasante and Hugo Marchand in Grand Pas Classique

Victor Gsovsky’s Grand Pas Classique, that follows, shows classical training put to a more extended use in diamanté-sprinkled costumes of midnight blue and blue-grey by the Maison Chanel. The springy entrechats of Hugo Marchand, his elévation; Valentine Colasante’s perfect placement of the head throughout the balances and turns and lifts: they serve as an exposition.

Things get more complex, from a psychological point of view, in Jerome Robbins’s In the Night. Three male-female couples consecutively entering a space that seems to be ‘off’ some other space, and where they work through, to the music of Chopin, the distances, the intimacies, the conflicts of their relationships. Here the balletic body can twist and buckle, legs kick, arms frantically wave. Even watching it on the screen of a laptop, there is the emotional force of a live performance (the one I saw with Roberta Marquez at the Royal Opera House some years ago, for example) when the woman of the third couple (Alice Renavand in this case) kneels before the man, head bowed, arms extended along the floor, palms turned upward in supplication.

And then William Forsythe’s The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude. Tutus, rather than the New Look of the Robbins, for its three female dancers. But tutus of a lime green, the skirt a flat disc. The two men are in a purple that contrasts with the green. A challenge to the attention exacerbated by the fact that all the costumes are of flesh colour across the back. The eye can never rest on this work created at the end of the twentieth century (1996). To recorded, relentlessly vivace music from Schubert’s Ninth Symphony (an aural challenge in the context of dance), this odd-numbered, asymmetrical ensemble run on, run off, and perform with dizzying speed the slanted steps of what has been described as the ‘Petipa-Balanchine-Forsythe continuum’.

‘Bon spectacle!’ the directrice de la danse of the Paris Opera Ballet, Aurélie Dupont, wished the virtual audience from the stage of the Palais Garnier at the end of her opening address. Even on a laptop – in a kitchen in London – this gala is exactly that.

John O’Dwyer

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