Jerome Robbins evening at the Paris Opera Ballet: can it ever be better than this?

FranceFrance Jerome Robbins: Paris Opera Ballet, Orchestre de l’Opéra National de Paris / Maria Seletskaja (conductor). Palais Garnier, Paris, 25.10.2023. (JO’D)

Jerome Robbins’s The Concert: Vessela Pelovska (piano), Hannah O’Neill and Pauline Verdusen © Julien Benhamou/OnP

Piano Concerto in G
Choreography – Jerome Robbins
Music – Maurice Ravel
Set and Costume design – Erté
Lighting design – Jennifer Tipton
Piano – Frank Braley

Dancers – Léonore Baulac, Germain Louvet, Inès Mcintosh, Clara Mousseigne, Aubane Philbert, Bianca Scudamore, Célia Drouy, Hortense Pajtler. Antonio Conforti, Thomas Docquir, Mathieu Contat, Léo de Busserolles, Nicola Di Vico, Keita Bellali

In the Night
Choreography – Jerome Robbins
Music – Frédéric Chopin
Set and Costume design – Anthony Dowell
Lighting design – Jennifer Tipton
Piano – Ryoko Hisayama

Dancers – Myriam Ould-Braham, Paul Marque; Valentine Colasante, Marc Moreau; Dorothée Gilbert, Hugo Marchand

The Concert
Choreography – Jerome Robbins
Music – Frédéric Chopin
Set and Costume design – Irene Sharaff
Lighting design – Jennifer Tipton
Piano – Vessela Pelovska

Dancers – Cyril Mitilian, Inès Mcintosh, Bianca Scudamore, Hannah O’Neill, Pauline Verdusen, Laurène Lévy, Audric Bezard, Antione Kirscher, Jean-Baptiste Chavigner, Léo de Busserolles

Myriam Ould-Braham and Paul Marque; Valentine Colasante and Marc Moreau; Dorothée Gilbert and Hugo Marchand: six étoiles of Paris Opera Ballet standing in a row at the front of the Palais Garnier stage. The applause they are standing there to receive, for Jerome Robbins’s In the Night (1970), seems to voice a single, collective thought. ‘Music, lighting, costume, dancers, choreography: together, they can never be better than this!’

The music of Chopin, nocturnes hauntingly played by Ryoko Hisayama on a piano at the side of the stage. Lighting, by Jennifer Tipton, which illuminates emotions as much as physical space. Costumes by Anthony Dowell in rich fabrics and eloquent colours. Dancers who are, to a dancer, everything the word étoile suggests. Expressive choreography (Jerome Robbins made his début as an actor) deriving from neo-classical ballet and the Broadway musical, with a particular focus on arms and hands and what people do with them.

In the programme notes to this triple bill of work by a choreographer who had a long association with Paris Opera Ballet, dance writer Deborah Jowitt outlines Robbins’s belief that what is shown on the stage should be based on the real and on human behaviour. His ballets are constructed around a dramatic idea.

The drama of the three couples of In the Night is in the different tensions of their relationships. The wistful sadness shown by Myriam Ould-Braham and Paul Marque. The formality that keeps Valentine Colasante and Marc Moreau at an emotional distance. The tempestuous push-and-pull of the relationship between Dorothée Gilbert and Hugo Marchand. This culminates in her kneeling in front of him to place a hand first on his chest, then at his waist, then on his knees, then on his feet, before bowing completely to the floor with arms and hands, palms upward, outstretched towards him.

Jerome Robbins’s In the Night: Valentine Colasante and Marc Moreau © Julien Benhamou/OnP

The triple bill opens with the altogether sunnier, Piano Concerto in G (1975) aka En Sol (featured image above © Svetlana-Loboff). The music is by Ravel; the piano, played by Frank Braley, remains in the orchestra pit amongst the Orchestre de l’Opéra National de Paris conducted by Maria Seletskaja. The costumes, by Erté, evoke Mediterranean beachwear of the 1920s. Despite the sparkling music, bright sunlight and beach setting, there is still a push-and-pull in the attraction between Léonore Baulac (whose gentle demeanour seemed almost tentative on the night of this second performance) and the confident, athletic, Germain Louvet.

In the final work, the blackly comic The Concert (1956), drama takes precedence over dance. Onstage pianist, Vessela Pelovska, plays Chopin, but also a significant part in the climax of the onstage action. Irene Sharaff’s inspired costumes (bodysuits and leotards of pale blue, to which character accessories are added or removed) turn the dancers into cartoon figures for a series of cartoon sketches.

Hannah O’Neill, as The Dancer in a wide-brimmed pink hat, displays the necessary comic vein. Audric Bezard is the cigar-chewing husband who tries to kill his overdressed wife (Laurène Lévy in diamonds and pearls) in order to be with The Dancer. Or possibly with the soldier in whose arms, as he is lifted during a rousing mazurka, his wife at one point finds him. For there is that ambiguity in the work of Jerome Robbins.

Six female dancers (one in spectacles) faultlessly perform a Mistake Waltz as hapless members of a corps de ballet. But the most intriguing, most poignant, and least cruel sketch, involving all the dancers, is to Chopin’s Prelude in E minor, Op.28 No 4. Its synthesis of music and movement echoes Balanchine’s. Its basis is nothing more, or less, than what people do with their umbrellas: how they open them; how they close them; how they share them; how they hold out an arm, with the hand palm upward, to see if it has started, or stopped, raining.

John O’Dwyer

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