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Paris Opera Ballet

Kelemnis, Brown, Preljocaj, Balanchine

'Pavane,' 'Glacial Decoy,' 'Un Trait D'union,' 'Liebeslieder Walzer'

by Cassandra

December 2003 -- Opera Garnier, Paris

"Kelemenis / Brown / Preljocaj / Balanchine" was the name of the programme presented at the Opera Garnier last month with the choreographers names given as the pulling power rather than the actual titles of the ballets.

The first ballet on the programme was “Pavane” by Michel Kelemenis and danced to the familiar "Pavane for a Dead Infanta" by Ravel, in which two young men compete for the attention of a woman. It was a slight piece, a little at odds with the gently melancholy music played here as a piano solo. It was originally created for the Paris Opera Ballet in 1999 but frankly I would have considered it too insubstantial to be considered for a revival.

This was followed by “Glacial Decoy”, a work by Trisha Brown dating from 1979. Danced by four women wearing floating white negligees, it was performed in complete silence. The dancers mainly performed in solos, slipping on stage from the wings and rarely venturing to centre stage before another dancer enters from the opposite wings. Only occasionally was there more than one dancer on stage at a time. The designs are credited to Robert Rauschenburg and the backdrop consists of an ever-changing series of black and white photographs of rather inconsequential subjects such as a pile of boxes or sheets on a washing line. The dancers were just terrific, dancing with absolute conviction making me overlook the usual feeling of dismay that I habitually feel when faced with dance without musical accompaniment.

For me the next ballet was the highlight of the programme, “ Un Trait D’union”, dating from 1989 and choreographed by the always-stimulating Angelin Preljocaj. On a darkly lit stage a crouching dancer (Alessio Carbone) pushes an armchair to the centre. As he begins to dance to music by Bach, using the chair as a prop, I was reminded of that other ballet to Bach’s music, Petit’s “Le Jeune Homme et la Mort”, which also featured a young man with a chair. But this man waits not for a woman but for another man and he is joined by Benjamin Pech as someone who may or may not be his lover, but is certainly a disturbing presence. Their relationship is uneasy: sometimes displaying affection and sometimes friction. Pech, well groomed and wearing smart shirt and slacks, looks a cut above the rough-trade Carbone in his Brando-style vest and the struggle for the upper hand extends to a comic game of musical chairs as they vie for occupation of the armchair that Carbone is so attached to. The mood hovers between menace and comedy and the two dancers portray this incompatible couple superlatively. This will prove a work of considerable staying power.

The final offering of the evening couldn’t have been a greater contrast to the earlier pieces as we were transported back to another age for Balanchine’s intriguing homage to the rhythms of the waltz, “Liebeslieder Walzer”. This ballet has always struck me as something of a curiosity, with the gentle manners of a bygone era portrayed by the sweep of four waltzing couples in nineteenth century evening dress. There are all sorts of undercurrents going on with covert flirting and controlled emotions, but feelings remain inhibited to conform to the standards of the time. We can guess at troubled emotions under the surface, but cannot be certain.

Many people consider this ballet too long and I’ve always felt that it isn’t a well structured work because of that long pause in the middle which is necessary for the girls to change into less cumbersome costumes for the more balletic second half. Unfortunately this always causes the audience to fidget and grow restless. Although their partners reappear in lighter costumes, the male dancers remain in white gloves and tailcoats and do little more than extra lifting to music that is simply more of the same. The strong cast waltzed to perfection and the girls looked stunning in their evening gowns, but for me this ballet will always remain an oddity.

Edited by Jeff.

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