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Ballet de l'Opera de Paris

Soiree Roland Petit - 'L'Arlesienne,'
'Le Jeune homme et la Mort,' 'Carmen'

by Mary Ellen Hunt

July 2, 2005 -- Palais Garnier, Paris

At the spectacularly Neo-Baroque Palais Garnier, the ballet's annual tribute to Roland Petit offered up a predictable lineup -- "L'Arlésienne," "Le Jeune homme et la Mort," and "Carmen," but the performances were anything but mundane.

Admittedly, the program got off to a slow start with Jeremie Belingard and Isabella Ciavarola leading off in "L'Arlésienne" as Frederic and his hapless bride Vivette.  The pretty Ciavarola doesn't have much to work with in the role of Vivette although her elegant arches clarified Petit's fussy little tendus and Suzy Q meanderings across the stage.  Looking appropriately young, Belingard found opportunities to exhibit a nice sense of musical phrasing -- you could literally hear him breathing with the music -- and in the diagonals of his extended solos, he found an unusual, but intriguing syncopated rhythm.

Star power came out in full force though, with Nicolas Le Riche and Marie-Agnes Gillot in "Jeune homme."   Le Riche gave notice of his jeune homme's arrival with a huge, ferocious double assemble turn that drew a collective gasp. Racing about the stage on a tear, Le Riche leapt over the furniture like a caged animal, easily maneuvering Petit's choreographed acrobatics.  The charismatic Le Riche has obviously tuned this part to a fine edge, as has Gillot, who took control of the situation from the first extension of her leg.  I suspect there's not a youth alive who is any match for Gillot's sexy Death in chic black gloves.  Together, they turned the duet into a delicious contest, full of rapacious glances and gleeful gamboling through the rickety urban setting.

Le Riche was also the electric Don Jose in "Carmen," which closed the evening, though he had not nearly as sexy a partner with Eleonora Abbagnato in the title role.  Saddled with some unfortunate accessories -- a frightening fluff of a wig and a spray of glitter never made anyone look chic -- Abbagnato's technique is, naturally, up to the task.  More of a soubrette than a sexpot, she has a tendency to let the mechanics of steps, particularly in difficult partnering passages, show through a little too clearly.

Le Riche again brought dramatic clarity to somewhat dated material, and added his enormous elevation -- jumps that landed in perfect fifth positions and still exhibiting the same energy he had at the beginning of "Jeune homme" -- for good measure. 

Perhaps there was a little extra edge onstage because Petit himself was in the wings.  At the conclusion of the evening, he emerged to a thunderous ovation from the crowd.  The biggest cheers though, were saved for Le Riche, and deservedly so.

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