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Paris Opera Ballet - 'Le Parc'

by Ana Abad-Carles

October 14, 2005 -- Sadler's Wells, London

Praise must be given to Dance Umbrella for allowing London to see this company after an unexplainable absence of 20 years during which time the French company went through one of its most important and productive periods. Since 1983, when Rudolf Nureyev took over the directorship of the company until his dismissal in 1988, the company managed to produce some of the best dancers in the West and, one could easily argue, in the world. Nureyev’s heritage lived on well after his death and, in fact, the company still lives up to his standards. Not only that -- his productions of the classics are still danced in Paris, and one can always sense the extreme care each revival gets whenever performed. The series of documentaries recorded for television and now available on DVD are living proof of the pride the French give to one who was one of their most distinguished artistic directors.

Most of the dancers that Nureyev promoted and nurtured have unfortunately retired by now. However, on this occasion we were lucky to see Laurent Hilaire once again on the London stages and, if only for this, going to Sadler’s Wells last week was worth the effort. Hilaire is one of that privileged group of dancers that learnt from Nureyev the power of transcending the stage. The eloquence of their movement and the ability to communicate to their audience the subtle meaning of why everything is performed the way it is makes their dancing stand on a class of its own. When these dancers move, you can see the eloquence of the steps and the need for those steps to be performed, to be rendered in a specific way that responds both to the music and the choreographer’s intentions.

On this occasion, the choice of programme may not have been the best the Paris Opera Ballet has to offer, but it served the purpose. Created in 1994, “Le Parc” was the first full-length ballet created by Preljocaj, and the work thus possesses both the boldness and inevitable failures of all first attempts of this kind. Preljocaj wanted to do a work that reflected the love attitudes of the French in the 18th century, a subject matter that perhaps is best known by Choderlos de Laclos’s novel “Les Liaisons Dangereuses.” Set to Mozart’s music as well as sound compositions by Goran Vejvoda, the ballet tells the development of a love relationship from its initial indifference and coolness to its most passionate ardour. Four mechanic gardeners are the present day cupids and they are the ones who make the woman yield to the man’s attentions.

Choreographically, the ballet does not show great consistency in the telling of the story and, in fact, there is little in it that hints at the fact that there is a story at all. Most of the numbers where the lovers are not involved seem quite irrelevant and disconnected from the plot. It is only in the duets, set to different adagios of Mozart’s “Piano Concertos,” that the ballet takes on a different route, engages the spectator and actually hints at some sort of development of characters and situation. The choreography is contemporary in its vocabulary movement, but not very radical in its look. It showcases the company’s command of whatever style they dance in, something that is embedded in French dancers through their schooling; an outstanding ability to take on different choreographic styles.

Preljocaj tends to repeat sequences all too often, and it is only through the dancers’ efforts in making each one of these sequences interesting that the work makes its way through. In the first act, for example, each one of the variations the women perform for the men has its opening phrase repeated at least four times. This is tiring for the eye, as any choreographer should know. Music may work through repetition of phrases, but dance does not. The eye gets used to repetition more than the ear does and recognition of a step becomes an alarming lack of choreographic invention all too soon.

Nevertheless, the duets were beautifully crafted, and they show the development in the story that the choreographer obviously intended in his work. The interpretations of both Aurélie Dupont and Laurent Hilaire were magnificent. The ballet had been created for Isabelle Guérin and Hilaire, and obviously Hilaire’s command of the role was evident.

The best part of the ballet was the last duet. It managed to make full use of the wonderful stage personalities of the performers, and the choreography was utterly beautiful. It transcended the irrelevance of some of the other sections in the piece and focused unashamedly in the deepest desires of the characters. It also showed how musical Preljocaj can be and how inventive when devising a pas de deux in contemporary language. There was nothing missing or wanting in it. It was transcending in the use of aerial movement and lifts combined with falls and recoveries that explained beautifully the surrender, longing and abandonment of the two lovers.

The company overall looked wonderful. The dancers have a unity of style and beauty of lines in the performance of their ballets that showcase their schooling to perfection. Let’s hope it does not take another 20 years for the whole company to return.

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