Paris Opera Ballet
November 5, 2005 -- Opera Garnier, Paris
In the past, my experiences of seeing the Paris Opera Ballet dance Balanchine have been mixed. Some of his ballets they appear to take to like ducks to water whereas others seem to leave them floundering. Happily, my latest trip to see them in a Balanchine work, “Jewels” turned out to be my most impressive outing to see them in one of his works so far. With sets and costumes by top Paris couturier Christian Lacroix, this was a visually superior version to what I had seen before, and the dancing from start to finish had a lavish quality that matched the lustre of sets and costumes.
I make no excuses for saying that my favourite section of Jewels is “Emeralds,” as I find that the slightly whimsical qualities of Faure’s music perfectly match the romantic mood that floods the stage. Balanchine had in mind both the French school of dancing and the French capital city itself when he created “Emeralds,” and on this occasion the POB presented a cast so close to perfection that I once again marveled at the resources of this company with such a wealth of outstanding dancers.
The two pas de deux couples were Laetitia Pujol with Mathieu Ganio and Clairemarie Osta with Kader Belarbi -- two beautifully matched classically pure ballerinas paired with two lovingly attentive (and very handsome) cavaliers. The pas de trois was danced by Eleonora Abbagnato, Nolwenn Daniel and the incomparable Emmanuel Thibault. I really agonized over which weekend to visit Paris as M. Thibault was dancing in both “Emeralds” and “Rubies;” on the one hand he would be on stage longer if I chose “Rubies,” but “Emeralds” has the more attractive choreography. I can only say that I didn’t regret my choice.
Unusually, “Emeralds” and “Rubies” were run together with only a short pause rather than an interval; clearly the administration of the Garnier is less reliant on pushing overpriced sarnies in the interval than Covent Garden is. Again, a first rate cast with Aurelie Dupont and Marie-Agnes Gillot taking on the female leads and the versatile Alessio Carbone, a dancer I’ve admired a lot in modern roles, as the leading male.
I rather liked the costumes that have been criticized elsewhere, but perhaps the girls’ strapless numbers really require ladies with a little more bosom than that of the average dancer to do them justice. A word about Gillot’s performance: she was in a class of her own. Some dancers can make this section appear rather vulgar but Gillot brought something special to the role. She is a very striking-looking woman too; extremely tall and statuesque, she has the most unusual colouring, almost like white marble, and unlike some of the others, she looked magnificent in her Lacroix costume. She is a versatile dancer too, as the last time I saw her was in Ek’s “Giselle.” Quite a performer.
“Diamonds” had a last minute change of cast when Jean-Guillaume Bart replaced Jose Martinez, but one would never have guessed it as his partnering of Agnes Letestu appeared flawless. Both tall, they looked a dream together in this Petipa-inspired showpiece and were backed up by a corps de ballet that caught every nuance of the Russian flavoured choreography.
Dancing beneath Lacroix’s glittering swathe of diamonds, they had their fingers on the very pulse of this work; over a great many years I’ve seen some outstanding performances of what is one of my favourite ballets, but this was so finely tuned, so perfectly balanced, that I was left with a feeling of total awe towards this magnificent company. The cameras were in that night too, so when the DVD comes out, I’ll be joining a stampede to be first in the queue.
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