“Paquita”. Reviewed with the enthusiasm of an apprentice reporter, sent to cover a garden-gnome clearance sale.
How, in the year 2001, anyone might choose to revive a ballet that presents in favourable light the Napoleonic Wars in Spain, with a French officer as its hero ...
Focussing on the merely "balletic", the Paris Opera Ballet is, at the present time, not a pretty sight, a fact that becomes inescapable, the moment Management purport to mount a full-length "classical" work.
In theory, the troupe is 154-man strong. But it can no longer put up a work at Garnier and one at Bastille, without drafting in an army of non-titular or "extra" dancers (known as "surnuméraires"), and often, foreign principals as well.
(Comical, by the bye, the degree to which these extras in “Paquita” have not yet had time to learn the steps.)
Roughly half the premiers danseurs and étoiles are out either sick or injured, and a sizeable chunk of the corps de ballet.
Not a single suitable pair could be put up to lead either "Paquita" or "Casse-Noisette", whether because the man or maid's habitual partner was out injured, or because he or she would not be "allowed" to dance (?!). We have had wan, drawn gentlemen well over forty, partnering brittle lasses twenty years their junior, unready "sujets" in their early twenties returning, fresh from injury, to stagger through pas de deux of terrifying difficulty, gangling gentlemen of six-foot three dancing, if that is the word, in a "pas" for the men alongside those of five foot eight, "paired" Snowflakes wildly discordant in height, build, style and complexion, and one lass dancing the title in “Paquita” who, being nearly six-foot, can scarce be lifted by a single man in the company. Now there’s a saucy little gypsy minx !
The Internal Promotion Concours took place last week. Overall no more than seventy contested, the which means (excluding principals, who do not contest) that forty or fifty people must either have been injured, too tired or too demoralised to stand for promotion.
What is more, both the Concours this year and the ongoing performances, point to a marked decline in the dancing of the man, well-oiled press campaign over Matthias Heymann notwithstanding.
In the French national theatre over the past decade, the dancing of the man has been "dumbed down", by smashing the ablest and most high-spirited individuals, while selection policy has consistently opted for the "photogenic" (a most effeminate ideal today - highly-arched feet, narrow, sinuous spine, long, slim and very fragile legs ....), as opposed to the functional. (Bring back Medhi Angot, I say! ). Overall, the trade at Paris lists perilously towards the rose-scented boudoir. "Prettiness", via the feminine lobby here, has acquired FAR TOO MUCH INFLUENCE. Grand allegro technique has fallen apart.
Besides the current principals, many of whom are in parlous condition, only four or five men, all ranks taken together, would appear to be in the technical, physical and mental fighting spirit to hold the stage in a major role.
Two egregious examples. Here we have talented, intelligent people like Julian Meyzindi or Josua Hoffalt, endowed with feeling, and some originality, both about twenty-five years of age. At so early a stage in the career, they have already been injured several times. And thanks to the POB's pitiful, thread-bare, post-modern repertory, they have scant experience with major classical roles, that they may be called upon to dance but two or three times a year.
As for the bombastic Nureyev "classics", the only ones ever seen here, they have outlived their shelf-life. The choreography is so absurd, and more importantly, so dangerous, that those appointed to dance a lead doubtless react like the missionary, who learns that he is about to be despatched to Burma, there to convert a headhunting tribe to the Scots Kirk.