Have now seen all casts, and would like to add a comment or two.
First, one should congratulate the ballet masters, Hilaire and Delanoë, for having put up, very successfully, an Ashton play for the first time, in a style that requires outstanding mime and character ability, a style with which the French artists are, in the main, no longer well-acquainted.
Secondly, the public has been enthusiastic, indeed supportive, and well able to follow the mime scenes - contrary to the Great Myth that Mime is Incomprehensible. As we saw with the mime last night, Ould-Braham had the public eating out of her hand quite as though she had spoken to them from the footlights.
Thirdly, it has given us an opportunity to discover Simon Valastro in a major role, as Alain, and he has done something worthy of the original cast here - those who know Alec Grant personally might want to ask him, but one can only imagine that he would be enchanted. The youth Allister Madin has also shewn considerable potential in this role.
Fourth, it has shown us, yet again, the limitations of contemporary female technique.
From a technical standpoint, the only ballerina dancing Lise who survived the ballet virtually without a hitch from start to finish, was Mathilde Froustey. Both Gilbert (not fully recovered from a serious injury), and Ould-Braham (recently injured), had considerable difficulty with the choreography, Gilbert because she is not yet well, and Ould-Braham because her entire body is unbalanced through this mania for picking up the leg. Svetlana Lunkina is a pale and very bland figure, utterly unsuited to this type of choreography. Cannot figure out why the Bolshoi did not send us Anastasia Goriacheva, an adorable demi-caractère ballerina, who is said to have a very brilliant allegro technique.
Amongst the French "Lise" in this run, only Gilbert has the body type for the choreography.
The past thirty years' frenzied search for the bone-thin, waif-like, long-legged and quasi-transparent female dancer (does that make you warm to the axe-wielding feminist, I ask?) may be out of fashion in the USA and even in Russia, but it's the height of fashion at Paris.
The net result : an epidemic of serious injury, stress fractures, and low energy levels. Add that to the hyper-extension (Ould-Braham has a higher extension that Sylvie Guillem - believe it or not) and you are talking TROUBLE, big-time.
This is a matter of concern. To be frank, Myriam Ould-Braham is perhaps the one ballerina here, who has the potential to become a great artist, and - a not insignificant "detail" - she happens to be Thibault's dancing partner. The integrity of her physical structure is at stake, and am praying that someone is going to deal with the issues, quickly.
At the time of writing, there are only three or four ballerina-rank ladies in the theatre who do not conform to the above body type, notably Fanny Fiat, and Mélanie Hurel. They are rarely injured. They were not asked to dance Lise, because, it seems, they are not considered "pretty" enough, nor are they long-legged (a VERY relative concept, jadies and lentilmen).
But Fanny Fiat is one of the theatre's three top technicians, to whom Lise would have been a piece of cake. Hurel is a wonderful actress, and although she may perhaps have struggled with a few of the steps - but then again, perhaps not ! - would have been ideal for the role. Although Eleonor Guerineau is still a child of nineteen, she too, might have been well-suited. All three, being under five foot five, would have kept to the original fast tempi in their variations.
So, in my view, the Lise, save for Gilbert, were all miscast, really, excellent as they were. Just as Matthew Ganio, a rather palid figure and in any event, a languid danseur noble, should NEVER have been cast as Colas. It is not fair to him.
The big sensation in this theatre is of course Matthias Heymann, as Colas. This is a lad of twenty, who was apparently due for promotion to étoile on March 5th when he first danced Basilio, and will now be promoted to étoile at the Christmas, or so the rumour goes. The lad has the advantage of being of very middling stature - not above five foot ten or eleven I would say - well-proportioned and strong for his age. The clarity and definition of his dancing has to be seen to be believed. His technique is already well-rounded - the batterie and terre-à-terre work is as rapid as it is impeccable, the ballon apparently effortless, the lad has considerable elevation, an agreeable stage manner and presence. And he turns well, not, as a rule, a French specialty.
In fact, M. Heymann is so good a dancer, that it has made the twelve long years that X, Y and Z had to wait, before finding someone credible to put up against Emmanuel Thibault, entirely worthwile, n'est-ce pas?
Now, will this able young fellow ever become an artist on the level of Thibault? Good question.
For most people, it don't matter. M. Heymann will very shortly be appointed étoile, the plum roles will fall into his lap, he will appear in all the newspapers, and guest star all over the world.
But for those of us, and we are hundreds, actually, who have followed Thibault's every appearance over the past twelve or so years, it does seem, er, odd. Recently, I saw a Japanese television programme where Paris Opera stars instruct their juniors in certain roles. One of these leading individuals managed to talk about the Blue Bird for twenty minutes, without mentioning the fact that the aforesaid Thibault has been one of the role's principal interpreters since World War II. One of many, to which he has brought an entirely new depth of meaning. And then the individual in question used, not Thibault, but Heymann, as the example. Congratulations.
We live in a funny old world, but fortunately, the Widow Simone is around to make us laugh at it.
Last night, I must say how much one appreciated Laurent Novis as the Widow Simone. I feel that he has got it right. He must, as someone from the old Sadlers Wells has just said, "dance with clumsy grace - clumsy, but grace nonetheless".
Why is a man generally better-employed in these roles - Carabosse, Madge, Widow Simone - than a woman?
Well, in general, the man projects more power and more intensity, than the woman. In fact, I have seen several all-male productions of Sheakespeare that were more effective than the contemporary tradition of using women, simply because being on stage at all, projecting the voice for three or four hours, and saying the verse properly, takes such sustained energy and power.
In the specific, the role of an "old woman", or "the witch", on stage, can quickly spin off into "cute LOL" (little ol' lady), or "crotchety lil' gramma", which may be OK for Juliet's Nurse, but NOT for Madge, or Carabosse.
You want something larger than life, because that is what the stage is all about, and what could be larger than life, but a man, playing a woman?
And Novis caught precisely that nuance, a nuance that, for the time being, has escaped Phavorin. Novis played a larger-than-life woman, not an old hag in drag. Since he was not a mere Caricature, but a Character - and the two, are not the same - he could relate to his Lise, and play all kinds of games with the other characters on stage, without overwhelming them.
Finally, in one's peregrinations amongst the six-euro places in the theatre, last night I was able to see the ballet from above, and appreciate the beauty of Ashton's groupings for the corps de ballet, dipping and bobbing in sinuous lines about the stage.
Not a diagonal in sight! Thank you Fred!