Having just seen for the first time this season the triple bill, the author of these lines emerges with enhanced belief in greasepaint. Covers a multitude of ills.
Digression on greasepaint: the purpose of theatrical makeup, is to heighten, not the distance between the artist and his public, but the distance between the artist, and normal, humdrum, Everyday Life. This business with dancing in street makeup has gone too far. One should not be able to recognise, effortlessly, every man jack of Our Gang, as they issue forth from the wings in "street face". Nor does it serve to make classical dancing more "accessible" to the general public. Just makes it more BORING than strictly necessary.
On to Balanchine's "Four Temperaments". My husband being a maths buff, there are calculators all over the flat. So I took two along, one in each hand. The left hand hit a little button at each Pelvic Thrust, the right hand, at each Battement, whether grand, cloche or fouetté. Thirty-five minutes later, the score on the left was 237, and on the right, 195.
Might that be all there is to choreography? We should be told. Or at least, Hindemith should be told.
And what is this with Balanchine - whom I see as a pocket Blue Beard - and the Pelvic Thrust? Mummy and Daddy told me that people who babble on in public about a Certain Thing, may be rather less (....) in private. Am I alone in questioning Balanchine's virility, with all this very public crotch-display and pelvic-thrusting (now there's a New Verb for you!).
And, I say, let not the woman dance without a skirt on! The stage is a most unforgiving place, particularly for the Weaker Sex and whether one be fat or thin, and certainly, no place for practice costume.
Here, in all events, were the “Four Temperaments” in the form of an on-stage rehearsal. But we are used to that now at Paris ! One imagines that Hindemith would not have been ecstatic at the shenanigans on stage - assuming he would have tolerated the actual steps. At the very least, could we not give people enough rehearsal time to be rhythmically secure? And to be 100% certain about their positions?
And the most ill-assorted pairs. Ould-Braham, a ballerina of the first water, with Adrian Bodet?
In Melancholic (and later, in "Raymonda"), one found Fanny Fiat, paired as demi-soloist with Mathilde Froustey.
Whatever Mlle. Fiat's official rank may be, she is not a demi-soloist, but a ballerina. The clockwork precision, consistency and brillancy of her dancing are FRIGHTENING, actually, and watching her jump - literally - right up and over the head of the fragile, unsteady Froustey is doing the latter NO favours. This is one Odd Couple that should be unyoked - INSTANTLY.
Next on display, excerpts from "Raymonda".
Avoid carping on these old imperial ballets, that now appear fairly moth-eaten. We have got to a point, at Paris, where we will accept ANYTHING classical - if it be well-danced.
But it was not.
Ignore the gentlemen’s ghastly scarlet costumes - what is truly worrying, is that the dancing of the man in this fair city, is in parlous state.
Over the past twenty years, we have recruited men into the school and thence into the troupe, so frail of build, so extremely lax, so all-over-the-place, that quite a few might well be a girl. In the Czardas and the Grand pas hongrois, the dancing of the female corps de ballet was bolder, more vigorous, better-defined - manlier, in a nutshell, than that of the lads.
Men so slight may be photogenic, but they are simply not up to grand allegro technique, which has been the backbone of the trade for the last two centuries.
Sorry to be a spoil-sport, but what ah sees, ah says.
A somewhat pitiful display, mitigated by the great brio and accuracy of Muriel Zusperreguy in Henriette’s variation, Fanny Fiat – again saddled with the unfortunate Mlle. Froustey, and by Eve Grinstajn, a little unsteady yet as Clémence but she will get there.
The corps de ballet, in a state of near-chaos.
Rhythmically insecure, the Czardas’ majestic body-shapes and port de bras of this dance were obscured by outlandish leg-waving - rank vulgarity, and that rather recalls pseudo-Hungarian cabaret than theatrical character dancing on one of the world's great stages.
Add that to glaring partnering mishaps in the corps de ballet ... who were about to launch into Forsythe’s “Artifact Suite”...
In the latest issue of Ligne 8, the Paris Opera’s in-house mag, the tenor Toby Spence (besides posing for the photographer on a rumpled bed, or crowing about having sung, I kid you not, starkers, in Olivier Py’s Geneva staging of Curlew River – what was it we were saying above about the private, becoming so to speak, public?) does have something relevant to say about technique.
“It’s out of the question for me to give a Haendel recital if I’m singing in a Rossini opera at the same time. I would need to develop the musculature that music calls for, before directing it, gradually, towards another. The past few weeks, I have often sung Rossini, and worked on my high notes – and so the low notes disappeared. For “The Rake’s Progress”, I’ll be using the middle register, and so I imagine that the higher notes will vanish (....).”
In the ballet, though, we expect our lot to go down in Balanchine as a curtain-raiser, flinging their legs about, followed by hideously-difficult classical variations in “Raymonda”, that demand utmost control, only to launch into a one-hour long Forsythe Happening where the body cannot be properly held, while the articulations are opened to the uttermost. Whereas, it is incomparably harder for the entire body to adjust to such radical shifts, than for the vocal cords, and the physical harm all that much greater, indeed, lasting – if not permanent.
Any member of the public who would doubt this harm, should consult the cast lists, constantly altered due to injury. He might also wish to consider what it feels like, in one's own body, to repeatedly suffer injuries, that the man in the street may know but once or twice in his entire lifetime.