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Paris Opera Ballet in Mats Ek's "Appartement"
Palais Garnier, Paris, June 25, 2000

by Michael Montgomery

The orchestra pit was raised to dance on at the Paris Opera, not a common occurrence there, for the eagerly awaited world premiere of Mats Ek’s, "Appartement". With merely a bidet placed on this extension into the audience, we were plunged into the intimacies of the human existence in a raw, observant and breathtakingly intense form – living will never be the same again.

The work is constructed in eleven uninterrupted scenes, each representing a different room or reality, the bathroom, the television, the kitchen, the march of the vacuum cleaners, just to give you an idea; Ek has ideas in abundance.

The "salle de bains" starts as a solo for Marie-Agnés Gillot where Mats Ek’s use of the language of the mundane, immediately displays his genius. The patting movements accompanying the ritual of the "toillette"; never separated from the dance, the deep subconscious interior relationship with the objects surrounding us. All phantasmagorically brought to light in this work.

The painted front Opéra curtain is lifted to reveal another reality, with an identical Opéra curtain further upstage, this technique is subsequently used throughout the ballet to define new spaces.
In the second scene José Martinez is revealed sprawled on an IKEA couch watching the TV. You could also call this The Couch Potato solo. Martinez illustrated the greatest degrees of sensitivity and depth I have yet seen him expunge, it would seem Ek here gives him an opportunity to access the interior world, further than he has ever ventured previously. He eats the dance in the same way Mats Ek has him literally eating the couch.

"Le Passage Pietons" is a space Ek names specifically in the programme notes, as the space just in front of the bistro Mistral, beside the Théâtre de la Ville. Where he spent much time observing people over the years. It was here the piece exploded in an energetic melange of athleticism, gesture, vocalization and human force, which set my solar plexus buzzing; a sensation that did not leave till hours later.

This was followed by an extraordinary kitchen pas de deux, danced by Clairemarie Osta and Kader Belarbi, it was here that his expression of mundane reality won me. Steeped in the suppression of the domestic condition, the role playing inherent in the normal family context, this duet is rather sad, the antagonists always connecting in a frustration or not connecting at all ; at the same time she is preparing dinner in an oven. The duet ends shockingly, with the wife producing the smoking baby to serve to her husband.

Perhaps the comic highlight of the evening was The March of the Vacuum Cleaners. Just when you think you’ve seen everything, along comes Mats Ek. Kicking off with Gillot and her Hoover, the stage is soon wittily ablaze with an army of housewives on the march. You have to see this to believe it. Ek uses an almost Irish Dance vocabulary to hilarious effect. I think, it’s his answer to Riverdance.

A little later comes the Grande Pas de Deux, danced by Nicolas Le Riche and Celine Talon. For this a door is used and we realize it is an encounter, she is the visitor - he is receiving. This was a universal encounter which could have taken place in any time or location in the world. A complete witness to an encounter between two bodies and two souls, I will go as far as to say, a work of genius ; Le Riche was superb, a phenomenon of our time and Talon captured Ek’s essence entirely.

This leads us to the "Barrières de Protection", where emergency barrier tapes are spread criss-crossing the stage which is left to the band, Fleshquartet : whom we have realized have been providing the music, live, from behind the final upstage barrier. They certainly give good dance music. And by the ensuing Finale you remember what great dance, executed by perhaps some of the greatest dancers existent on the planet, looks and feels like.

The without doubt IKEA like decor and the costumes were effective - 100% , and designed by Peder Freiij. The exemplary lighting, executed by Eric Berglund.

I predict a long shelf life for this work of art, for it is no doubt that – an incredible, honest testament of the human condition. Created by a living genius.


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Edited by Azlan Ezaddin.

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