July 7-9, 2003 --
Palais Garnier, Paris
was first produced in Paris 162 years ago and last week I travelled to
the city of its birth to enjoy a couple of performances in the Paris Opera
Ballet’s current run.
On the evening of Monday 7th the performance was preceded by three members
of the company coming on stage to inform us of the current industrial
action taking place at theatres throughout the country and which the dancers
supported. The applause throughout the theatre clearly indicated that
the audience shared the dancers' sympathies.
The Paris production is by Patrice Bart and Eugene Polyakov with costumes
and 1924 décor by Benois. This was a fairly conventional production with
no big surprises, though the exceptionally busy corps de ballet of the
first act seemed at times intrusive and the playing of Hilarion by Wilfried
Romoli (on both nights) was a much angrier and less sympathetic reading
than is usually seen. On the plus side, Giselle’s mother didn’t have any
cuts to her mimed scene of Giselle’s likely fate.
The Giselle that night was Laetitia Pujol, a young dancer of infinite
promise, who had made her Paris debut in the role only a few nights before.
Albrecht was that London favourite, Nicholas Le Riche. The Paris Opera
Ballet doesn’t give bad performances, only varying degrees of good and
this was a very good performance. In her Giselle costume I was very much
struck by how much Pujol resembled Antoinette Sibley in the same role,
as physically they are rather similar. Pujol’s Giselle is a carefree village
girl experiencing all the joys of first love, and the object of her affections,
Le Riche, passes so effortlessly as a fellow peasant that it is easy to
understand her lack of suspicion. As Ms. Pujol is comparatively new to
the role she is as yet unable to give a totally rounded interpretation
and suffers from looking too much like a modern girl in the ballet, just
as Mr. Le Riche resembles a modern boy. In the mad scene, Giselle looked
merely hysterical rather than insane, so that her eventual death came
almost as a surprise.
The second act opens with a group of men playing dice in the moonlit glade
before being frightened off by some wilis that I’m afraid I found a little
comic looking. This second act brought a degree of concern as Parisian
arms are starting to look a little less beautiful than I remember them.
Something I chose to ignore assuming it was an off night when I saw "Paquita"
a few months ago, now begins to look like a worrying trend.
Of course for the principals this is the act where the virtuosity begins
and both Pujol and Le Riche have little difficulty with the technical
challenges though I noticed a spot of mis-timing in some of the double
work. Pujol already has an understanding of the romantic style and eschews
pointing her toes at the ceiling but I must admit to some disappointment
that Le Riche chose to dance the “Nureyev solo” consisting of repeated
entrechat six rather than the more familiar variation. The audience loved
it though and roared their approval.
Pujol and Le Riche were to have repeated their roles on the following
night and as a rare treat, the extraordinary Emmanuel Thibault was scheduled
to dance in the peasant pas de deux, but fate dealt me a double whammy
as, first, Thibault was inexplicable pulled from the role and, then, industrial
action meant that the entire performance was cancelled.
On Wednesday evening I returned to the Opera Garnier to find the steps
filled not with foot-weary tourists, but police with riot shields! Another
first in my ballet going career. This night had the fans out in droves
as Elisabeth Maurin, who was dancing Giselle, retires from the Opera this
year and her many admirers were there to pay homage to her unique talent.
As Giselle, Maurin was simply exquisite, a gentle questing soul that one
felt instinctively was destined for tragedy. Her Albrecht was the elegant
Kader Belarbi, tall, dark and handsome, and a patrician to his fingertips.
No wonder Giselle had fallen in love as the contrast with her would-be
lover Hilarion couldn’t have been greater.
This Giselle sees
no evil in the world, as all things to this innocent girl are pure; therefore,
the shock of the deceit perpetrated by Albrecht hits her like a thunderbolt,
especially as her lover greets Bathilda with far more familiarity and
far less formality than we usually see. Her madness is totally convincing
and there was an awful moment when I saw in her eyes that she both understood
that she was going mad and that she was about to die – chilling.
In the second act Maurin takes on the fragile appearance of a 19th century
lithograph as her grief transforms into compassion for her errant lover.
Belarbi matches her total immersion in the role with his sorrowful repentance,
their duets becoming a poem of regret. Although technically Maurin was
barely up there with the best, emotionally she was in a class of her own.
It was a performance to cherish; a reminder of how great artists can uplift
Edited by Jeff
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