Online from the Palais Garnier, Paris
January 27, 2021
The opening credits run over a splendid view of the glorious Palais Garnier. So far, so normal. Except that it isn’t. This is late January not September and, being in the midst of the pandemic, there are no audience members shuffling to their seats, chatting or waving programmes, and the orchestra sit apart.
Some things remain very familiar, though. The evening, which marked the return of the dancers to the Garnier stage after months away, opened as always with the famous Paris défilé, even if the modern petits rats are all masked. On and on they come, the stately walk a prelude to learning the drill, placing and discipline of the corps. The adults follow, acknowledging the unseen viewers with their reverences.
It is strangely moving and simultaneously defiant. The men in particular seem like anti-automata, relentlessly pacing on, sans audience but with half an orchestra. Still, ballet has survived wars and revolutions and surely won’t let a global virus get in its way. I confess that I welled up when the principals solemnly came to the apron and took their curtain, the sound of the crew chatting the background and the noise of the cloth coming in echoing round the empty auditorium.
Choreographed by Victor Gsovsky, an émigré who was ballet master of post-war Opéra Ballet, and danced by étoiles Valentine Colasante and Hugo Marchand to music by Daniel-François-Esprit Auber with costumes by Chanel, the Grand Pas classique is a pas de deux in the grand tradition.
There is a wonderful moment where Colasante pauses in épaulement as she is walking upstage to look coquettishly through her port de bras in 5th en haute, then executes a series of solid balances and neat pirouettes. Marchand shines literally and figuratively in a sequinned tunic, dancing with aplomb and precision, with a fair deal of balon thrown in for good measure.
Jerome Robbins often travelled to Paris to stage his ballets for the company, In the Night being one of the ballets staged at the tribute to the choreographer following his death in 1998. Presented here with the more recent costumes designed by Anthony Dowell, it is a delicious look at mature love. It is also danced faultlessly.
A starry backcloth slowly illuminates as Ludmila Pagliero and Mathieu Ganio walk slowly backwards onto the stage. Their pas de deux is elegiac, full of longing and anticipation that is magnified by the mounting passion of Chopin’s music. The dance is almost courtly. Fingertips reach to almost touch before they meet in a brief embrace only to part again before, finally, he carries her off.
The second pas de deux sees danced by Léonore Baluac (in a role created by Violette Verdy) and Germain Louvet in gorgeous bronze costumes, suggestive of a medieval tapestry. This is an assured love, full of soft gestures and supported balances; a summer romance in spite of the autumnal colours.
In the third and final duet, Alice Renavand dodges Stephane Bullion’s attempted kisses. She’s tempestuous, launching at him only to tear herself away again. Fingers teasingly reach out but never grasp, her hand suddenly being snatched away. But then she succumbs, walking her hands down his body, abasing herself at his feet, and finally allowing herself to be carried off.
…and now for something completely different! William Forsythe’s The Vertiginous Thrill Of Exactitude is a joyous, bouncing piece of fun. Stephane Galloway gives the women acid yellow tutus with small, rigid plates like figures from The Triadic Ballet, and the men purple shorts and tops that shockingly reveal bare backs when they turn. And turn they do, not to mention bouncing into second position and even throwing in the odd gargouliade! Well, why should the women have all the fun?
Not that Forsythe doesn’t give the women plenty to do too. They never seem to stop. Feet flicker in and out from like the forked tongues of questing serpents. What a wonderful finale to this gala of hope and defiance.
This is a programme so made for applause that the void makes it all the more telling and increases the longing for the day when we can go back, not only to sitting in a theatre to watch such galas live, but to taking it for granted.
The Paris Opera Ballet Opening Gala 2020-21 can be watched at chezsoi.operadeparis.fr