Paris Opera Ballet's Chicago visit

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Monday, July 2, 2012 - 5:08pm

The Paris Opera Ballet's US tour beginning in Chicago was  a groundbreaking decision between Chicago's Department of Cultural Affairs and the Paris Opera. The company touched down in our fair city last week, and sparked a flurry of activity and city-wide cultural appreciation. From a Wednesday night simulcast of Giselle to 13,000 spectators in Millenium Park, to master classes and special orchestra concerts, the city was awash in the City of Light. Mayor Emanuel, a devoted arts patron and former dancer, has thrust Chicago onto the world stage with a single Paris Opera visit, four years in the making. The company dazzled us with their strong technique and brilliant artistry, and have forever changed this city and our standing and perceptions to the rest of the world as a cultural ambassador.

Giselle: A review

Though Giselle was created in 1841 by Jean Coralli, specifically for the Paris Opera, I would have expected the ballet to feel like home for the company. I didn't feel that way. It is one of my all time favorite ballets, and I've seen the world's best companies perform it including the Kirov Ballet and American Ballet Theatre, but my least favorite performance was Paris Opera's. Here are my reasons:

  • Giselle showcases more dramatic skill than technical skill, unlike a ballet like Swan Lake which showcases both equally. I didn't find Giselle (Clairemarie Osta) to be entirely believable. She should have a girlish naivete in the first act, and a somewhat cold, yet also loving demeanor in the second. Even in the first act's famous mad scene in which she breaks down after finding out tha her beloved is a royal engaged to a princess, could have had a little more oomph.
  •  I took issue with the women's pirouettes and chaines in both acts to not be as tight as they could have been. On the other hand, the men's leaps were vertiginous, and rivaled that of Russian dancers Farouk Ruzimatov and Irek Mukhamedov. 
  • For some reason, Act 1 seemed especially long; it may have been because I was not mesmerized or moved by the dancing.
  • A classical ballet company is very much judged on its corp de ballet. I often found that members of the corps weren't in sync, and that's absolutely key in a classical ballet. They should be strong if a principal dancer isn't, and they should be strong when a principal dancer is strong too. They enhance the rest of the company. There was something lacking there.
  • There were a few missteps that should have been avoided with practice, enough rosin on pointe shoes, and familiarity with the Harris Theater's stage. But there were still mistakes that could have been considered inexcusable. However, they were few and far between--noticeable nonetheless.

 But of course, there were many highlights: pas de bourees that actually mimicked floating was one of them. This seemingly easy movement can so often look clunky and heavy instead of light and conveyor belt-ish. The POB dancers nailed it. Another highlight was the way the veils of the wilis were magically lifted in unison. There were no strings or props visible which added to the mystical nature of a Giselle act 2. All of the above being said, I still found the ballet to be quite enjoyable. After all, it is still Giselle--a timeless ballet classic much beloved by almost every balletomane out there.

Epic French Masterpieces: A review

I love to see classical companies perform contemporary pieces. Why? Well, many times contemporary pieces are plotless and showcase a dancer as a real person (or a real person with supreme technical mastery). That's why I believe Epic French Masterpieces is where the Paris Opera stars shone so bright. It's a shame there was no simulcast of this program.

The program began with Serge Lifar's Suite en Blanc, a plotless ballet danced to the music of Edouard Lalo. This, too, was a piece created for the POB in 1943. To me, it was reminiscent of a Balanchine ballet in that it did not have a story line, and was made up of pas de deuxs, solos and corps pieces a la Balanchine's Jewels series. It was made up of eight separate dance vignettes with brilliant white classical and romantic costuming. Because the focus was on the individuals dancing instead of the story, I could see how amazingly skilled and acrobatic these dancers were. The piece begins with all of the dancers on stage as if captured in a picture, and ends the same way. What a great way to start the program.

L'Arlesienne is set to music by Georges Bizet, and choreagraphed by Roland Petit. This one had a bit of a plot about two lovers, one of which was a philanderer. While watching, the ballet felt eerily familiar. It reminded me of Fiddler on the Roof crossed with Carmen. And of course, that could be because the composer is Carmen's Bizet. This was a love story at its core, and that was very apparent in the tugging, hugging and kissing of the lovers. Though it wasn't my favorite piece, it was definitely worth seeing. The acting chops the dancers displayed was much more believable than that of Giselle. The period costumes added to the charm of this ballet.

Maurice Ravel's familiar score, that Spanish-style marching tune, was the background for Bolero, a barefoot ballet taking place around a semi-circle. If you've ever seen Ohad Naharin's contemporary piece, Minus 16, you can understand what Bolero looks like on stage. This was a great ending to an already stellar program because it was captivating. Bolero consists of a single woman dancing in the center with a leotard and leggings, and shirtless men surrounding her in the semi-circle. For much of the performance, the men sat in chairs while the woman passionately and powerfully stared down and danced to her audience--the men surrounding her and those of us in the theater. Her role required unrelenting strength and lazor-sharp concentration considering that most of her movements are based off a somewhat ball-change back and forth foot movement, in tempo with the percussive score's 3/4 time. How she managed not to miss a step, I don't know, but it was wonderful. The piece also showcased the athletic bodies and physical strength of the dancers, something that's often forgotten when watching what looks like effortless classical ballet. 

The POB visit was certainly a boon for our city, and if you missed either of the two programs, that's a pity. However, if you're up for a bit of travel, they will be doing a two-week stint in New York, and will end with D.C. You definitely should not miss them. It is a rarity that they're ever in the States, and we're truly grateful that they got around to us this time. 


*I was invited to attend the Paris Opera's performances as a member of the press.*

jgaither's picture
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