featured photo
The Kitchen
Brought to you by
Body Wrappers;
New York Flash Review Sponsor
the New York manufacturer of fine dance apparel for women and girls. Click here to see a sample of our products and a list of web sites for purchasing.
With Body Wrappers it's always
performance at its best.

Go back to Flash Reviews
Go Home

Flash Review Journal, 10-3: Return of the Ballerina
Guerin Illumines Ballet; Forsythe Asphyxiates it; Autumn Festival Exalts Korea

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2002 The Dance Insider

PARIS -- With one pointed foot and a pair of eloquent arms, propelled by one powerful heart, invited Paris Opera etoile Isabel Guerin delivered a rousing reminder last night at the Garnier that Ballet is never dead; all it requires to live is a dancer as able to display her fragility as her agility and as compassionate as she is fierce. A week after William Forsythe foisted his own brand of anti-ballet pretension on the city where so much of the foundation of ballet was laid, Guerin, returning to the stage where she has touched so many hearts for 25 years, brought ballet back home to that foundation: It's the pointe, with a little help from the arms and a major investment from the soul.

The foundation for last night's refresher course from Guerin was the mixed (in both senses of the word) Roland Petit/Jerome Robbins program with which the Paris Opera Ballet has opened its season at the Garnier. If I could Flash only a single moment from the evening, it would be when Guerin's Vivette, in Petit's "L'Arlesienne," enters to discover her fiance Frederi (Nicolas Le Riche) crumpled in a tight fetal position, and immediately rises on pointe, her toes shooting a heart-rending quiver through her whole body, and our bodies too.

But a ballerina doesn't just react; she acts. She represents not just vulnerability, but strength. The story of this 1994 38-minute ballet (to Bizet) -- which might be a bit hard to follow without reading the program notes -- revolves around Frederi's struggle between the bright future represented by his union with Vivette, his childhood sweetheart, and his failure to wrench his heart from the Arlesienne who broke it. (About all we can figure out about her was that she was a gypsy-type vamp, judging by the tambourines which kick in whenever Frederi starts to imitate her.) Petit's choreography is often so hammy that only earnest and honest dancers can pull it from the quicksand of melodrama and maybe even mine some emotional truths. What he provides the male lead here is pretty two-dimensional: We know he's retracted to his past love by the way he stands downstage left staring blankly out into the audience, and by the way he resists being tugged back into his present bliss by Vivette. ("VIVEtte" -- get it?) (Though Le Riche does nicely and honestly milk one moment where he awakes from his past obsession and embraces Vivette before tumbling back into the nightmare.)

Le Riche possesses the ferocity to depict a character's rapid decline with the directions Petit provides: Look to the right, look to the left, extending arms accordingly; jete around the room very fast (after you have been roused from impending madness just enough to help Vivette, equally roused from descending sorrow to the practical task, divest you of your shirt so we can see the sweat bubbles), then jump to your death out the open French window which has conveniently appeared upstage center, rather blatantly telegraphing what's about to happen. But for the quieter moments, it gets repetitive: stare downstage, stare upstage, resist the tuggings of Vivette, when you do lift her do so only mechanically.

It's Vivette -- but really, I suspect it's Guerin, who originated the role at the Paris Opera Ballet -- who provides in her small gestures the naturalness and credibility that Petit's broad strokes work against. Overall, what we see on her face and in her body is that she is losing him. We see this most hauntingly in a motif, executed blissfully at the beginning and with a foreboding of finality at the end, where she places his head on her outstretched palms. But the sorrow she feels is not a selfish one -- that she is losing her lover to another -- but that someone she cares so deeply about is slipping away -- not just from her, but from the world. It's this type of generous compassion, when we see it in story ballets, that makes an insular story universal. Frederi is lost, but we are saved by the profound impression of this compassion.

Unlike Petit, Jerome Robbins, in his "abstract" ballets, is working with less tangible material. Robbins does provide material that reaches across the footlights, giving dancers the choreography to communicate the most subtle, undefinable emotional experiences of our memories -- especially when he's working on Chopin. "Other Dances," including on Guerin, partnered a few years ago by Damian Woetzel at the New York City Ballet -- has previously struck me as a divertissement performed for friends, by friends. It won't be news to many of you that this extended pas de deux essays a relationship. What Guerin and POB's other Robbins expert, Manuel Legris, brought out last night were the historical contours of that relationship. Sure, Robbins provides some of the obvious indications; the woman's soft rush to where the man has exited in the middle of her first variation, or the man's looking at the ground to remember, perhaps, some of the trying experiences this couple has been through, and his easy looks to the sky and out beyond the proscenium to reverie in the good times. But the resonance of some phrases depends more on the dancers: When Guerin promenades down the center, it's not the lightness of her pas de bourrees as she descends the raked stage, but the the way she regards the space under her undulating arms that makes them encase and enfold all this couple's history, all of it ultimately exhilarating.

Robbins's effectiveness is not just in such potentially ample phrasing, but, of course, in his choice use of the vernacular. In the final pas de deux, watching the curtsies and the face your partners and the circle your partners, I had a Flashback to my grandparents, taking up square dancing in their sixties. Robbins, then, provides plenty for the critics, dancers, and general public, and etoiles like Guerin and Legris, who can dance but who have also clearly lived, are best able to get this across. In fact, recalling Lourdes Lopez suddenly returned to grandeur in the twilight of her New York City Ballet career in the arms of Nikolaj Hubbe and the 1997 choreography of Robbins for "Brandenburg," it also strikes me that a Jerome Robbins 3, along the lines of Netherlands Danse Theater III, would be in order to enable veteran senior dancers like Guerin and Legris to continue to interpret the ballets after company rules force them to retire.

Elsewhere on this program, briefly: Eleanor Abbagnato continues to find nuance in the most archly drawn characters. First it was her tormented, lost Chosen One in Pina Bausch's "Rite of Spring" at the Opera last season. Dancing a more predatory chosen one last night in Robbins's 1951 "The Cage" (also to Stravinsky), Abbagnato used her body to highlight the ambivalence of the Novice, as she struggles between her primal desire to devour Yann Bridard's male intruder and her heart's to succumb to his wiles: She charges towards him with her mouth open and her arms crouched in prey -- only to soften her back as she turns it to him and he puts her arms around her. Abbagnato's accomplishment is all the more impressive because last night, she struggled pretty much alone between these two poles; Bridard played more goofy than charming, while Stephanie Romberg, in her debut as the Queen of this hive, was nigh invisible.

Petit's 1994 "Passacaille" was a challenging choice for a program designed, according to the notes, to showcase the musicality of these two choreographic giants. Petit's grid is as elaborate as that of the Anton Webern music, but they don't match -- or, at least, they don't match seamlessly enough for the dancers to let go and not look like they're so pre-occupied with remembering the steps that most of the time they seemed to dance at a remove from the music.

....At least for Petit, the steps are still the main thing! In the evolving world of William Forsythe, dance steps seem to be retreating into the background, or at least isolated nooks of the stage, as Forsythe becomes more and more fascinated with text. For a company with "ballet" in its name -- in this case the Ballett Frankfurt -- text is fine insofar as it lends texture and provides a vehicle to dance, or even as an equal partner. But in "Kammer/Kammer," created in 2000 and which received its Paris premiere last week at the Theatre National de Chaillot, the text, the three television screens arrayed across the front of the stage, the bombastic sound, and a stage partitioned so that it is harder to see than to hear combine to diminish the dance to insignificant proportions. If I want Catherine Deneuve idolatry, there are plenty of other places in France (not to mention the U.S.) where I can find it without having it foisted on me by a ballet company. (The text included Anne Carson's "Essay on my life as Catherine Deneuve.") And what about respect for the other arts? As a dancer, Dana Caspersen is a virtuosa, as pliable and smart a muse as Forsythe could hope for. And because she has the work ethic of a dancer, she is able to deliver a spot-on imitation of the legendary French actress. But what have we come to when, instead of showing Forsythe's latest experiments with the body, such a dancer is fitted up in a two piece suit and high-heeled boots and trots around giving a monologue? In his search for his personal telos, William Forsythe the choreographer has lost his way and forgotten where he started. As an artist, he's certainly welcome -- indeed should be encouraged -- to forage in (for him) new terrain. But I think I understand a little better now why the city of Frankfurt might have tired of a ballet company directed by a choreographer who seems less and less interested in, well, choreography.

...."Kammer/Kammer"'s presentation in Paris was a co-presentation with the Festival d'Automne a Paris, but I am too delighted with the Festival's opening presentation, "Korea 2002," to be mad at it. A massive, two-month, cross-genre mini-festival occupying six theaters across Paris through November 18, "Korea 2002" encompasses mask dance, chant, ritual, opera and more. Last week at Theatre du Chatelet -- where Nijinsky and the Ballets Russes thrilled Parisians a hundred years ago -- Court and Popular Dances of Korea thrilled audiences again. As the Dance Insider audience knows, "ethnic" dance is often ghettoized, when, in fact, it should be exalted because it's the dance that most people can relate to, rooted as it is in folk. That Paris, or at least the Autumn Festival, esteems it is evident in the choice of such an ornate and dance-appropriate venue for the Court and Popular Dances, with its ancient cherry wood and velvet seating.

What amazed ignorant me was the catholicity of the dances, and how much they have in common with the Western dance spectrum. In "Salpuri, danse de chamane," Keum-san Hong floated with an ethereality any sylph would do well to emulate. And it wasn't just a trick of her gossamer, neck to foot gown, but the stillness in her body, bent just slightly at the waste and with her head regarding the earth as a marvel. Indeed, Hong seemed to be presiding over a charmed swamp. But the virtuoso of the evening was Byeong-jae Choi, in long white sleeves and white hood, contracting with a steadfastness -- and from the most difficult, sideways V starting position -- that even a Graham dancer might envy. Patience comes to mind as the best way to describe how Choi surveyed the terrain, from the space around him to the ground beneath, before finally making his way to the large drum that hung from a stand upstage left, and beating it with steadily increasing, though never frenetic, speed. This dance, "Seungmu, danse de moine" and the ensemble "Hallyungmu, danse des lettres" reminded that Korean dance is far from the sole province of women. In the latter, several men in sort-of cowboy hats displayed both poise and restrained ferocity. Still, the final "Ganggangsullae, farandole" with its stream of women in blue-green chiffon dance-playing in chain and other patterns while two others chanted, concluded the evening with irresistible innocence.

For both the Paris Opera and Korean Dance presentations, music more than enabled the proceedings: (Cowboy) hats off to the ensemble of musicians who accompanied the Korean Court and Popular Dances, and to the vivacious Orchestre de l'Opera national de Paris, lead by the energetic Paul Connelly. The orchestra received a well-deserved round of applause from Le Riche at the curtain call, as did Guerin and Le Riche from the dancers backstage after the curtain fell.

Where and when to see:

Invited Etoile Isabel Guerin -- catch her while you can, Dance Insider (and lobby for her to dance Robbins in NYC with the New York City Ballet!) -- and etoile Manuel Legris perform "Other Dances" at the Garnier again Friday. On Saturday, Guerin switches roles with Abbagnato, the former dancing the Novice in "The Cage" and the latter "Other Dances."

Upcoming events in Korea 2002 include "Eunyul Talchum," Theatre and Mask Dances, October 21 to 24 at the Theatre des Abbesses. Next up in the Automn Festival is "Small Hands," the latest duet for Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker, this time opposite Cynthia Loemij, which opens tonight at the Maison des Arts in the suburb of Creteil and plays through Saturday. (Metro: Cretiel-Prefecture). For more information on the Festival, please visit its web site.


Go back to Flash Reviews
Go Home