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Review 2, 4-28: La Petite Danseuse
Advice to Tourists: There's Better Choreography at the Crazy Horse
than in Latest Opera Creation
By Katharine Kanter
Copyright 2003 Katharine Kanter
PARIS -- Squinting darkly
at my watch, as I stood against a wall on the fourth floor of the
Palais Garnier Sunday waiting for the Release Bell to ring at 5
p.m., my heart rose as a chorus of loud "Boo!"s greeted the Paris
Opera Ballet's latest "creation," Patrice Bart's "La Petite Danseuse
Rarely does one see
anything in the national theater so blatantly commercial as this
particular widdle girl's wet dweam. Don't ask me to put that in
plain English. It would be rude. From the nonsensical tourist-trap
libretto onwards, this is a 100% commercial undertaking, lacking
all inner artistic necessity.
Be polite, girl: Yes,
the sets and costumes are first-rate. And, save for the Act I scene
in the ballet studio, which is cluttered, the stage has been quite
masterfully blocked, the groupings using the full resources of the
very large Garnier stage. And yes, the "externals" and the use of
footlights do create the illusion of a time-warp. Until one hears
the music, and people start to dance.
First, the music, by
Denis Levaillant. Whether Patrice Bart, the choreographer, can read
a score, we do not know, but had he scanned through this special
commission, rather than waiting for the piano reduction -- by which
time it was too late -- he would have realised that the score was
a waste of time. It has no true rhythmic structure, so you don't
know when to plie, when to push off, nor does it have anything even
remotely resembling a melodic line, so that you could at least "soar
over the line." As one of the players put it: "musique d'ascenseur"
Muzak to listen to in the lift.
Second, the choreography.
M. Bart's recent and maniacal "Coppelia"
should have been ample warning to management that the gentleman
cannot compose. But no warning, it seems, is ample enough these
days. Within a single bar of music, he manages to cram in about
five times as many steps as would be needful, elegant, or physiologically
sound. Saint Vitus Dance, people scurrying about the stage as though
they were flea-bitten.
Third, the style, or
rather lack of it. The libretto tells us, as do the sets and costumes,
that we are in the period of Degas. I seem to recall that at the
time, there was epaulement in every step, and that accordingly,
no one picked up the leg. M. Bart has nevertheless choreographed
his frenzied variations in such a way that, even were his dancers
to attempt epaulement, there would be no time for it, and he has
allowed the girls to pick up the leg. As for the pas de deux, all
Gozeizovksi-style one-arm lifts, they fairly shriek ANACHRONISM
When the Royal Theatre
came down from Copenhagen six or so years ago, and danced Bournonville's
"Conservatoire" so very dreadfully on this stage, they were laughed
out of town, only Thomas Lund surviving the general debacle. The
scene in the studio with ballet master and violinist (they were
one and the same in those days, but, passons), is probably intended
to be a souped-up hot roadster "tribute" to the Conservatoire, from
Those who Truly Know. But when taken out of context, danced without
epaulement, and to the wrong music, the pas courus and other steps
typical of the old French School become trite and inconsequent.
Time and again, I have
asked: With such fatuous choreography around, why can't we bring
down a few ballets from Denmark, and let the people to DANCE for
Heaven's sake ? But no, the Gods and Goddesses on Mount Olympus
know ever-so-much better.
As for the cast, it
was all, down to a man, typecast: Unhappy Jean-Guillaume Bart (no
relation to the choreographer), typecast as the Ballet Master, danced
to death by the other Bart's steps. Agnes Letestu typecast as the
Ballerina, though that lady's technique is falling apart (watch
her pirouettes a la seconde to understand why). Patrice Bart's favourite
dancer, Yann Saiz, typecast as the mad-dog nihilist abonne. Stephanie
Romberg typecast as a music-hall moxie. Elisabeth Maurin typecast
as the entremetteuse mamma, and Laetita Pujol typecast (though she
was, I must say, absolutely wonderful) in the "perverse innocent"'s
Banal in the extreme,
the choreography for the corps de ballet, the pits being the final
tableau of washerwomen twirling amongst the sheets. I was laughing
outright, and it was not a pleasant laugh.
The dancers do what
they can to rescue the thing. These theatrical artists hold the
equivalent of what, in the academic world, would be a PhD, and they
have vigorously applied their science to the problem. To no avail.
This ballet is one turkey ripe for the chopping block.
Taxpayer's money, by
the way. Some might find this communistic, but I happen to be a
perfervid believer in State subsidy to a worthwhile cause, and in
my little book, the classical theater is high up there, along with
railways and roads, schools and hospitals, as a worthwhile cause.
But if this sort of rubbish -- like the recent "Appartement,"
-- is allowed to invade the boards, expect an austerity-driven government
to lower the boom with no public outcry. I repeat: With no public
outcry. Will anyone recognize Danger when it is staring one in the
Katharine Kanter has contributed to Dance Now, Ibykus, Ballet.co
and BalletAlert. She also edits the web page A Society for the Advancement
of the Ideas of Auguste Vestris. To visit the page, please click
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