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Review Journal, 6-19: Cripples
Stirring Spectacle from Aurelie Dupont and Raimond Hoghe
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2003 The Dance Insider
PARIS -- She's been
out with an injury since September, but it took only one night to
remind the Paris Opera Ballet audience that Aurelie Dupont remains
the company's reigning ballerina, a dancer who communicates not
by flourishing fouettes but by a presence of body and soul that
engages her audience as surely as it pushes her surrounding players
beyond themselves. The ballet was Kenneth MacMillan's 1974 "Manon"
(to music by Massenet), the occasion was technically part of the
international MacMillan celebration, but most of all, Tuesday's
performance at the Garnier celebrated the transformative power of
Despite the havoc wreaked
on the men who swirl around her like moths to flame, Manon, as envisioned
by Abbe Prevost in his 1731 "L'Histoire de Chevalier Des Grieux
et de Manon Lescaut" and by MacMillan, is essentially guileless.
It takes a guileless ballerina to portray her truly, sidestepping
a narrative which might imply contrivance: She falls as easily into
a liaison with the young des Grieux as she is then lured away from
his bed by the jewels and furs (not to mention a handsome present
to her brother, Lescaut) offered by Monsieur de G.M., before returning
to des Grieux. Coaxed by Manon and Lescaut, des Grieux cheats at
cards against Monsieur de G.M. the ruse is discovered, Lescaut shot
and killed, and Manon sent off to a penal colony in New Orleans
with Lescaut following as her 'husband.' He rescues her from the
grasps of a lecherous jailer, only to see her die, exhausted, in
As in her mentally retarded
in Mats Ek's version of the ballet of the same name, Dupont uses
her radiant innocence, this time to help us see the story from Manon's
innocent perspective. She eagerly accepts M. de G.M.'s furs and
his embrace, but can't depart with him without stopping to smell
the sheets on which she and des Grieux have just made love. Of course
that's MacMillan's choreography, but we believe it because Dupont
makes it a private, not melodramatic moment. When she accepts Lescaut's
suggestion to enlist des Grieux in the rigged poker game, handing
him some cards to hide in a pocket, it's after she's re-accepted
him as her lover, thus the poker game seems a practical way to give
them some means before she deserts M. de G.M. In the end, when she
tries to keep up with des Grieux as they flee the authorities, running
up and down the stage after him with flagging strength, it's as
much to please him as to save her own skin. And, demonstrating the
way Dupont invests her whole body, not just legs arms and face with
a character and an action, we see her exhaustion not through feint
steps but a limpness gradually spreading through all her muscles.
The couple is fleeing
because des Grieux has just stabbed the magistrate as he made moves
on Manon. This deed is not just accepted as a fait accompli by Manon,
who returns to and lingers over the body in disbelief that he's
dead, a regret -- not just that they're in trouble, but that he's
killed a man -- that infects des Grieux as well.
And here's the other
marker of a true ballerina that Dupont demonstrates: upping the
ante for her fellows. Dupont's des Grieux Tuesday fell to Jean-Guillaume
Bart, a principal with a clean form but who all-too-often displays
an anti-septic aspect. Opposite (and reacting to) Dupont, what normally
seems lack of expression came across as tense, struggling containment,
for example as a flustered des Grieux weaves around the parlor of
the bordello where the bejeweled Manon and M. de G.M. have appeared.
Or when, kneeling downstage center as the curtain falls, he cradles
the just-expired Manon in his arms and across his lap and we see
his lips move in agony as he keans over her death.
Also upping the anti
-- in perhaps the most important role, kinetically -- was Kader
Belarbi as Lescaut. After he enters the bordello with des Grieux
already inebriated, what ensues in Lescaut's duet with his mistress
(Stephanie Romberg) is not slapstick but, really, a study in the
importance of timing and balance to partnering.
is marked on stage by stumbling and perhaps a goofy expression.
But MacMillan -- and Belarbi understands this -- uses it to retard
the whole body and show the effect this has on the partnering. For
example, too late to catch her gracefully, he ends up scooping his
partner up by her armpits with the crooks of his elbows. Walter
Terry, in his "Ballet Guide" (Popular Library, 1977), describes
this duet as "a brilliantly constructed fusion of virtuosic ballet
technique with virtuosic lurchings, falls, and totterings in a scene
which seems to call for the introduction of a new term into the
ballet vocabulary: grand pas d'ivresse (drunkeness)."
With all due credit
for this interpretation to the veteran Belarbi -- who originated
the role when the ballet entered the Paris Opera Ballet repertoire
in 1990 -- the precision of this duet, or the ballet's retaining
it, obviously owes something to Monica Parker, the Benesh notator
(and head of the Benesh organization) who staged it this time around,
assisted by Patricia Ruanne, a former partner to and rehearsal director
for Nureyev. Thus we have yet another demonstration of how critical
dance notation is to retaining choreographic nuance and the choreographer's
intentions. Belarbi learned the role from MacMillan, but future
generations won't have that opportunity, and notation makes sure
correct interpretation is not left to chance.
Speaking of altered bodily states, Raimond Hoghe doesn't hide the
hump on his back, so it's appropriate to began a consideration of
his lecture-performance last week at the Menagerie de verre with
the way that hump affects his carriage. In fact, it makes it hard
to take your eyes of him. I'm not speaking just of when he takes
his shirt off, turns his back to us, and scales around and over
the hump with a green ruler-sized stick. But it adds a lilt to his
gait that makes even a perambulation of the circumference of the
menagerie's concrete space, with no prop but a magnifying glass,
The magnifying glass,
and a doll-house (shades of Dan Hurlin) complete with lawn introduced
later, suggest Hoghe is trying to say something about perspective.
But the most disturbing is not the way he looks, but rather, how
he appears to look at the way he looks. In a section set to Yiddish
singer Joseph Schmidt, Hoghe tells us he identifies with Schmidt,
persecuted by the Nazis because they didn't like his size, because
Hoghe is small too. Before showing an excerpt of a piece on the
effects of AIDS on the body, he 'acknowledges' that he is not beautiful.
Paradoxically, and after
insisting that this is 'not therapy,' the way he then caresses his
naked back with the stick (after telling us some Asian arts use
the stick to circumscribe the performing space) indicates that in
fact, he's quite at home with his body, whatever he may think of
its aesthetic appeal.
gait -- clearly dictated by how the large hump skews his spinal
column and/or hips, and it is large -- takes even an ordinary piece
of silliness such as a '60s-style go-go dance and makes it magical.
(The music -- recordings by Edith Piaf, Cass Elliot, Josephine Baker,
Marlene Dietrich, Dalida, Jacques Brel, and others -- also helps.)
Just before this performance,
I'd been worrying over how now that little chunks of my teeth seem
to be falling off monthly, nobody would ever love me. (There's that
growing liberty paunch, too; running, even all the way up the stairs
to Sacre Coeur, doesn't really help you lose weight if you reward
yourself with a chocolate-almond-pistachio patisserie.) But after
I left this performance -- in which a man so obviously beautiful
seemed to think he wasn't -- and made my way to the Grands Boulevards,
suddenly I was a chick magnet. A diner stopped conversing with her
date to stare at me; a beautiful biker stopped in-flight to flirt.
Dance, and its interpreters, as both Dupont and Hoghe reminded me,
has the power to impress us not just with the beauty and expression
of the dancer's body but the beauty of our own bodies, in all their
expressions, and with all their idiosyncrasies.
Aurelie Dupont -- catch
her while you can, dance insider! -- interprets the title role of
"Manon" again Sunday afternoon at the Garnier Opera House, with
the same lead cast. Because of a national day of strikes, tonight's
performances of "Manon" at the Garnier and the "Spectacle de Ballets"
by Maurice Bejart at the Bastille may be cancelled. For updates,
in France call 01 44 61 59 63. Raimond Hoghe performed as part of
the Inaccoutumes 15 festival, which continues tonight at the Menagerie
de verre with Myriam Gourfink.
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