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Flash News & Analysis, 3-10: Not Back to the Future
Lefevre Gives Paris Opera Ballet a Modern Overhaul; but is she Relegating its Past to the Dustbin of History?

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By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2004 The Dance Insider

PARIS -- In the United States, Pina Bausch, Merce Cunningham, Trisha Brown, Laurie Anderson and Jerome Bel are names more commonly associated with contemporary performance than ballet. But they'll rule the Paris Opera Ballet's two houses in the 2004-2005 season announced yesterday by the Opera. Absent from next season, as it has been this one, is any announced tribute to the POB's -- and ballet's -- beloved mother, Marie Taglioni, during this bicentennial year of her birth. (The Ballet will close this season with Pierre Lacotte's reconstruction of Philippe Taglioni's "La Sylphide.")

The season opens rather tepidly September 22 with a mixed program including a new piece by Bel, "Veronique Doisneau," Harald Lander's snorer "Etudes," and "Glass Pieces," not the most remarkable piece in the repertoire of Jerome Robbins. Balanchine's "Sonatine" will also be performed the first evening. Audiences will have to wait until late May 2005 for Bausch's 1975 "Orphee and Eurydice," a full production featuring the Balthasar-Neumann Ensemble & Choir.

In December, Trisha Brown, whose "Glacial Decoy" entered the POB rep. this season, presents a new, as yet untitled work to a commissioned score by Laurie Anderson, on a program with "Glacial Decoy," William Forsythe's "Pas./Parts" and Francine Lancelot's "Bach Suite." Brown's fellow New Yorker Merce Cunningham follows in January 2005, the MC Dance Company performing at the Garnier as a guest of the POB.

Not to be forgotten in this house, Angelin Preljocaj shows up in November on an all-AP program including a premiere to a commissioned score by Mauro Lanza and the 2001 "MC 14 / 22, 'ceci est mon corps'." The season offers four classical story ballets, including Nureyev's "Romeo & Juliette" and "Cinderella" and his staging of Petipa's "Sleeping Beauty," as well as John Neumeier's more modernist "Sylvia."

More recent classics close the season in July, with an all-Roland Petit program of "L'Arlesienne," "Le Jeune Homme et la Mort," and "Carmen."

The season is rounded out, or rather taken down a notch or two, by the return of two bombs from recent years: POB principal dancer Kader Belarbi's overly-wraught and underly-choreographed evening-length "Hurlevent" ("Wuthering Heights") and Laura Scozzi's middling resurrection of "The Seven Deadly Sins" (on a program with premieres from Susanne Linke and Michèle Noiret), the latter one of those ballets that makes viewers expound, "Am I really seeing this at the Paris Opera House?"

I'm picking on these two ballets because it seems that there are significant gaps in this season which could be easily filled by disposing of them, as well as "Etudes." Over lunch yesterday, a Paris colleague complained that the line-up is 90 percent modern. From a New York perspective, anyway, I find it refreshing to be able to find Pina Bausch and (two works!) Trisha Brown being performed by my resident, and major, ballet company. Oh how the dancers and audiences of New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre could be enriched and challenged by repertoire like this!

But my colleague is right to be concerned by the total lack of romantic repertoire in the season -- this from the company which introduced it, and in the bicentennial year of the single dancer most credited with its development. She's also right to fret about the absence (not counting the "Sonatine" one-off) of any Balanchine ballets. Are we to remember Balanchine only in his centennial year? Are we to forget Taglioni in her bicentennial? An evening-length romantic ballet could easily have been substituted for the transient "Hurlevent"; Balanchine's "Seven Deady Sins" -- which premiered here in 1933 -- could have been substituted for Scozzi's embarassing tribute to it or, if it proved unresurrectable, another suitable Balanchine contribution could have been found; and what if instead of the creaky "Etudes," Lefevre had decided to open the season by programming the company's latest attempted nouvelle vague, Bel, with a reconstruction of "Le Papillon," the ballet co-authored by Taglioni, and/or Dolin's (or even a reconstruction of Perrot's) "Pas de Quatre"?

Brigitte Lefevre is to be commended for stretching the horizons of the Paris dancers and audience towards the future. But surely, her devotion at the alter of the Now would not have been diluted if she had reinforced her company's and her art's past, whose preservation reminds the world that dance is not ephemeral but does have a canon. If we don't preserve that canon, how can we expect others to respect our art?

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