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Flash Review, 6-14: Bleak Streak
Pina and the Paris Opera Jettison a Happy Ending

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2005 The Dance Insider

PARIS -- Literally and spiritually, ballet uplifts. This doesn't exclude tragedies from its canon. Tragedies, after all, offer a catharsis for the spectator even as they are frying the protagonist. So they can still uplift, even if the spectator sometimes has to work at it. But Brigitte Lefevre, the dance director of the Paris Opera, is not so interested in uplifting. If one is to judge by her programming of the ballet season -- particularly this one -- Lefevre is more interested in pummeling the public with a bleak vision of the world which doesn't necessarily hold out the promise of redemption. (It's an agenda with which Opera general director Gerard Mortier apparently concurs; the program for this season was illustrated by nihilistic Bill Viola photos.) But Lefevre has really outdone herself with the Ballet's latest offering, a 1975 production of Gluck's "Orpheus and Eurydice" -- seen Friday at the Garnier -- in which the director-choreographer, Pina Bausch, has lopped off the creator's intended happy ending.

Actually, the Paris Opera also lopped off the credit for the libretto, which should go to Raniero di Calzabigi. The story he and Gluck told in the 1762 opera has Amour taking pity on Orpheus after Eurydice dies a second time, and resurrecting her for a reunion, so moved is Amour by his lament. Bausch ends with the lament, punctuated by a brief chorus. If she preferred this finish, she should have picked a different version of the opera or she and the Paris Opera Ballet should have said she was directing and choreographing her own version, to selections of the Gluck music. But what they promised was the Gluck opera, albeit as an "opera dance."

How on Earth can you promise an audience you're presenting a work, and then change the ending? How can you do that to a creator? How can you disrespect the author and his rights? But then, it doesn't seem that the Paris Opera Ballet is all that interested in giving the libretto equal footing with Bausch's dance. While the production is advertised as an "opera dance," no super-titles are offered for the German book, according the textual elements of the opera a secondary status -- no matter how sincerely uttered by the soloist singers, particularly Elisabeth Kulman as Orpheus, in Friday's cast. Words matter, and yet to Bausch or at least the Paris Opera Ballet, which decided not to offer a (French) translation, it's not so important that we understand the literary story. Consequently, singers take the stage -- often alongside the dancers, with the principal roles double-cast -- and also chant chorally from the orchestra, but in a language incomprehensible to most of the mostly French audience. If I had actually bought a ticket to this opera, expecting there would be super-titles, I would be pissed. (A translation into French is provided in the program, but civilians have to pay a whopping 11 Euros or about $13 for that.)

In advancing their grim mission, Lefevre and Bausch were aided -- in the performance I caught -- by the morose Kader Belarbi in the male lead. Even Muriel Zusperreguy's blithe and sprightly Amour -- Zusperreguy's spirited and fully invested dancing is always a joy to behold -- couldn't get a rise out of him. It strained credibility (especially without understanding the words) to imagine what Alice Renavand's eloquent Eurydice might see in him that was that much lighter than the underworld, but Renavand did her best, notably in the poignant moment when she crossed the stage to take his hand entrusting him to lead her out; she seemed to see right into his eyes, lovingly, even though she was looking at the back of his head. Renavand danced with a confidence that auguries well for a promotion from the corps.

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