Paris Opera Ballet: "Jewels", December 2000
- Company: Paris Opera Ballet.
- Date: December 2000, 29 and 30.
- Place: Opéra Garnier, Paris.
- Ballet: Jewels, choreography by George Balanchine.
Balanchine's full-length ballet "Jewels" was supposed to have its much
anticipated Paris Opera premiere on December 15. But, as several other
ballet and opera performances, it was cancelled because of a strike of
some of the technicians. It finally was premiered on December 19, and
about 7 or the originally planned 11 performances actually took place.
After spending more time that what I'd have wished queuing at the box
office, I finally managed to get some seats for the performances of
Dec 29 and Dec 30.
The Paris Opera had commissionned some new sets and costumes to the
fashion designer Christian Lacroix for that production, and most of the
French media paid far more attention to that rather than to the
choreography. It probably had the advantage that the costumes were not
affected by the strike, but I couldn't help feeling a bit irritated that
the choreography itself received so little attention, while it was in fact
the real "jewel" of the program...
The first part of "Jewels", "Emeralds", is on some music by Gabriel Faure,
from "Pelleas and Melisande" and "Shylock". It is supposed to be a tribute
to the French school of ballet, and it was the part of the evening that I
loved the most, with its lovely music and its romantic atmosphere. Also,
after seeing several half-satistfying modern dance performances, what a
relief to see real ballet arms, expressive and graceful! In the first
cast, it was Elisabeth Maurin who danced the first female role; I have
sometimes found that Maurin was a bit miscast in some Balanchine ballets,
but in that role she was very beautiful and moving (and there is something
in her silhouette which is not so different from Violette Verdy, who
created the role). In the second cast, I had the joy to see Isabelle
Guerin, back on stage after a one-year absence (she gave birth to a baby
girl last summer), as gorgeous and lyrical as ever. Both were partnered by
Jean-Guillaume Bart, supremely elegant in everything he did. The second
main couple was danced by another of the senior ballerinas of the company,
Fanny Gaida, lyrical and graceful, and Kader Belarbi (one could only
regret his role was not a bit more substantial). Gaida and Guerin will
leave the company at the end of the season, and surely it will be hard to
replace them. In the pas de trois, Clairemarie Osta, Laetitia Pujol and
Stephane Phavorin (first cast) and Christophe Duquenne (second cast)
showed much vivaciousness combined with elegant classicism. Lacroix's
costumes looked nice to me, but his sets (a kind of photograph of emerald
stones) were quite cold and uninteresting.
The second part, "Rubies", on Stravinsky's Capriccio for piano and
orchestra, already was in the repertory of the Paris Opera (under the
title "Capriccio") since the mid-70s. I had already seen it several times,
and found it more interesting in the context of the whole work than when
presented alone; I'm likely to find it a bit "too light" sometimes, but
it provided an interesting contrast with the other two parts. The main
roles were danced by Delphine Moussin, Lionel Delanoë (replacing Carole
Arbo and Eric Quilleré) and Marie-Agnès Gillot on Dec 29 and Delphine
Moussin, Manuel Legris and Delphine Baey on Dec 30. The change of cast
showed me the difference between a very good male dancer (Delanoë) and an
excellent one: Manuel Legris was at his best in such a role, and, as in
Robbins'"Suite of dances" last fall, I was in awe at his lightness, speed,
wit and purity of style (and also his perfect partnering). In the soloist
role, Marie-Agnes Gillot displayed much authority and stage presence.
Lacroix's sets were mostly a big red diamond shape on a grey background,
I didn't find it especially nice, and the costumes were a bit too
agressively bright for my taste.
The last part of the ballet, "Diamonds", is a homage to the Russian
school and St-Petersburg, one some music from Tchaikovsky's "Symphony
n.3". While many elements of "Emeralds" remind one of the Romantic
period and of ballets such as "Giselle" or "La sylphide", that part
makes one think of "Swan Lake". In the first cast, Agnes Letestu
and Jose Martinez showed much style and elegance, and their
usual good partnership. I was a bit disappointed by the second
cast: Marie-Agnes Gillot didn't look completely at ease (but
she's far less experienced than Letestu in such roles, and probably
she will improve with time), while Nicolas Le Riche looked a bit
too interested in showing his virtuosity and jumping as high
as he could, at the detriment of style. It seemed that some
part of the audience liked it, as they applauded vigorously
at the end of most of his variations (and also Gillot's),
which I found quite annoying- one almost had the feeling to
be at a sports event. There even was a moment which made
the audience giggle: at the end of a big jump at the left
end of the stage, Le Riche disappeared backstage and a big
"BOOM" was heard. People couldn't help laughing... I learnt
later that his knee had hit some hard prop and that his fellow
dancers had been worried for a few minutes that he might not
dance the end of the ballet because of the pain, but of course
the audience couldn't know that. Lacroix' sets were a silver
shape above the dancers- it probably was supposed to have something
to do with stars, but I couldn't help thinking about a giant
On the whole, that was a very pleasant program, and I really
wish that the POB will perform it again in the next seasons
(especially as part of its potential audience couldn't see it
because of the strike).