If it Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It
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Coppelia (Patrice Bart/Delibes)
Opéra Bastille (December 2006)
Could there be something about the Bastille that turns the ballets played there into a gaol sentence?
And, would a Convent take a Jewish Girl?
Such are one’s Ziegfield thoughts on being compelled to contemplate the ’Coppelia’ drop curtain at Bastille for twenty endless minutes.
Actually, it was five, but it seemed like twenty, particularly when standing.
The drop curtain sets the tone, lads and ladies - or rather, laddies.
Over the drop curtain wander, en grisaille, stray bits and pieces of female anatomy, inserted into curious measuring instruments. Smack centre are grisaille reproductions of Interesting Photographs from a Gentleman’s Private Cabinet of the Nineteenth Century, apparently of a fourteen-year old tart, picked up starving off the streets circa 1860.
Until very recently it was not the Done Thing to display one’s taste for such things, but -
Autres Temps, Autres Moeurs.
As I took my place standing at the back of the parterre, a little maedele was heard to shriek ’Mummy, why is she bending over NAKED? ’
What a way to kick-start Christmas eh?
Enough to turn you off sex for life. Which brings me to the Convent theme.
On the way back, Manzoni’s Reply to Sismondi, "Osservazioni sulla morale cattolica" (1819) caught the eye in a bookshop. Did not buy this today, but, if flung, would it tear a drop curtain?
Fortunately, for us Yids, it is merely Chanukah. Today, of all days.
Now, in term of Patrice Bart’s Scheme, I imagine this to be a cue: Coppelius’ alter ego Spalanzani is a naughty old chappie who under no circumstances should be allowed to dandle one’s grandchild on his knee, save under tight surveillance.
That this sub-plot, if such it is, be deemed appropriate for a Christmas show attended by hundreds of screaming children... Hush!
Except that the drop curtain says it all.
Save for two measly dances, there is scarcely a step from Saint Leon over.
And Saint Leon’s original was SUCH a beautiful ballet! Lovely score, terrific life-sized dolls, droll plot, it had, as my husband is wont to say, "everything I like".
One pities everyone involved. So many steps, so much running scrumming twirling swirling jumping plumping lunging plunging, the corps de ballet on the verge of tears in the Mazurka, people just all over the place and all over each other, and none of it making any bloody sense. It’s a miracle we don’t have the Firemen abseiling from the rafters to conduct rescue the whole bloody time.
Shock; Horror - Young Girl thrown to Lions at Paris!
The difficulty of this thing for the soloists is YIYIYIYIYIYI.
As Swanhilda, our Alla Sizova, alias Fanny Fiat, was actually more successful here than the very beautiful - but danseur noble - Myriam Ould-Braham, essentially because, as a demi-caractère dancer, Mlle. Fiat has the sheer physical strength and stamina to coast through two endless Acts. Few do. And few ballerinas, I imagine, were precisely ecstatic at seeing their name on the cast list.
Swanhilda dances tongue-twisting soli, she dances in the ensembles, she has mime scenes, she is flopped about the stage like a giant bird in thrall to one man, two men, three men, crowds of men - WHAT is going on here?
So unlike Aurora in "Beauty", Swanhilda in this production cannot go and have a good lie-down between variations. OH NO!
This ain’t Coppelia, it’s the Red Shoes!
As for poor Frantz, again, YIYIYIYIYIYI.
(Is that the Cry of the Abominable Snowman? It might as well be, for what he gets to dance).
Now, our Frantz and freshly-appointed premier danseur, Christophe Duquenne, is a man of even temper, unflappable under the vilest of circumstances, courteous, charming, and an unfailingly good dancer. One only knows it has gone all desperate, because his eye will wear a slightly bemused look, perhaps as he knocks off a row of mini-révoltades (never have révoltades seemed so revoltingly out of place) - one eyebrow crooked, as though to say "can’t believe I’m doing this".
The only thing missing from Frantz’ repertoire of weird steps, was that ’catiole’ performed by Carlos Acosta in Act III of Don Quixote. Do NOT remind M. Bart of that, otherwise he will put it in.
On different nights, as Coppelius, Stéphane Phavorin (what a mime!) and J.G. Bart did everything in their considerable power to save this dinghy taking water from all sides.