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Société Auguste Vestris - Début of Emilie Cozette in <i>Le Lac des Cygnes</i>
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Début of Emilie Cozette in Le Lac des Cygnes

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Début of Emilie Cozette in Le Lac des Cygnes
15 December 2005

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Le Lac des Cygnes
Opéra Bastille (December 14th 2005)

Surpassing all anticipation, on December 14th, Emilie Cozette made her d&eacutebut as Odette, to J.G. Bart’s Siegfried.

As one might have suspected on seeing her as demi-soloist in "Diamonds" last month, Odette-Odile is Cozette’s role. This is dancing on the level of an international star, although in rather better taste than we are used to from such stars ! In bodily form, she resembles Gillian Murphy, hewn from a block of white marble, strongly muscular. Her face, though modest in expression, is very lovely, and quite mobile. Her dancing, and all praise to the ballet master, is most judicious. It is characterised by a rather gentle, breathing dove-like outline, that differs from the slightly forced, extremely turned out and polished finish that her sisters in the role have given us.

No travesty of poor Vaganova here ! No Kitsch Soviet-style "épaulement", no drooping and wilting, and the leg is picked up as little as one can get away with in this Balanchine-driven era. I greatly enjoy her use of space: in positions that call for a fouetté or renversé for example, every point along the elliptical or circular pathway is clearly traced - rather than chug along from photo-finish to photo-finish, one travels swiftly out into vaster space. Her balances are firm, but never used to disharmonious effect. Neither the wrist nor the elbow is allowed to break (save in one piqué manège where the arm crumpled - but she is not alone in this), and the hand signs off each port de bras with unaffected elegance.

Ballon and elevation do not appear to be this tall dancer’s forte, but when one has such an excellent all-round technique, why quibble ? Mlle. Cozette’s only actual flaw is that the head tends to fall forward, the same flaw seen in Agnès Letestu and a number of other ladies in the corps de ballet. The muscles that run alongside the nape of the neck (splenius, and sterno-cleido-mastoid I think they’re called) are weak; since Balanchine, we all have difficulty in supporting the head, because of the displacement caused by picking up the leg. In Indian dance, there are special exercises for the neck, that involve projecting and retracting the head.

Cabbages, where one’s ears once stood

The difficulty at Paris, until this pair of ears turn into cabbage, are the orchestral tempi. People move across the stage with globs of glue stuck to the sole. Plié, and you’re glued to the floor in full view of 2300 people. Who has imposed those tempi ? Is that Nureyev ? Or are we just all winding down like creaky clockwork, to remain around the year 2013 immobile ? Will that be Francis Fukuyama’s End of History ?

Just a thought.

Could we not assemble the conductor, the concert master, the ballet masters and any dancer who can read an orchestral score, and brainstorm about tempi ? Here is a beautiful score by Tchaikovski, written for the dance, and the less we compromise with his ideas, the happier we, and our poor tendons, shall be.

Can’t we just be naïve, please ?

I’d never before cared to see Nureyev’s version of this ballet, having been well and truly warned.

The sets, by Frigerio, are frigid, with a stage that seems as thinly populated as Greenland, the d&eacutecor remote, unrelated to the action. I must say that I found the simple painted backcloth to the Maryinskii production far more evocative.

Swan Lake is a simple tale, so why not tell it simply ?

As a theatrical spectacle, in general, the ballet is naïve and always will be. It deals with principles in a naïve unmediated way from the producer, to the consumer, as it were. People whose bag is sophistication should turn to Faberg&eacute Eggs, the Peggy Guggenheim Foundation, or that man Tom Wolfe, with his Bonfire of the Vanities. Or over at the CNSM, the Junior Ballet Contemporain.

That is the ONE good thing about the current Maryinskii production. Naïve.

But our Rudolf must twiddle with "sophistication".

Hence the inserted soli for Siegfried, who is become Tweedledum to Désiré Tweedledee in his Sleeping Beauty. If I ever see that Nureyev signature step again (double rond de jambe followed by demi-grand rond de jambe en dedans), I think I shall scream. And retiré with that scrabbling round about the knee. Man, just move that foot from front to back, OK ?

Or the flabby arabesque fondue (always en effacé) pas de bourrée. Sometimes, I think that if Nureyev could have eliminated croisé altogether, he would have. But one does have to move from the right leg to the left ! This poor handling of effacé forms lends the dancing of the man a weak and effeminate character.

Equally inappropriate, the manège of jeté entrelac&eacute, akin to that in Nureyev-Désiré’s Vision scene. This does not work in adagio. No matter how good one is, the audience hears the CLOP on landing, and the entire meditative effect is spoilt. Because one sees with one’s ears.

Intelligent artists that they both are, Jos&eacute Martinez and Jean-Guillaume Bart as Siegfried take Nureyev’s soli about as far as they can go, but even they cannot turn gold to dross. Had Thibault been dancing this role, he might have pulled the thing off, just. But, of course, he is not dancing it.

Nureyev has also twiddled with the famous Act I pas de trois, slowing down the action at each point it threatens to actually let go and dance. The music for the pas de trois finale sweeps along, and what do we get ? Step-step, supported pirouette, step-step supported pirouette, petering out like a damp squib. That fellow Thibault was on at the première, shedding thunder-bolts along his path, and so one does rather wish that Nureyev had just let it rip.

The corps de ballet, dancing beautifully and with great feeling, shews itself in its finest light. The four little swans M. Haydn refers to above, were, the last two nights, Fiat/Ould Braham/Froustey/Gilbert - talk about Bournonville’s Chain of Beauty !

M. Axel Ibot outstanding in the corps de ballet. The lad, who must be about nineteen, is one of the two men in the theatre who has got the point that épaulement does NOT make one "lose aplomb" and topple onto one’s face. He is building strength and will shortly have a brilliant technique.

As for Ould Braham, what speed, what cleanliness ! That anyone of such refined and passionate emotion, so peculiar an intensity, might exist in this theatre ! When the equally-delicate Anna Pavlova made her d&eacutebut at the Maryinskii a century ago, care was taken that a very original talent not be wrecked by unsuitable strain. One has only to look at the tiny sloping shoulders, the minute wrists and ankles, and the calf, narrow as a reed, to see that three or four different positions every night in the corps de ballet, plus one and sometimes two soli, may not be advisable in this special case. And it is a special case ! As we saw last year with her extraordinary Aurora, she is more than able to carry a Three Act ballet on that dainty frame, provided we not wear her to the bone. My concern, is that our epoch is a Darwinian waking dream, where we are all "logé à la même enseigne", and the watchword is "Ca passe ou ça casse".

Finally, I did not find Fanny Fiat in any way overwhelmed by her fellows in the pas de trois. To the contrary ! There is, however, a problem with the costume, or rather straitjacket: the purportedly "Renascence" shifts, with skin-tight sleeve and high waist, are unsuited to bravura variations, that were meant to be danced in a full-skirted costume with a defined waist.

K.L. Kanter