Critiques / Reviews
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Fanny Fiat and Diana Cuni: two new Socii Honoris Causa in the Society for the Advancement of the Ideas of Auguste Vestris
The Man in the White Suit & Daphne Birnley
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A Midnight Modern Conversation
The POB Internal Promotion Concours 2006
If it Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It
One Plummy Voice, raised in Dissent
Our Infant Wings
Reckless the Man!
More Power to Lopatkina !
Début of Emilie Cozette in Le Lac des Cygnes
All sections :
Ill with Romanticism ? Consult Dr. Heine !
| 2002 visits / visites
Giselle (P. Bart/E. Polyakov production)
Opéra Garnier (July 4th to 15th 2003)
Gentle reader, you MUST look into Heinrich Heine (1797-1854) ! It will help you grasp why neither Jules Perrot, nor Jean Coralli, nor any of the great dancers and teachers of that period, ever considered themselves "Romantics", and why much of what appears in current ballet literature about that period flatly contradicts - excuse my rudeness - the historical truth.
Reprinted on every programme note, worldover, one finds Giselle referred to as a "Romantic" ballet, Heinrich Heine as a "Romantic" poet, and the following lines :
"In a region of Austria, a tale is told that is (...) Slavic in origin. It is the tale of the spirit-dancers, known as "Willis" (...) maids who went to their death before they could be married. The poor creatures do not lie easy in their tomb (...) caught up in a passion for the dance that never was sated in life. At midnight, do they glide forth to gather on the high road, and alackaday to any youth who comes upon them ! He shall dance, he shall embrace them in unbridled frenzy, and he shall dance without rest until he fall down dead. Lovely in their wedding clothes and crowned with flowers and ribbands, jewels flashing on their delicate fingers, the Willis gambol in the moonlight as though they were elfs. Their countenance, whiter than snow, glows with youth, they smile with such perverse, such entrancing gaiety (...) that no-one can withstand these dead Bacchants."
In Elementargeister (1837)
What is now known in France as Heine’s work De l’Allemagne, is made up of two separate works: the History of Religion and philosophy in Germany and The Romantic School, and, in some early editions, the aforesaid Elementargeister.
The Romantic School, originally published as Zur Geschichte der neueren schoenen Literature in Deutschland, was, in its day, the most daring attack ever penned on Madame de Stael, author of a pro-Romantic pamphlet, De l’Allemagne, and on the ideological underpinnings of Romanticism. 
As for Heine’s Elementargeister (1837), contrary to the allegations in ballet literature, they are anything but an exaltation of the daemonic world.
How do I know this ? Well, like many of my fellow Jews, I have spent some little time attempting to figure out what, exactly, Heinrich Heine was up to. Those Wilis have got to be seen in the context of Heine’s life’s work, a headlong onslaught on Romanticism, leavened by Heine’s sorties into grim humour:
"You Frenchmen should finally accept that the uncanny is not your strong point, and that France is a terrain inhospitable to ghosts (...) How could a Frenchman be a ghost ? How could a ghost even exist in Paris ! (...) Were there really ghosts in Paris, I do believe that, fond of society as the French are, they would seek each other’s friendship, even as ghosts; they would form ghost clubs, found a café for the dead (...), publish a Paris Revue for the Dead, and there would soon be soirées for the dead où l’on fera de la musique (...) ghosts would have far more fun here in Paris, than the living in Germany."
Joking aside, Heine was seriously bent on pulling down the Romantic edifice. A case in point is his short poem, Goetterdaemmerung. It has not, I believe, been translated, and only the impudent, or the very talented, should attempt it. Suffice it to say, that the storyline, which begins in the Merry, Merry Month of May, with jolly villagers tricked out in the Sunday best, thusly,
Der Mai ist da mit seinen goldnen Lichtern,
Und seidnen Lueften and gewuertzen Duften,
Und freundlich lockt er mit den weissen Blueten
and so forth,
ends in a an outbreak of murder and mayhem:
Und meinen eignen Engel seh ich dort,
Mit seinen blonden Locken, suessen Zuegen,
Und ein entsetzlich haesslich schwarzer Kobold
Reisst ihn vom Boden, meinen bleichen Engel,
Und gellend droehnt ein Schrei durchs ganze Weltall,
Die Saeulen brechen, Erd und Himmel stuerzen
Zusammen, und es herrscht die alte Nacht.
The opening scene of Goetterdaemmerung is "gemuetlich": the happiness of a village where no-one would even think of being a dissident, and all play the game by the rules. The girls are blithely innocent, the lads bold and fresh, and so forth. When adults play with dolls, all hell breaks loose. As Heine saw it, German youth had fled the urgent responsibility of public life, into an unwholesome devotion to one’s private life, loves, and feelings. Both the "Back to Rural Life" current, and the Sturm und Drang, were, as Heine saw it, equally wrong, and would pave the way to political disaster by removing from the public arena, the nation’s youthful and most vital elements.
To Heine, the thoughts and emotions unleashed in Germany by works like Goethe’s Werther, where young men wander about love-sick, in what he describes as "a ghastly mooning, a sterile sentimentality" , love-suicides and all the rest, were a triumph of the irrational, not unlike witchcraft. He forseaw that at some future time, that cast of mind would lead to a terrifying outburst of uncontrollable violence. Seen from that vantage point, the Freudian and Jungian movement would no doubt have struck Heine as Romantic as well.
Or, put in Hollywood terms, Doris Day / Charles Manson, même combat.
Now why in heaven’s name, should a dancer, or a balletomane, or Patrice Bart for that matter, care a fig for any of this ?
First, one can be fairly certain that Jules Perrot was well-acquainted with the above debate, as his later work on Goethe was to shew. As for Auguste Bournonville (who, after being placed on house arrest in Denmark for lèse majesté, was in Paris in exile), he was staying in the flat of Jules Perrot and Carlotta Grisi for the weeks during which Giselle was being composed.
Bournonville made no bones about his Republican sympathies. One reads in his Memoirs:
"My father was a true chevalier français of the old school. Nevertheless, he became enraptured with the Revolutionary principles of Liberty and Equality, and knew no greater hero than Lafayette" 
A ringleader of the movement for republican freedoms in Germany, Heine was the greatest polemicist of the day, and his presence in Paris was too notorious to have been ignored by intellectuals such as Perrot and Bournonville. On November 14th 1835, the Kingdom of Prussia had banned the writings of "Young Germany" propagandists, and on December 10th of that year, the Federal German Assembly voted up a similar decree. It was Prince von Metternich in person who had added Heine’s name to the original list of the banned.
The Decree reads, in part,
"Whereas, in Germany (...) there has lately grown up under the name "Young Germany", or "Young Literature", a literary school striving to impudently run down the Christian religion, destroy respect both for the existing social structure and for all decency and morality, through writings to which all classes of people may gain access, the German Federal Assembly considers that the federated Governments shall all cooperate so as to straightaway put a stop to said efforts, that undermine the foundation of the lawful order."
Sale and publication of the works of Heine and many others was forbidden. In 1831, Heine fled to France. Publishers and booksellers were told that they would be shut down, should they carry on circulating the censored works.
Lest anyone doubt that, the full text of that Decree appears in a footnote below.  In 1825, Heine, a Jew, had converted to Christianity. Not his views on religion, but his challenge to the feudal order, was the issue.
One will by now have gathered that Heinrich Heine was not precisely a ballet librettist. The actual librettist for Giselle was a poetaster and novelist, Théophile Gautier. The latter ran little risk of ever being banned, or indeed exiled from any State, as he was something of a pornographer and necrophile, and suchlike find their niche in polite society. Reading his Beautés de l’Opéra de Paris, that fairly drips with what Heine has just called "a ghastly mooning, a sterile sentimentality", is most instructive.
Rather as a greedy feeder might eye a plump guinea fowl, here is what Gautier wrote of the first Giselle, Carlotta Grisi, who was at the time, Jules Perrot’s mistress:
" her foot, which would make an Andalusian maja run mad with jealousy (....) rises to legs that are slender, elegant and alert, the legs of Diana the huntress (...) her complexion is so fresh, that she uses no paint, other than her sentiments (....)" 
And so on. Should one wonder that Jules Perrot appears to have been paid no royalties for his share in creating Giselle, nor was he mentioned on the programme or advertising posters. Although the finest choreographer of the age, Perrot never became Ballet Master at the Opera. He was manoeuvred out, probably by Gautier and his clique, and packed off to Russia.
The theoreticians of the Romantic School would have us believe that there are two strains in the human mind. One, supposedly related to those areas of thought where "measurement" is of the essence (mens, in Latin, is the root-stem for all words related to measurement, and of course, it also means "mind"), and the other, related to the supposedly "non-measured", i.e. arbitrary, areas, or in today’s jargon, "doing your own thing".
In the classical dance, nothing is arbitrary, and measurement is of the essence. The turnout creates a complex of inter-related circular action. Tendu, developpé, and so forth, are expressed as radii and diagonals of those circles. Relative to the human body, in proportions peculiar to each man or woman, there is zero tolerance for vague, inconclusive, degrees, while there is absolute rigour in the way each figure must be executed, a rigour unique to the proportions of each individual dancer.
A non-dancer might be surprised to learn that it will take years of study to judge the precise angle of attack of an arabesque, etc. and to integrate that into one’s neuro-muscular memory, as a Form or Idea that can be recalled at will, and, where the choreography calls for it, altered by minute degrees to convey the shading of thought.
On that internal evidence, neither Perrot, nor Coralli, could have been Romantics. Their choreography is terse, sober, and rigorously classical. There is no Sturm und Drang, no excess of any kind. It is pithy and to the point.
Now, to the past week at Paris.
"Classicism in all art forms means perfect harmony, balance and unity of style" 
Penned by the Hungarian professor Maria Fay, that thought might seem self-evident. But no matter how ideally the leading roles be cast, no matter how brilliant the variations, unless each man and woman on stage be intimately persuaded of the style, the period, and the dramaturgy in "harmony, balance and unity of style", the performance cannot convey the ideas its creators had intended.
In 1841, Giselle lasted for roughly 105 minutes, of which forty-five were mime, and sixty, dancing.
The ballet today lasts roughly ninety minutes, of which about eighty are dancing. That is to say that virtually all the beautiful mime has been cut, including a scene where Giselle tells Albrecht that she saw his noble fiancée in dreams, a longer scene for the aristocratic hunt party, and a grape-harvest procession. In Act II, the sweeping cuts include a scene where the villagers encounter the Wilis, one where Albrecht observes the death of Hilarion from behind a tree, and Albrecht’s return to reality. 
As a result of all this slashing-and-burning, the dancers today must strive to encapsulate into a few instants, thoughts, moods and emotions that were formerly far better delineated. In that attempt, they must, at the very least, know that such things once existed.
Seven-thirty in the evening of July 4th, 2003 at the Opéra Garnier. The curtain rises on what is to be the Paris début of Laetitia Pujol as Giselle.
An anxious youth bounds on. Followed by another, and two or three maids, going hell for leather in a clatter of pointe shoes - out of the story, and off the music.
The wrong tone has been set within the first thirty seconds. Too much dancing.
Although a little confused, Alexandre Benois’ sets and costumes tell us that we are, give or take a decade or so, in the late fifteenth century. One would not gather as much from the stage manners. The village maids dance forcefully (Forsythely ?), picking up the leg here, there and everywhere. Can Can, anyone ?
More importantly, the moment the corps de ballet stops dancing, eyes go dead and faces go blank.
Whatever is one to do, when one is not dancing ?
In a nutshell, one does as M. Simone Valastro does.
Leaving aside the fact that this coryphée really is an excellent dancer, here is one keen and intelligent countenance ! M. Valastro’s mime gestures are fully supported, legible and energetic, and he makes graceful contact with his fellow dancers. In crossing the stage, rather than stalk over, stiffly presenting the back or profile to the audience, he moves épaulé, leaving no dead sight-lines, no matter where one be seated.
Those are, or should be, elementary rules of stagecraft at the Opéra Garnier. Practised here, by a foreign dancer.
At its command, the French National Theatre has more resources than almost any other such institution worldwide. Nevertheless, much has fallen through the net.
As is the present writer’s usual practice, the initial draft of this review was forwarded to three or four colleagues for comment, including M. Barnstable at London, who kindly replied:
"Giselle is crowned Queen of the Vintage. Actually this is a vital scene and should never be skimped. The villagers have been out picking and treading the grapes and this is the day of their celebration when the grape harvest is completed. There are some wonderful old lithographs of Giselle in a pose with her crown of vine leaves carrying a kind of vine leaf sceptre (a thrysus - not sure of spelling); other productions make much more of this scene, but I always feel that it should contrast with the events to come. One moment Giselle is supremely happy surrounded by her friends, and the next moment the confrontation occurs."
At Paris, but a few brief seconds are allowed the scene. A cart is wheeled out, awkwardly, for Giselle to stand upon. She mounts it, places the wreath upon her head, shines a Brite-Lite smile upon us, then speedily casts away the wreath, and steps down, the cart being straightaway taken off.
In the meantime, no-one in the audience has got what the business with the grapes is about.
In the words of the late Danish instructor Kirsten Ralov: "Where is the fullness of time, as the mime breaks over the public like a wave ?"
In Scene XII, Hilarion finds himself alone. Scheming to reveal Albrecht’s true identity, he steals over to Giselle’s cottage, takes down the hunting horn, and lets it to sound, recalling the Ducal party. Within fifteen seconds, the courtly hunters pop up from behind the cottage, as though they had been skulking in the garden waiting for the half-time whistle.
Pity the joke was not deliberate !
Again: In the last instants of the death scene, Giselle rushes from Hilarion’s arms towards her mother. Out of the blue, two or three couples at stage right bounce up and down for joy ! No-one, I repeat no-one, should do ANYTHING apparent during those last instants of the scene. The public cannot be allowed to focus on anything or anyone other than Giselle here. Full stop.
On to Act II.
Draped in cloaks, four or five youths are seen to play a game of chance in the forest. As Hilarion appears (incidentally, the lighting here, as elsewhere, is poor, so that one is not at all sure that it be Hilarion) and moves towards Giselle’s tomb, a youth approaches, to tell him - what ? Does he invite Hilarion to join their game ? Is he simply curious as to what Hilarion might be doing in the forest at night ? The mime gestures are most undecisive.
At Albrecht’s entrance, he carries on a large, indeed outsized, bunch of white lilies. M. Jean-Guillaume Bart took a whopping great sniff at those flowers, as though they were real, only to repeat the gesture on a further two occasions. The Man from Interflora ! M. Pech was more discreet in this, though he seemed to do it as well.
But they are spiritual flowers ! Albrecht has not brought them to the tomb to enjoy their perfume ! They are a sort of burnt offering to a spirit, and one does not sniff a burnt offering !
At Hilarion’s first entrance, things shred, big time.
During the week, this writer saw Wilfried Romoli, Yann Bridard, and Stephane Elizabé. Only M. Elizabé, feeble as the characterisation was, could be even remotely described as classical.
M. Romoli’s gestures are brusque, hurried, and coarse, an irruption from the world of film and video games, into the classical theatre. Not for an instant does one believe that this is Hilarion. It is Wilfried Romoli, in a vile mood. Who is Hilarion ? What is he ? Has he gone mad, obssessive ? Why will Giselle allow him to be destroyed, but not Albrecht ? M. Romoli has been dancing the role for over a decade, but still suggests no answer, even in outline, although the role is one of the finest in the repertory.
As for Yann Bridard - Ye Gods ! I fail to understand how any ballet master could allow the man to go out in that condition. Either I’m mad, or someone in the institution must be. M. Bridard has given press interviews discussing his keen interest in psychoanalysis. Pourquoi pas, in the privacy of one’s home ? But on stage ? In M. Bridard, we have the final, liquefied phase of the demise of classical mime technique.
M. Bridard has little control over his facial musculature, giving a collapsed, "crybaby" effect from a distance. His gestures are tiny, unsupported, illegible, and when called upon to move swiftly, he tears about like a frightened hare. In his final scene in Act II, he lost it, to a degree, that he actually broke through the "Wili-barrier" and had to be dragged back ! Laughter rippled out amongst the public, et il y avait de quoi.
No, I am not being nasty and personal about M. Bridard, nor about M. Romoli, neither of whom I have ever met: the issue is mime technique, period, and that can be altered and amended - assuming those men, who are, after all, premiers danseurs, care to do so.
Though weak, M. Elizabé as Hilarion at least avoided the pitfalls of the grotesque, and put up some sort of an attempt to cleave to classical mime gesture.
Elisabeth Maurin / Kader Belarbi
Over the last decade or so, classical dance having become, in the main, about as riveting as a blob of pink bubble-gum, one is often tempted to simply throw in the towel, and get out while the going is good. And then one suddenly comes across one or two individuals who make it all worth it: Mlle. Elisabeth Maurin, and a gentleman who is not a soloist, of whom more below.
One hears of Galina Ulanova in her heyday, and people sigh, and regret, and so forth, but we have here our own Ulanova, and there is nothing to regret or bemoan ! In the person of Mlle. Maurin, we have someone who dwells in the world of ideas ! Her face alone is a study. How she works with the corps de ballet, drawing them in, spurring them on, is a study, her collaboration with M. Belarbi is a study ! The woman is a poem, and, like Hilarion in that old, lost mime scene Michel de Lutry learnt from Tamar Karsavina, one could kiss the ground beneath her feet.
Although some might disagree, over the last decade M. Belarbi has always struck me as the most powerful and convincing Albrecht in the Paris theatre. As an individual, M. Belarbi is complex, his mind awhirl in tension and strife with Mlle. Maurin’s childlike purity. In his partnering in Act II, he lifts Giselle like a pearl beyond price, one scarcely sees her foot brush the ground.
There was an odd incident in Act II, on Wednesday July 9th, where M. Belarbi came out in his final brisés at about twice the speed, nearly crashing into Myrtha. We could none of us quite figure out what happened there, but it is, at the end of the day, a detail.
Elisabeth Maurin / Benjamin Pech
Over the last two or three years, the premier danseur M. Pech has been partnering Mlle. Maurin frequently. Though he did cheat a little on the brisés, and his pirouettes were over-reached, almost brashly "American", M. Pech is an interesting dancer; his mime is tasteful, and marked by an agreeable reserve. For the first Act, M. Pech may have had a slight edge over M. Belarbi, in that he eschewed all casual, familiar - and thus anachronistic - gesture vis à vis Giselle. In Act II, however, his partnering was less coherent, and the final scene was slightly autistic, a lack doubtless ascribable to immaturity.
Agnès Letestu / Jean-Guillaume Bart
On July 10th, the étoile gave an interview to the Parisien, stating that she had based her interpretation on Dustin Hoffman’s Rainman, whatever THAT might mean, and in the death scene, she intended to get across Giselle’s loathing for the human race. There being a shrill Letestu-lobby in the theatre here, I shall lie low, very low, and refrain from further comment: one already has enemies enough, without going out to look for them.
M. Bart, an extremely intelligent artist, had thus to make a silk purse of a sow’s ear. Although, unfortunately, this is an épaulement-free zone, his dancing is committed, and to very high standards throughout - what balances in Act II ! M. Bart’s use of the stage is masterful, its fullest reach at his beck and call, and as for partnering, he could write the textbook, and no doubt will one day. 
Laetitia Pujol (Paris début) / Nicolas LeRiche
That the lovely Mlle. Pujol was saddled, for her Paris début in the role, with M. LeRiche as Albrecht, is regrettable. Despite some fine dancing, as an actress she seemed lacking in focus. Why ? Well, given the importance of Albrecht, one might want to look at what M. LeRiche was up to.
Rarely does one see mime so devoid of any feeling for time and place as this gentleman’s in Act I. Crude naturalism, when wielded by a well-set up young fellow, may go great guns with many shrunken elderly women such as myself, but I, for one, beg to differ.
M. LeRiche did better in Act II, but overall, one finds he has little to say, and, despite his strapping height and build, and Mlle. Pujol’s métier, several lifts looked oddly shaky, as though he had fallen back upon physical strength, rather than upon timing and adroitness.
Peasant Pas de Deux
For some reason, perhaps the Palermo tour that took up the corps de ballet’s most intriguing female elements, notably Mlles. Kudo, Fiat and Ould Braham, the casts initially scheduled to dance these variations were all shifted. There remained only Melanie Hurel and Dorothée Gilbert, and Benjamin Pech and Mallory Gaudion, the latter replacing M. Emmanuel Thibault, of whom more anon. One the 12th, Mlle. Doisneau was down to dance on the list, but, unless I’ve gone blind as a bat, it seemed to be Mlle. Hurel out there.
Of M. Pech, we have already spoken. M. Gaudion was, I believe, attempting these difficulties for the first time, pulling it all off with some panache, though perhaps, at 26, one might have hoped for a somewhat more musical, less mechanical expression.
Dorothée Gilbert’s début in this role was much awaited, as she has created a sensation at her every appearance over the last couple of years. Technically, although entirely devoid of épaulement, Mlle. Gilbert has a ballon, a blistering speed, batterie, balances, and the ability to unleash accelerando and deccelerando at will, that surpass virtually all her colleagues in the troupe. Artistically, the girl being but nineteen or so, to cavil would be churlish. One might remark nonetheless, that the dances of a rustic should not be clothed in too much princely hauteur.
Although not as easy and fluent as Mlle. Gilbert, strange to say Mélanie Hurel gave a greater impression of freshness and youth, though she is ten years older ! Which brings us yet again, to the question of stagecraft.
In the Night
The dances for Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis, are amongst the finest ever composed for a woman. Perrot has us fly across the stage like a man, and stride the airs like an eagle ! Freedom ! How can one not love it !
But most ballerinas do not love it. Myrtha is felt to be a geek, shuffled off onto the girl who will not be allowed to do Giselle.
Of the four ladies ruling the Wilis - Delphine Moussin, Marie-Agnès Gillot, Eleonora Abbagnato and Stéphanie Romberg, Mlle. Abbagnato quite lacks the needful technique, Mlle. Moussin replaces authority with stiffness, and any excitement in Mlle. Gillot’s dancing was almost entirely physical, rather than intellectual.
Only Mlle. Romberg, despite her ponderous jumps, dissolved her being into a forest spirit.
Without presuming to compare myself to Miguel de Cervantes, we do have one flaw in common: we are both dreadful versifiers. What Mlle. Romberg said in her rather more poetic way, we must express in prose, thusly:
"The cold, the night, and the forest, are my element.
Here do I rule, here, am I joyous and free.
The moon lies like a cool rain on my shoulders...." and so forth.
Poetry is not often to be seen on the Paris boards. There was an element of that in her dancing, at which only the unwise would scoff.
Did you say "orchestra pit" ?
In the life of the ballet, there are all-too-many occasions where the word "orchestra pit" takes on a cod-literal meaning. This week, the Orchestre Colonne has been the pits, Laetitia Pujol’s début on July 4th being almost sabotaged by the cacophony coming from beneath the stage. The winds alternately missed cues, or jumped the gun, the horns were off, as ear-splitting squeaks and squawks issued from the string section.
How dare one be so contemptuous of the men and women up there on the boards above, soaked from head to foot in sweat from that hot week’s Dog Days ?
In any domain other than the theatre, one would probably be done for professional misconduct.
However, there is one thing that one cannot blame the Orchestre Colonne for. As here at Paris, the corps de ballet has been instructed to take all steps GIGANTIC or not at all, the Wilis cannot weave in and out like fireflies flitting about on the music. A perfect example was the four rows of Wilis quitting the stage in glee at having murdered Hilarion. They do jeté, jeté, and then a GIGANTIC jeté en attitude. Owing to the latter’s size, Row One is already slightly off by the time they land, Row Two is significantly off, Row Three is a disaster, observed by Row Four, which scrambles back onto the beat.
Another incident can be blamed neither on the musicians, nor on Paul Connelly conducting: the scene where the Wilis cross the stage in serried ranks of arabesque. Every night, straight off the music. Why ? Well, ideally, one should glide across the stage. Of course, that is impossible. However, by leaning the torso well into the leading arm, one can almost skim its surface. The higher the torso be raised, and the torso is high at Paris, the greater the tendency to hop rather than glide. As soon as one begins to hop, precious instants within the bar line are lost, and shortly thereafter, musical chaos erupts, as everyone comes off the beat.
In general, the Wilis are done a disservice by the shallow plié favoured in this country, and one also wonders whether their arms should really be crossed quite so low, almost at the navel, giving a baby-cradling effect.
Lastly, but not leastly: one questions the wisdom of having girls the age of Giselle playing her Mother, although Florence Branca very nearly pulled it off. At Denmark, Kirsten Simone, who is over seventy and still dancing, could shew us a thing or two.
Prince of Dancers
In all these joys and sorrows, there was one crushing disappointment. With countless princes milling about, our prince of dancers was not to be found amongst them.
Emmanuel Thibault, who has not, it seems, set foot on the Paris boards since he led the cast in Rubies in early March, had been scheduled to dance several times this week in the Peasant Pas de Deux with Mlles Doisneau and Hurel.
Friends and colleagues had therefore come in from England and Italy, to catch a glimpse of one of the world’s great theatrical artists. At the last moment, the casts were changed, and the gentleman’s name vanished. Leaving aside - as though that were possible - the astonishing beauty of his dancing, in M. Thibault’s ability to convey thought to a thousand people at once, he stands almost alone. It is an area of the mind bordering on genius, indeed, it may be genius, and that is not a word one uses lightly.
To sign off this less-than-well-seasoned 2002/2003 season on a droll note: during a performance of Paquita this past January, so transported was this writer by the aforesaid gentleman’s dancing, that I sprang forward, striking my forehead very smartly on the marble column behind which we stood. According to a physician who has now been consulted, the dent, though small, is permanent. Given the circumstances, would that qualify as a War Wound ? And shall this writer, in time, be entitled to draw an Old Soldier’s Pension ?
We should be told.
1. "In einem Theile Oestreichs giebt es eine Sage, die (.... ) ursprünglich slavisch ist. Es ist die Sage von den gespenstischen Tänzerinnen, die dort unter dem Namen "die Willis" bekannt sind. Die Willis sind Bräute, die vor der Hochzeit gestorben sind. Die armen jungen Geschöpfe können nicht im Grabe ruhig liegen, in ihren todten Herzen, in ihren todten Füßen blieb noch jene Tanzlust, die sie im Leben nicht befriedigen konnten, und um Mitternacht steigen sie hervor, versammeln sich truppenweis an den Heerstraßen, und Wehe! dem jungen Menschen, der ihnen da begegnet. Er muß mit ihnen tanzen, sie umschlingen ihn mit ungezügelter Tobsucht, und er tanzt mit ihnen, ohne Ruh und Rast, bis er todt niederfällt. Geschmückt mit ihren Hochzeitkleidern, Blumenkronen und flatternde Bänder auf den Häuptern, funkelnde Ringe an den Fingern, tanzen die Willis im Mondglanz, eben so wie die Elfen. Ihr Antlitz, obgleich schneeweiß, ist jugendlich schön, sie lachen so schauerlich heiter, so frevelhaft liebenswürdig, sie nicken so geheinmißvoll lüstern, so verheißend, diese todten Bacchantinnen sind unwiderstehlich."
2. A far more wide-ranging, and very recent study of the Romantic problem, will be found in the German quarterly, Ibykus Nr. 72 (3/2000), "Was die Romantik in Deutschland angerichtet hat" by Helga Zepp-LaRouche.
3. "die weichliche Schwärmerei, die unfruchtbare Sentimentalität, die durch diesen Roman aufkam und mit jeder vernunftkräftigen Gesinnung, die uns Not tat, in feindlichem Widerspruch war."
4. My Theatre Life, A & C Black , London 1979, page 25 (out of print).
5. "Nachdem sich in Deutschland in neuerer Zeit, und zuletzt unter der Benennung "das junge Deutschland" oder "die junge Literatur", eine literarische Schule gebildet hat, deren Bemübungen unverholen dahin gehen, in belletristischen, für alle Classen von Lesern zugänglichen Schriften die christliche Religion auf die frechste Weise anzugreifen, die bestehenden socialen Verhältnisse herabzuwürdigen und alle Zucht und Sittlichkeit zu zerstören: so hat die deutsche Bundesversammlung - in Erwägung, daß es dringend nothwendig sey, diesen verderblichen, die Grundpfeiler aller gesetzlichen Ordnung untergrabenden Bestrebungen durch Zusammenwirken aller Bundesregierungen sofort Einhalt zu thun, und unbeschadet weiterer vom Bunde oder von den einzelnen Regierungen zur Erreichung des Zweckes nach Umständen zu ergreifenden Maaßregeln - sich zu nachstehenden Bestimmungen vereiniget:
1). Sämmtliche deutschen Regierungen übernehmen die Verpflichtung, gegen die Verfasser, Verleger, Drucker und Verbreiter der Schriften aus der unter der Bezeichnung "das junge Deutschland" oder "die junge Literatur" bekannten literarischen Schule, zu welcher namentlich Heinr. Heine. Carl Gutzkow, Heinr. Laube, Ludolph Wienbarg und Theodor Mundt gehören, die Straf- und Polizei-Gesetze ihres Landes, so wie die gegen den Mißbrauch der Presse bestehenden Vorschriften, nach ihrer vollen Strenge in Anwendung zu bringen, auch die Verbreitung dieser Schriften, sey es durch den Buchhandel, durch Leihbibliotheken oder auf sonstige Weise, mit allen ihnen gesetzlich zu Gebot stehenden Mitteln zu verhindern.
2) Die Buchhändler werden hinsichtlich des Verlags und Vertriebs der oben erwähnten Schriften durch die Regierungen in angemessener Weise verwarnt und es wird ihnen gegenwärtig gehalten werden, wie sehr es in ihrem wohlverstandenen eigenen Interesse liege, die Maaßregeln der Regierungen gegen die zerstörende Tendenz jener literarischen Erzeugnisse auch ihrer Seits, mit Rücksicht auf den von ihnen in Anspruch genommenen Schutz des Bundes, wirksam zu unterstützen.
3) Die Regierung der freien Stadt Hamburg wird aufgefordert, in dieser Beziehung insbesondere der Hoffmann- und Campe’schen Buchhandlung zu Hamburg, welche vorzugsweise Schriften obiger Art in Verlag und Vertrieb hat, die geeignete Verwarnung zugehen zu lassen."
6. "son pied, qui ferait le désespoir d’une maja andalouse...supporte une jambe fine, élégante et nerveuse, une jambe de Diane chasseresse (...) son teint est d’une fraîcheur si pure, qu’elle n’a jamais mis d’autre fard que son émotion...."
7. In the collection of Essays, Mind over Body, A & C Black, London 1997.
8. About a decade ago, Richard Bonynge recorded the full score, without cuts.
9. Cf. elsewhere on this Website, the Review entitled Javotte.