Burning up the Boards
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Paquita (Pierre Lacotte)
Paris Opéra Ballet (Friday January 24th 2003)
Throw away that lemon you’ve just bitten into folks ! This was one of those nights when one leaves the theatre smiling fondly upon the individual who has just violently trodden on one’s toe in the crush.
Whether it was the euphoric reception everyone got during the Défilé in Nureyev’s honour on Monday night - the audience made it blindingly clear that through thick and thin, they stand 100% behind their troupe - or perhaps the upbeat news that someone has been rattling the cage at the School - this is the first performance I’ve seen in six or seven years here, where the entire cast was dancing as though their life depended on it.
As yours truly wouldn’t like Pierre Lacotte to think that one writes rude things about the choreography without ever actually taking the trouble to see it, this was actually the fifth or sixth time in the run I’ve been to “Paquita”. Well, close acquaintance does not seem to make the choreography any better, BUT…
Last night, the company got their teeth into the thing, and ripped off a chunk. Went like hellfire ! And more power to them ! There was fire, there was enthusiasm, they reached out to those Strangers out there in the Great Darkness. As this does not often happen here in what was formerly the City of Light, save perhaps those nineteen seconds per evening where the unfortunate M. Thibault is allowed out of his cave, allow me to report it. In the hope that it will happen More and More Often.
If I’m not mistaken, this must have been Mlle Pujol’s first performance as Paquita. Readers of these pages will know how prejudiced this writer in the young lady’s favour. Might one hope that, in her own individual way, she may turn out to be a reincarnation of Elisabeth Maurin ?
Mlle. Pujol has made up her mind that every movement in a story-telling piece such as “Paquita”, has to TELL THE STORY, which again, is unusual enough to be worth reporting. So she sets out to tell the story. Rough-edged, but the girl is bursting with joie de vivre, her kindly little soul is simply irrepressible. I was, so to speak, glued to the screen, and quite forgot that I was standing on two very sore feet behind a column for three hours.
Technically, Gang, there seem to be one or two thing to work on here.
So far as I can understand it, though it is perfectly acceptable - at least in my book - to “pull a Lis Jeppesen”, i.e. “throw away” the plastique of a movement in passages that would qualify, dramatically, as a sheer pas d’action, the rest of the time plastique IS of the essence. Mlle. Pujol’s actual dancing is a touch choppy: if one looks closely at the small connecting steps between one “major” step, and another, there are gestures that would frankly qualify as ungraceful.
Now, this may sound odd, but I don’t buy too much PHYSICAL grace. There are occasions when an overdose of physical Beauty can tip right over into mental Ugliness, which is why I don’t go in for this super-legato, sickly-sweet stuff, the exponents of which still on active duty, shall not be cited by name here. That is no danger in Mlle. Pujol’s case: a dramatic dancer who also likes to jump, some work on the “singing” line would do no harm.
But who could resist the adorable Pujol ? the girl who has even got our Manuel Legris to unlock his chains ? He was excellent – is the man EVER anything but excellent ? – but last night, he was definitely Outside the Shell. One can see why the girls queue up to work with such a partner, as M. Legris knows precisely how to bring to the fore the best in other people. Having had another fortnight or so to think it through, Gil Isoart as the evil Inigo, essentially a mime role, has now got it down pat. When mime is done this well, one simply cannot get enough of it.
One question to Pierre Lacotte though: Paquita sinks to her knees as Inigo is about to stab her beloved. Why ? I’d bolt forward to strike the knife from his hand ! Every cast has gone straight off the music and fudged it, because it makes no sense. Might we ask you to change this ?
Is there a Sculptor in the House ?
Fresh from seeing Miteki Kudo, and that flame-haired scorcher Fanny Fiat in the pas de trois, one is a trifle biased, even when faced with first-rate dancing from others amongst the ladies, last night Mlles. Daniel and Wiart. As for M. Thibault, tell, is there a sculptor in the house ? We need a statue to the fellow in the main square before the Opera, so that a couple of centuries from now, as people file in to judge the Concours, it will be forcefully recalled to them that Mob Rule ain’t Never got us Nowhere, neither in art, nor yet in politics. The man has been pretty damn good – that’s an understatement folks – throughout this run, but last night – well, why wreck it with too many words ? I would just say that, in forty or so years in the trade, I do consider myself extremely lucky to have seen three or four dancers – such as this gentleman - who, as Bournonville put it: “lift one up from this earth”.
Bournonville was speaking about Marie Taglioni, incidentally.
Being a mere mortal nonetheless, there was a snag or two. In this age where everyone has had it drummed into them that Tall is Beautiful, that Tall is a Prince, etc., all medium-height people tend to dance a little too large, i.e. outside their own natural radius of action, nor is M. Thibault entirely free from this flaw. Perhaps help from someone like Niels Kehlet or Flemming Ryberg would be in order ?
In Act II, the children in the Polonaise, who have to dance flat out, appear to be winding down, as the run is probably rather too long for them, lasting as it does, almost two full months.
Otherwise, allow me to salute the entire cast for what was a truly outgoing, generous performance, one that gave something from the soul to the audience.
As for the choreography, we’ll leave that cliff-hanger to the next instalment…