Lac des Cygnes
Opéra Bastille (December 22nd, 24th and 25th 2005)
If it be Ulyana Lopatkina’s occasional appearance in this city that has actually produced the shock wave on our ballerinas that seems to be scudding across the stage at the moment, then More Power to Lopatkina !
It was Gillot’s recent statements on Lopatkina that clinched it. One could not help but wonder - "Might there be a change ? Might we hope to put aside the formally correct, in favour of a less well-charted domain ?"
Good question, and from the stage, we are receiving a good answer !
So far as this writer can see, the point to Ulyana Lopatkina’s work, despite its lacunae - she neither jumps nor beats, her turns feel unsteady, she can dance only adagio, her partnering is on the hermetic side, and the whole excessively-tall frame creaks and groans like untried metal - is its inner freedom, and complete trust in the importance of the classical dance. She listens to the music, if not always quite accurately, and begins to dance, letting error and shortcoming fall where they may. Lopatkina is not, in truth, anywhere near Ulanova or Alla Shelest, but her mind works along the same paths, so why bite the hand that feeds us ?
On several occasions, Lopatkina has explained to the newspapers that she has moved to protect herself, and shun certain works, in order to maintain the integrity of her thoughts.
Now, owing to the stress laid in the French theatre on "étoilat", a loud rumble of aggressivity, ambition and "Proving It" is a not-infrequent backdrop to performance, making it difficult to "hear" the subject that we are purportedly discussing in art. Which is anything but "Proving It".
So this writer watched the performance by Marie-Agnès Gillot very carefully on the past Saturday, and one came away with the impression, through the follow-through in the torso to the fingers, less stress on hard and sustained "visual" positions, a pensive countenance, and the slight touches that distinguish the dancing in Act I from Act IV, that an idea of freedom and even, purity, seem to be making headway.
On this past Sunday, we had Aurélie Dupont herself pushing the boat out. Endowed with rather less physical stamina than Gilllot, the tension could not be sustained at the same level throughout the Acts, possibly because of the knee, possibly because she puts such great energy into finishing every movement down to the last milimetre, without the slightest relaxation in the body, ever. And possibly, because there are so few major works performed in this theatre, that people lack the opportunity to build stamina.
Although technically superlative - even her ports de bras, how un-French ! - her dancing has always struck one as lacking in spontaneity, and rather bland. Enchantment, mystery, are not the domain of this very deliberate and hard-headed dancer. But in Act I, Dupont suddenly, to one’s surprise, moved into another world, one moment a woman, sensual and committed, the next, a creature that has lost all grip on destiny.
Mlle. Dupont’s taste, throughout, was excellent, in keeping with a work of art that, lest we forget, dates from the 1890s when for some bizarre reason, women did not walk up to the gentlemen and straightaway thrust their undies into the poor blokes’ face. In other words, Dupont did not pick up the leg: arabesque penchée was precisely that, at about 140 degrees, so we avoided children shrieking "Mummie, is he passing the Hoover over the carpet ?" Indeed, all her figures shewed restraint, nor did she scramble over the accents, knocking down the musical furniture in order to hit the cute pose. This was a beautifully constructed, detailed and masterful performance, such as can be put out by few in the world today, all the more so, that Mlle. Dupont has had but little occasion to dance this work.
Regrettably, the French National Theatre, unlike Saint Petersburg and Moscow, performs a ballet in a single, twenty-performance series every three to five years, rather than rotating through all its repertory on a yearly basis. So the French ballerina will dance three "Lacs" in 2005, and then three in 2010, and then her career will be over. In terms of building a characterisation, does that make sense to you ?
Presssed into the mould of Fashion
Being half-Russian, allow this writer to take the liberty of addressing a few lines to one’s fellow Russians, in relation to the type of dancing that Mlle. Zakharova, who danced on the 24th and 27th December in the evening, represents. And allow me to stress that this is not personal, as she is no doubt an amiable and charming young lady.
Having attended in the past three years, several performances by the Bolshoi and the Maryinskii theatres on tour here, there would appear to be markedly diverging views as to what should transpire in the ballet.
If we are to judge by results, one viewpoint may perhaps be espoused by professors such as Tatiana Golikova at the Bolshoi (professor to Masha Alexandrova), viz., that classical dancing is natural. It is natural human movement, improved and elevated as simply and elegantly as possible, by applying to it the teachings of music and science. Therefore, one eschews extreme forms, because they are unneeded. They add nothing, but rather detract, from the inner structural content of whatever we intend to say. Every dancer is entirely different from the next, nor should his body be pressed into the mould of "fashion", because in order for his dance to remain natural and proper to him, he must move according to his own laws. This is what one might call a scientific viewpoint, independent of any fad, and admitting of debate on an equal footing with other Schools and nations.
A further point of view, associated with Boris Eifman, need not be discussed here, as, being unconcerned with technique, it is of less weight. This is the realist and/or expressionist school, akin to so-called Method Acting in the United States. It is an outcrop both of Stanislavski, and of the 1920s Soviet Dramballet. To this current, classical dancing is Catch-as-Catch-can - raw material to an orgy of inchoate emotion. Personally, I consider this a dead-end street.
And there would appear to be a third point of view, that one might, very coarsely, express thusly: "In unscrupulous ways, such as Shock Therapy, the West has tried to smash us. We shall now beat them at their own game. In the West, the fashion is for extreme forms and strange physiques. We shall shew them ! We have 350 million people to pick and choose, and we shall out-Balanchine Balanchine, out-Forsythe Forsythe, and out-out-out whatever else they throw at us. We shall preserve in aspic all the tics and mannerisms of the Vaganova School, and, having hoovered-out their original content, use them as local colour, pasted onto extreme forms. After all, classical dancing is content-free, it is a game of shadow, illusion and fakery. The public has a taste for the extreme, and they will applaud it. When the fashion changes, so do we change."
Well, my fellow Russians, I find this third point of view, called "suivisme", in French, nonsensical, coming as it does from a great nation. If someone shoots himself in the foot, do we shoot ourselves in the foot, to shew that we have a better rifle ?
To pursue the hunting metaphor - after all, this is Lac des Cygnes - if the entire Western world rushes out into the forest like a pack of slathering hounds, and ends up barking up the wrong tree, need Russia bark along? I ask you.
Insofar as the gentlemen now playing the somewhat boring role of Siegfried are concerned, Nureyev has done them no favours at all.
J.G. Bart has put forward the most complete portrayal, as M. Legris is understandably, at 41, a little tired, M. Moreau has not the authority to carry a lead, and M. Martinez, although so very excellent a dancer, radiates at the moment a kind of lassitude that leaves one slightly perplexed.
As the word "boring" does not exist in Emmanuel Thibault’s vocabulary, one wonders why he have not been set down to dance this, perhaps with Hurel or Ould Braham? Why he be dancing neither Siegfried, nor Solor, nor any lead at all, despite having been appointed premier danseur a full year ago ?
Interviewed on France Musique this past December 11th, the theatrical authorities explained - very coolly - that the past decade’s policy has been to prevent Thibault from dancing any lead, in retaliation for the artist’s scarce afinity with "modern" or "contemporary" dance, of which the Paris Opera’s repertory is now essentially comprised.
5-4-3-2-1- Although a scattering of individuals may revel at the thought that the gentleman in question has but five or so years left at the top of the profession, the German term "Frevel" would seem more fitting.
The Revelers’, or Frevelers’, thesis is that classical dance is a dried-out bone fragment, a shard to be swept into the dustbin of history, so that we can get on with formless writhing. A thesis, that Thibault’s dancing flatly contradicts. Here is an artist, severely classical, who moves men’s souls. Therefore, he is become the proverbial tête de Turc, who were best got rid of.
Malinconia, ninfa gentile ?
At the Grand Palais, there is currently an exhibition of paintings entitled Melancholia, the very theme that Nureyev purports to study in his Siegfried. Underline the word, purports, because he has come unhorsed here. Nureyev, for whatever reason, always proceeds from the particular, to the general, rather than from the Universal, to the Individual. He has allowed his own proclivity for taking the steps of the woman, and dancing them for himself, and taking the music for the woman, and dancing it for himself, to obscure his judgment as to what is melancholy in the man, as a Universal, as opposed to melancholy in the woman.
In the woman, melancholy is a cast of mind, it is one of the Temperaments, and not a clinical condition. The female melancholic may be a dreamer, a sentimentalist, a drifter, a reader of cheap novels, or an eater of sweet-meats. In the man, melancholy is only in very rare cases, a cast or drift of mind. In general, it is but a prelude to a major crisis, which if shook off by exercising the will, opens the floodgates to enormous creativity. If not shook off, it leads to mental breakdown, either to the the fretting, petty accountant’s condition, or to madness. In all events, it is a force to be reckoned with. The principal example of the melancholic in the man, is Dante, and the major study, is his own "Vita Nuova".
Nureyev’s Siegfried, neither man nor boy, neither leader nor led, ends up looking a right wimp: in the ballet as opposed to the spoken theatre, no character can sustain indecision and build that to a crisis, over four Acts.
Footnotes to history: Petipa has a signature step for the woman. It is attitude croisée with changement de bras à la quatrième. When we pass the arms over the body in the changement, we look. The essence of that signature, is in the look. The first look, is quite unlike the second. This is a dense and noble form, that, on account of its rhapsodic quality, is particularly suited to the woman, and to the marked curvature of the female spine. Bad news: Nureyev decided he looked good doing it, and has put it in mal à propos for the man. So now, we have the empty shell of the form, with Siegfried passing the arm over the body, scrabbling round in front of the bosom, and ignoring the look. Yelp ! And if we all Yelp loudly enough, perhaps Lesley Collier over at Covent Garden will hear us, and come to the rescue.
Having now invested a small fortune in the programme, we learn that the ensemble scenes are more or less as Lev Ivanov has left them. One could watch them a thousand times over, and yet find fresh details. The corps de ballet is a Greek chorus, they lead the action, they intervene into it, they wail, they exult and even laugh, and they mourn, rising and falling like seafoam. In a word, this is choreography ! The French corps de ballet, although on the surface, less "emotional" than the Russian, is no less compelling if one trouble to look carefully: they do not attempt to fake it, or look soulful. Either the emotion will arise from the music and the dancing, or it will not. And they have wisely let it alone !
As an aside, one is surprised to find that the quadrille Sofia Parcen was neither promoted nor ranked in this year’s Concours: if one were to judge solely by what the public might see in Emeralds, and in the Lac, this was perhaps the most engaged dancing from that class in the corps de ballet. Every detail has been a delight; the countenance organised into expressions as fresh as they are lovely, brightening the mime scenes with painterly touches, the eye drawing the port de bras out to some intriguing spot in proximate infinity, while the arm floats upon the air, as though disregarding all force in the leg.
One final detail that has been drawn to my attention by people who have danced in other productions: the course by the corps de ballet. When the ensemble of swans fly across the stage, they should look, jointly and singly, like a wingspan or the arc of a bow. This is achieved by stretching the foot and leg forwards, and leaning the body slightly backwards as though one were windswept. It is a movement known as élancé. What we are doing here, is simply running, to the effect, that some of us look as though we were doing jeté derrière with the heels kicking up, and some, almost as though it were emboîté en attitude derrière ! There are another ten or so performances, and although everyone is now pretty tired, we could perhaps figure this one out.