From Marie-Agnes Gillot and the Paris Opera Ballet, Heart and Technique in Balanchine, Robbins, and Preljocaj

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2000, 2018 Paul Ben-Itzak

In tonight’s return to the Paris Opera Ballet repertoire of Maurice Bejart’s “Bolero,” Marie-Agnes Gillot will dance the lead role. Gillot retires from the Opera March 31.

PARIS — For as long as I’ve been covering dance intensely, I’ve been hearing what a brilliant dude this guy Balanchine is. So much so that he doesn’t even require a first name on first reference — kinda like “God.” So I’ve not broadcast that many of Mr. B’s ballets leave me cold. But I had a nagging sense — mostly from seeing the work performed by Dance Theatre of Harlem and Suzanne Farrell’s companies — that it didn’t need to be so, and may have just been the tepid presentations by New York City Ballet, only selectively amended by San Francisco Ballet’s clean executions of the 1950s black and white dances. Well, Saturday night at the Palais Garnier, courtesy of Paris Opera Ballet dancers Jean-Guillaume Bart, Agnes Letestu, Delphine Moussin, Karin Averty, Beatrice Martel, Aurore Cordellier, and Dorothee Gilbert, I was re-educated: It ain’t necessarily so. Balanchine does not have to be coldly rendered. The abstract, architectural beauty of his ballets can be inhabited in a way that gives them life. Elsewhere on Saturday’s mostly winning mixed program, Manuel Legris provided a reminder of how Jerome Robbins humanized the dance, Marie-Agnes Gillot and Clairemarie Osta rendered Angelin Preljocaj’s stark world with warm humanity, and dancers no less talented than all these could not save the evening’s one premiere, Lionel Hoche’s “Yamm,” from making me want to yell, “J’accuse!” (As I don’t yet know how to say, “Make it stop!” or “Oy!” in French.)

To receive the complete article, first published on October 23, 2000, subscribers please contact publisher Paul Ben-Itzak at paulbenitzak@gmail.com. Not a subscriber? Subscribe to the Dance Insider & Arts Voyager for just $29.95/year ($99 for institutions gets full access for all your teachers, students, dance company members, etc.) by designating your PayPal payment in that amount to paulbenitzak@gmail.com, or write us at that address to learn how to pay by check. Subscribers receive full access to the DI/AV Archive of 2,000 exclusive reviews by 150 leading critics of performances and art on five continents from 1998 through 2015. You can also purchase a complete copy of the Archives for just $49 (individuals) or $109 (institutions) Contact Paul at paulbenitzak@gmail.com. Sign up by March 1 and receive a FREE Home page photo ad.

Degas meets Valéry at the Orsay, 2

degas12 dancer in escalier smallTo commemorate the centennial of the death of Edgar Degas (1834-1917), through Sunday the musée d’Orsay has organized an exhibition that juxtaposes paintings, pastels, and drawings from the Impressionist artist and others with “Degas Danse Dessin,” published in 1936 by the art dealer Ambroise Vollard. Accompanied by 26 hors-textes reproductions of Degas’s graphic work, the luxury edition was written by French poet Paul Valéry (1871-1945). “For Degas,” wrote Valéry, “an oeuvre was the result of an undefined quantity of studies, and, afterwards, a series of operations. I really believe that he thought that an oeuvre should never be considered ‘finished.'” Edgar Degas (1834-1917), “Dancers walking up a stairway,” between 1886 and 1890. Oil on canvas, 39 x 89.5 cm. Paris, musée d’Orsay, RF 1979. Photo © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d’Orsay) / Stéphane Maréchalle. Courtesy Service Presse / musée d’Orsay.

Infanticides, Shrews, and Sluts: Mats Ek Skewers the Fair Sex at the Paris Opera; Teshigawara Rides Their Wings

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2003, 2018 Paul Ben-Itzak

In tonight’s return to the Paris Opera Ballet repertoire of Maurice Bejart’s “Bolero,” Marie-Agnes Gillot will dance the lead. Gillot retires from the Opera March 31. Special thanks to DI supporter NR for enabling our ballet coverage.

PARIS — For the first 10 minutes of Mats Ek’s “Appartement,” created on the Paris Opera Ballet in 2000 and reprised this past weekend at the Garnier, I was all set to write a piece regurgitating the question: Why isn’t Ek, a major contemporizing force in ballet in Europe, programmed by U.S. ballet companies, instead of the safe middling contemporary fare we often get from them? But then I realized the misogynistic vision of women Ek was using his innovative choreography to postulate. On International Women’s Day, no less, the Paris Opera Ballet was presenting a view of women as man-domineering baby-burners who, when they are not subduing their men, have only one thing in mind, to get them to fuck them. (I use the vulgar language to convey the vulgar way in which Ek expressed this.)

On paper, the conceit of “Appartement” is surprisingly full of possibilities. In the program notes, Ek points out that our apartments can be isolated chambers where we are alone with ourselves. (Indeed, the French word for ‘room’ is ‘chambre.’) How we interact with, in, and among its implements and environs is fertile territory for dramatic and kinetic exploration. Onstage, the piece begins intriguingly enough. As seen Saturday afternoon, the ever lissome Marie-Agnes Gillot squeezes under the drawn faux-curtain and onto the lip of the stage — willowy and statuesque at the same time, and a heart-stopper seen at such close range, as evidenced by the gasping of the woman seated next to me. That we’re in the bathroom is indicated, prop-wise, by a solitary bidet-sized bathtub. Where we are is also indicated by Gillot, who stands up and shivers in anticipation as she enters, as many of us do when stepping into the capsule of a hot bath, to be alone with our whimsies, musings… and fantasies. She is suddenly free, her long limbs shooting to the sky…..

To receive the complete article, first published on March 12, 2003, subscribers please contact publisher Paul Ben-Itzak at paulbenitzak@gmail.com. Not a subscriber? Subscribe to the Dance Insider & Arts Voyager for just $29.95/year ($99 for institutions gets full access for all your teachers, students, dance company members, etc.) by designating your PayPal payment in that amount to paulbenitzak@gmail.com, or write us at that address to learn how to pay by check. Subscribers receive full access to the DI/AV Archive of 2,000 exclusive reviews by 150 leading critics of performances and art on five continents from 1998 through 2015. You can also purchase a complete copy of the Archives for just $49 (individuals) or $109 (institutions) Contact Paul at paulbenitzak@gmail.com. Sign up by March 1 and receive a FREE Home page photo ad.

Degas meets Valéry at the Orsay, 3

degas15 dancer drawing smallTo commemorate the centennial of the death of Edgar Degas (1834-1917), through Sunday the musée d’Orsay has organized an exhibition that juxtaposes paintings, pastels, and drawings from the Impressionist artist and others with “Degas Danse Dessin,” published in 1936 by the art dealer Ambroise Vollard. Accompanied by 26 hors-textes reproductions of Degas’s graphic work, the luxury edition was written by French poet Paul Valéry (1871-1945). “There’s an immense difference between seeing something without the pencil in hand, and seeing it in drawing it,” Valéry observed. “Or rather, one sees two different things. Even the most familiar object to our eyes becomes something completely different, if one proceeds to draw it; we realize that… we never really saw it.” Edgar Degas (1834-1917), “Dancer.” Drawing featured in Paul Valéry’s “Degas Danse Dessin,” published by Ambroise Vollard in 1936. Paris, musée d’Orsay. © Musée d’Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt. Courtesy Service Presse / musée d’Orsay.

Flash Focus, 10-25: Think Globally, Act Regionally — Angelini Builds New Home for New Dance; Lustig Smashes Glass Ceiling

tulsa-new

Tulsa Ballet’s Daniela Buson and Wang Yi in Ma Cong’s “Blood Rush” on the opening program at the company’s intimate Studio K theater. Christopher Jean-Richard photo copyright Christopher Jean-Richard and courtesy Tulsa Ballet.

By Paul Ben-Itzak  
Copyright Paul Ben-Itzak

(Author’s Note, 10-25-2016: In processing my interview with Marcello Angelini in 2008, I was so focused on the immediate picture in front of me – the Tulsa Ballet artistic director’s investment in creating infrastructure, as one of the rare young directors of mid-sized ballet companies who wasn’t using it as merely a stepping stone to something bigger – that I under-emphasized the importance of Angelini’s vision about ballet’s larger role as a cultural and even historical vector. Beyond pointing to paragraphs six and seven below, I can only add here an element of Angelini’s trajectory which no doubt helped forge his global vision and historical appreciation for ballet’s role in reflecting and advancing the larger culture in the same way that his very Italian manner of finding a suit influenced his designs for the new theater. Before turning to directing ballet companies, he danced for many years with Rudolph Nureyev’s touring company, frequently alternating with the star in principal roles. On the day I write these notes, we’ve just learned of the death of the activist, author, and politician Tom Hayden two days earlier at the age of 76, after a long illness. Hayden is remembered for co-founding, in 1961, Students for a Democratic Society, an early agitator  for civil rights and free speech, and against the Vietnam War. In 1968 he was tried as a member of the so-called Chicago Eight after protesting outside the Democratic Convention. The last time I saw Hayden was in Sacramento, California, during the 1992 government shut-down in a squabble over the state budget. Sitting in a subdued legislative chamber, the goatee’d Hayden was profiting from the lull to immerse himself in a new book about “Generation X.”  No fossil he. But fundamentally, Hayden’s importance was that he refused to accept business as usual. Ballet has far too few of these  — another reason to celebrate agitators like Marcello Angelini.)

Recently I received the Royal Ballet’s programming announcement for next season. I had trouble keeping my eyelids open. The same old dinosaurs being trotted out, whether in tired versions of classics or tired names of supposedly original modern ballet choreographers. Fortunately, where many of the large ballet companies have failed to imagine, the companies we big-city types used to condescendingly refer to as “regional” (as in, ‘not bad for a regional company’) have come through, commissioning new work with traction from choreographers not named Wheeldon, encouraging original voices to work in the ballet idiom without sacrificing classic values or, like many European ballet companies (Lyon comes to mind) resorting to extra-dance elements like text and ‘technology.’ At the top of this list are Marcello Angelini’s Tulsa Ballet and Graham Lustig’s American Repertory Ballet.

Angelini and Lustig have one other trait in common which is revealing itself in the level of talent and support they’ve been able to build. Neither see their companies as simple necessary stepping stones in ambitious trajectories whose ultimate goal is to land them a job with a bigger company. As a result, rather than the flashy programming which garners short-term attention but leaves no legacy (or, worse, the legacy of a deficit) that we often see from directors whose ambitions are confined to their own careers, they are actually building structures, community infrastructures,  and patron relationships from which their companies and audiences will reap benefits long after they’ve departed.

In Angelini’s case, the most visible evidence is a capital campaign which, over the past five years, has raised $17 million, $8.9 million of which has been directed towards a building expansion and renovation which sees its first fruits Thursday with the opening of Studio K – Kivisto Hall, a 300-seat theater designed expressly for the performance of new work in an additional fifth series for the Tulsa home season. (For this inaugural edition, three tango-themed works by Fernanda Ghi and Guillermo Merlo, Young Soon Hue, and Tulsa Ballet principal dancer Ma Cong, on a program running through May 4. See Alicia Chesser’s review, elsewhere in these DI Archives.) The facility, named after Tulsa supporter Tom Kivisto, will serve for performances and education, and be available for community rental.

“This is a theater built to suit a new program, a new series that we are starting this year, rather then the other way around,” Angelini explained to me earlier this week. “This series has been in the making since I first came to Tulsa 13 years ago. In fact, it was one of the first projects I presented to the board of directors. It was all part of a plan, a three-fold plan with this series dedicated to creation being the last part of the plan. First I wanted to build a company that was able to dance everything, from the classics to the most contemporary work. Then I wanted to build a repertory that was truly international, allowing the people living in our community to experience here, in their homes, the same works they could see in New York, Paris, London, Milan or Moscow. Then, once the international repertory was built, I wanted to take the company internationally and give us a true test of our value, as assessed by reviewers and audiences that had never seen us before and would never see us again. Lastly, I wanted to add a series dedicated to creations.

“I always felt that creations need a special surrounding to be appreciated to the fullest. So, rather then creating a work and trying to fit it into a theater, I did the opposite. And that’s when being Italian helped in the thought process…. In Italy, we don’t just buy a suit and then fit it on our body. We go to the tailor, we get the fabric we like and we ask him to build it on our body…. I believe we are the only company in the U.S. that has spent $5 million to build a theater entirely dedicated to the creation of new works and, thus, to the progression and growth of the art form. This is the statement I wanted to make with Kivisto Hall.”

Angelini broadens the scope of his intentions with a credo that should serve as a guidepost for all guardians and cultivators of this art: “We enjoy an introspective look at the sociology and emotions of our ancestors from the 19th century through the art they created,” he says. “Better yet, with dance, this art comes alive in front of our eyes. We artistic directors need to commit to create a body of works that will withstand the test of time and will represent, a century or two from now, who we were at this time in the development of the human being.

“Another reason for creating art is that we, the arts organization, differ from the entertainment industry insofar as we have a responsibility toward the cultural growth of the community that supports us. Yes, we have to entertain, but we also have a responsibility to push the cultural boundaries of our people, challenge them to think, to accept progress, to expand their vision beyond the boundaries of the community they call home. Our job is to both please and make people think. Kivisto Hall will allow us to continue this commitment by creating works that are leading edge, while still entertaining and never infringing on the artistic integrity of the art form.”

Speaking of boundaries, for an art form that owes most of its historical stages of physical invention and development to women — from Taglioni’s enabling the articulation of Romanticism (see elsewhere in these DI Archives), to Farrell’s articulating and even inspiring Balanchine — ballet has a lousy record when it comes to allowing women creators *equal* access. It was in part to correct this that, several years ago, artistic director Graham Lustig started the Dancing through the Ceiling commissioning program at American Repertory Ballet, based in the working-class and university central New Jersey town of New Brunswick. But he didn’t stop there. The problem with sex or race-centric programs is they risk ghettoizing the very group they seek to promote. An all-female, all-Black, all-gay program carries the unfortunate subtext, “not bad for (women, Blacks, Gays).” It can even imply that the works will be of little interest to anyone outside that group; that they’ll speak only to an identity constituency. What Lustig does, however, is to integrate these works into his general programming. So even though three of the four works making up ARB’s program at New York’s Symphony Space May 8 and 9 are by women, the program is not being marketed as “Three Girls and Graham” but under the more universal rubric “Sinatra, Shadows, and Stars,” the ballets in question being inspired by the crooner from Hoboken, Balanchine, three Van Gogh paintings including “The Starry Night,” and the diary of Anne Frank.

The program starts with a work from that giant of male and female choreographers of the late 20th century, Twyla Tharp, in her Balanchine homage “Octet,” only the second time in 17 years the work has been programmed in New York. (Seeing the piece earlier this year in New Jersey, the Star-Ledger’s Robert Johnson called it “the most thrilling Tharp revival anywhere this season.” (And there have been a lot of them, notably at American Ballet Theatre; see elsewhere in these DI Archives.) Tharp also contributes “Sinatra Suite,” in a staging by Elaine Kudo, who created the duet with Mikhail Baryshnikov. The Dancing through the Ceiling commission is “Starry Nights,” one of more than 80 ballets created by Lisa de Ribere, and which takes its inspiration from Van Gogh’s “Starry Nights Over the Rhone,” “The Cafe Terrasse, Arles, at Night” and “The Starry Night.”

Even the one work on the program created by a male, Lustig’s “Shadows in the Attic,” owes its source to a young woman, reflecting the last night diarist Anne Frank, her family, the van Daans and Mr. Dussel spent in the Secret Annex before being discovered and before they were hauled off to the death camps by the Gestapo, all but Anne’s father Otto perishing. Bringing it back home to Angelini’s point about the potential of art to reflect a time and of dance to do it in real time, reviewing this ballet, Johnson wrote, “Such unusual works do more than underscore the empathic function of art; they place art within the realm of civic duty.”