A special occasion calls for a special occasion. As Mrs Chrisparkle was celebrating her **th birthday (and they don’t come much bigger than the **th), we decided to jetset it to Paris for a long weekend of culture. And Disneyland, of course. We’ve been to the Phantom’s Own Palais Garnier a few times over the years and even though I’ve attached a few photos, they really do not do it justice. It is just the most stunning theatre in the world. You could be in Versailles. It’s so chic that it doesn’t have a bar per se, just irregularly positioned tables with someone dispensing glasses of Taittinger for 12 euros a neck. One of the splendid things about a programme of three individual ballets is that there will be two intervals, each perfectly champagne-sized. Including our pre-show drink, we got through three glasses each; that’s 72 euros spent on divinely spoiling ourselves. Well, we’re worth it.
Jiri Kylian has long been a choreographer to admire. I first encountered his work when seeing Rambert and NDT2 at High Wycombe in the mid-90s; and, in fact, we saw one of the three dances in this programme, Tar and Feathers, in 2007 when NDT1 were performing it at Sadlers’ Wells. He’s always been daring, stylish, funny and unpredictable; never one to create a piece that you can predict how it will develop, you’re always guessing where he’s going to take you next. The programme is satisfyingly structured to the tried and tested formula of Dance 1: accessible, straightforward, enjoyable; Dance 2: difficult, challenging, unpredictable; Dance 3: crowd pleasing, funny, lively. Each dance was originally created for Nederlands Dans Theater.
The first dance on offer was Bella Figura, created by Kylian in 1995, and which first entered the repertoire of the Paris Opera in 2001. This is a stunning piece of work on many levels. Primarily, you get an overwhelming feeling of balance and beauty. The dancers move exquisitely, with steady control, to a tender baroque soundtrack, radiating elegance and refinement. Kylian takes you by surprise with the sequences where the dancers appear topless, both men and women, all dressed similarly in billowing red skirts, creating a surprisingly asexual and uniform tableau. The semi-nudity is a great leveller, making all the dancers appear remarkably similar. The other surprise element in the staging is how the curtains take on a life of their own and create smaller box-like dance spaces on the stage. This gives you a feeling not only that your gaze is being drawn specifically to what Kylian wants you to see, but also that sensation that you are being deprived of seeing other activity elsewhere on the stage. Both unnerving and reassuring at the same time. Suffice to say, it was performed with immaculate class and sheer delight throughout, and Dorothée Gilbert and Alessio Carbone were simply superb.
The second dance – Tar and Feathers – was choreographed by Kylian in 2006 to Mozart’s ninth piano concerto and is both spellbinding and unutterable nonsense at the same time. Skirts made of bubble wrap; a piano standing on stilts loftily in the air; dancers who occasionally break their silence by barking like a dog. Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo would love it. Plenty of slow, deliberate walking across the stage; and there is some significance in the fact that one side of the stage is coloured black, the other white. On the black side, dancers peer curiously under the floor covering to find – who knows what? They don’t seem to find anything, but sometimes they just like to stay there, protecting themselves from the outside world with lino. The dance ends with one of the dancers walking, tentatively, over a mountain of bubble wrap, cringing each time she steps and makes a cracking noise. All thoroughly weird and beyond comprehension. And also, there wasn’t a lot of what you’d call dance in it – a lot of posturing, a lot of silence, a lot of awkwardness, but not much actual dance. Yet again, it was performed with such style and grace that you can’t help forgive it its nonsense. Well, I forgave it. The rather grumpy man to my right refused to applaud.
The final dance was Symphonie de Psaumes, with Stravinsky’s music of the same name, composed to celebrate the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s 50th anniversary in 1930. Jiri Kylian created the dance in 1978 and it’s an absolute crowd-pleaser. Rich looking oriental and Indian carpets hug the back wall of the stage to present a warm sea of reds and oranges, whilst on the ground dancers dressed in black and grey walk and dance in formation across a square surrounded by chairs. Waves of dancers criss-cross the stage, picking others up and dropping others off in their wake, like some human knitting pattern on a huge machine as they work towards a distant inexorable goal. It’s mesmeric to watch and full of beautiful and invigorating dance moves. The audience absolutely loved it.
The production continues in repertory at the Palais Garnier until 31st December – a rewarding and most refined evening.
Production photos by Ann Ray. Theatre photos by me.