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Orpheus and Eurydice*

Pina Bausch (choreography), Christoph Willibald Gluck (music)
Yann Bridard (principal dancer), Marie-Agnès Gillot (prima ballerina), Miteki Kudo (dancer), Maria Riccarda Wesseling, Julia Kleiter, Sunhae Im (singers), Balthasar-Neumann Ensemble and Choir, Thomas Hengelbrock (conductor)
Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker (choreography), Steve Reich (composer)
Valentine Colasante, Muriel Zusperreguy, Christelle Granier, Sae Eun Park, Leonore Baulac, Amelie Lamoureux, Laura Bachman, Vincent Chaillet, Nicolas Paul, Daniel Stokes (dancers), Ensemble Ictus, Synergy Vocals, Georges-Elie Octors (conductor)
Tribute to Jerome Robbins#
Jerome Robbins, Benjamin Millepied (choreography), Maurice Ravel, Frédéric Chopin, Nico Muhly (music)
Marie-Agnès Gillot, Laetitia Pujot, Clairemarie Osta, Agnès Letestu, Delphine Moussin, Dorothée Gilbert (prima ballerinas), Nicolas Le Riche, Benjamin Pech (principal dancers), Stephane Bullion, Stéphane Phavorin, Alessio Carbone, Emmanuel Thibault (first soloists), Florian Magnenet, Audric Bezard, Marc Moreau (dancers), Vessela Pelovska (piano), Orchestre de l’Opéra national de Paris, Koen Kessels (conductor)
Ballet de l’Opéra national de Paris, Louise Narboni, Vincent Bataillon (* #) (film directors)
Recording: Palais Garnier, Paris, France (February (*) and September (#) 2008 and October 2014) – 240’49
BelAir Classiques BAC613 (or Blu-ray BAC614) – 3 DVDs – PCM 2.0 – Dolby Digital 5.1 – 16:9 NTSC – Code Region: 0 – No booklet – Subtitles only (*) in German, French, English Spanish and Italian (Distributed by Naxos of America)

If you are both a ballet and music lover in equal measure, the Ballet de l’Opéra national de Paris filmed at the Palais Garnier is an essential three-disc compilation of modern works over the last decade. There is nothing like the experience of live dance, but there are other advantages of dance on film of a live performance. One of the best things about ballet on film is that there is an opportunity for repeated viewing and a chance to focus on the music that’s all too often upstaged by choreography, dancers and production. BelAir Classiques includes no production extras (i.e. interviews or backstage banter)...just the recorded performance – it’s feast enough.

The clear highlight of this collection is Pina Bausch’s 2008 revival of her 1975 masterpiece Orpheus and Eurydice scored to Gluck’s full opera, masterfully led by Thomas Hengelbrock conducting the Balthasar-Neumann Ensemble and Choir. Veteran dance filmmaker Vincent Bataillon illuminates Bausch’s stunning sense of stage composition as well as the dynamic power and subtleties of the lead dancers and singers on stage together.

Filming dance has become much more intimate with mobile cameras’ abilities to swoop in on the action, breaking away from the conventional full dance body perspective. You can be in close for expressiveness as well as technical artistry. Bataillon wisely chooses a more conventional dance on film approach with an almost constant full proscenium stage perspective that illuminates Bausch’s brilliant sense of stage composition. Her choreography for this work, is in itself operatic, yet it completely expresses the transcendence and drama of Gluck’s opera over the four movements as noted in the ballet as ‘Death/Grief/Violence/Peace/Death.’

Yann Bridard is Orpheus, and his text is sung by mezzo Maria Riccarda Wesseling who shadows him. The ballet opens with Bausch’s dancers clustered behind Eurydice who has just died. The ensemble of dancers are wrapped in black shrouds with heads and hands snaking around Eurydice as they usher her into the underworld. Eurydice, in a long white shroud, is lifted over the stage, her limbs rigid; the ‘shadows’ trigger ritualistic, macabre and evocative choreography.

Using Bridard, Bausch’s unflinching, ignoble expressions of ‘Grief’ are tremulous and near naked as the former inches onto the scene in shock. Marie-Agnès Gillot’s Eurydice is deceptively lifeless as she is carried by the ‘shadows’ into the underworld. Her soul is expressed vocally by soprano Julia Kleiter while she tries to understand what has happened to her.

One of Gluck’s most famous passages in ‘Violence’ are the Furies which are orchestrally unleashed as dancers pitch themselves forward in spiraling gestures, evoking netherworld ritualized frenzy. The two ‘butchers’ preside over light and dark forces in a torrent of symbolic motion...a purgatorial choreographic mosaic worthy of Dante. Three men in ominous butcher aprons (dancers Yong Geol Kim, Nicolas Paul and Vincent Cordier) heave themselves in violent leaps and menacing unison configurations while the corps dancer claws and scrambles out of the way.

During ‘Peace’ (the bitter tears run dry...here, passionate hearts are soothed) we hear an entrancing, serene string and harp field; Bausch is at her lyrically balletic best with the corps wrapped in lilac silk dresses. ‘Peace’ is radiant with Bausch’s lyrical expression and liberated dance aesthetic. In the final movement we see Orpheus trying to fulfill his pact with the gods to let Eurydice live, trying to guide her back to the living without speaking or looking at her. Thomas Hengelbrock and the orchestra are only briefly shown, but the breadth of detailing of this score is as captivating as Bausch’s choreography. It’s a triumphant moment for lead singers, dancers and corps de ballet and when Pina Bausch joins the cast onstage during the performance’s thundering ovation. This is especially poignant since it was a year before the choreographer’s death in 2009.

Director Louise Narboni is more cinematically free-flowing for choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s ballet Rain. The opening overhead shot of the Ictus Ensemble’s multiple pianos and percussive instruments makes it almost look like a Busby Berkeley musical.

Conductor Georges-Elie Octors’ conjures the sonic atmospherics of composer Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians with its percussive pointillism chords and an otherworldly vocal tremolos ebbing and flowing. The troupe of ten dancers comes through an arced translucent evocation of infinity. Dancers are shot high above and there are geometric lines on the floor to frame their abstract movement that give way to running and group clusters. Keersmaeker’s template to carve out body rhythms and ensemble configurations scramble at any time. The Reich sound field is a matrix of percussive drives, accumulations of pianos, vibes and marimba which evoke rain and atmospherics, human and otherwise.

The men have a free dance trio that locks into ragged unison, jumping and dropping with nonchalance or even deliberate imprecision. Dancers are playful as they characterize the music or generate cryptic looks...there could be stories here or you could just ride along with dancers moving through space without the necessity of narrative. The highlight is a central communal of seven women taking to the floor with more intensity and reflections to the inner rhythms of the music. Reich’s score transports with driving intensity. The choreography is similarly propulsive and meditative with deliberately static enclaves as lightening on the dance floor and thunder in the air intrudes.

Tribute to Jerome Robbins opens with Robbins’ carnavale of beachgoers costumed in pastel colors ala 20s era swimwear. The seaside romper, En Sol, is scored to Ravel’s driving Piano Concerto in G major. The ensemble of ballerinas and danseurs frolic, flirt and swim in a clever ensemble. Marie-Agnès Gillot and Florian Magnenet are the lead couple. Gillot’s quicksilver pirouettes and air-slicing leaps captivate. Their central pas de deux has precision and dynamic chemistry, even as En Sol looks a bit italicized to the period, choreographically-speaking. Robbins is more inventive with the series of trios by the ensemble that are fueled with his inimitable, and wry esprit de corps.

Benjamin Millepied’s Triade seems out of place in this collection, even as an homage to Robbins’ fusion of neoclassicism and show dance seems pasted together from Millepied’s more substantive ballets. The dance quartet – Marie-Agnès Gillot, Laetitia Pujol, Audric Bezard and Marc Moreau – certainly tries to make the most of it in their performances, playfully switching off in duets. Nico Muhly’s music is dramatic and propulsive at key moments or visa-versa.

In The Night opens with lead couple Clairemarie Osta, dressed in a midnight blue tulle, and Benjamin Peck, outlined in a velvet doublet, depicting lovers in a storybook age as they dance to bittersweet Chopin and exemplar of Robbins’ ironic neoclassicism. Their intimate lifts give way to a rapturous waltz variation that they interrupt with a passionate embrace. Two other couples enter in duet variations with hints of scandal. This is pristine waltz-time romantic ballet that can be so sensual in the theater, but it doesn’t translate well on the screen.

In contrast, Robbins’ The Concert proves just as hilarious on the dance screen as it can be (but often isn’t) onstage. It’s comique par excellance at the foot of the Opéra national. Set to a suite of songs by Chopin (with live piano accompaniment for a predominant part of it), The Concert has everything: a noisy set of twins, a tutu rapturous fan, a warring Soviet couple, a nerdy fan, ballerina bombshell and a macabre mise en scène with ballerinas hauled around like mannequins (a jab at Balanchine, no?) Pianist Vessela Pelovska is not distracted from Chopin even as she shoots some lethal stares at the dancers because of their antics. When Pelovska hits the first notes of Chopin’s Prélude, opus 28, n° 4 in the finale, it’s one of the most moving choreographic statements to ever reach the stage. This timeless, elegiac Chopin prelude music sears Robbins’ symbolic communal with everyone scrambling under umbrellas because they’re caught in an inevitable downpour.

Lewis J. Whittington




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