The Paris Opera Ballet
San Francisco Opera House
April 30, May 2, May 3, 2001
Nikiya Fanny Gaida
Solor Manuel Legris
Gamzatti Aurelie Dupond
Golden Idol: Benajmin Pech
Manu Variation: Melanie Hurel
Shades Variations: Eleonora Abbagnato; Laetitia Pujol; Delphine Moussin
Nikiya Aurelie Dupond
Solor Manuel Legis
Gamzatti Delphine Moussin
Golden Idol: Karl Paquette
Manu Variation: Sandine Marache
Shades Variations: Eleanora Abbagnato; Laetitia Pujol; Fanny Fiat
Nikiya Fanny Gaida
Solor Jean-Guillaume Bart
Gamzatti Agnes Letestu
Golden Idol: Benjamin Pech
Manu Variation: Melanie Hurel
Shades Variations: See April 30
The Opera has a remarkable string of niceties to its credit, including the practice of noting length of Acts and how frequently a particular ballet has been performed. To know I saw performances 126, 128 and 129 provides me with some expectations on familiarity and ease of the production.
April 30 I was in Row X, May 2 and May 3 Rows , Seat 4 and G, Seat 3, all one in from the aisle, so I saw the production in the rear orchestra, and mid way left and right. The perspective does make a difference.
Elsewhere I have commented on the peculiar mixture of layered Indian styles. Fortunately, both stage and costumes designers wrote disclaimers regarding authenticity. While commending their caveats, the distinctions and niceties between historical Hindu and Muslim traditions could be observed without attempting slavish authenticity. Certainly in the instance of the Pas D'Action in Act II where four dancers, in green render grand jetes as an ensemble from en place position, the adaptation of choli with tutu combined to accent space limits and the awkward execution.
I have nothing but admiration for the May 2 performances by Legris and Dupond. I suspect Legris might be able to execute Solor in his sleep. He does not stint on focus, engagement and motivation, beyond the command of a classical technique which looks as if it was created on his body. Even though he may confine his pirouettes to four or five, he gives every indication he could double that number with ease. His double tours seem as easy for him as flicking the ash from cigarettes for some habitual smokers.
Aurelie Dupond was impressive as Gamzatti, but as Nikiya she was even more a marvel. I had the feeling I saw demonstrated what made Tamara Karsavina so legendary - a terre a terre dancer whose passion and refinement could encompass any role with ease and discernment. Particularly fetching to me was an ever so slightly weighted quality in her port de bras so that her gestures spoke emotionally, and in a faint retard to the beat. How often are classical port de bras positions informed of that intelligence and motivation?
To go from the Act II Nikiya, distraught, hysterically touched by the flowers, dying passionately, to the aloof qualities of the Shades is quite a jump in attack. Dupond accomplishes it with amazing skill, and still the emotional nature of the character shines through. As Nikiya in Act II, having to dance before her beloved who has pledged his love over the sacred flame, the breaks in the movement flow were just enough to convey the emotional devastation coursing through her body. The final dance, so a la Russe, was proud, defiant, exalted, making the snake that much more startling. Dupond has a certain attentive stillness in Act III which is absolutely right. And in most of the supported work, Dupond and Legris echoed each other sublimely.
Delphine Moussin was dramatically impressive as Gamzatti, her confrontation with Nikiya wonderfully willful and imperious. Her slenderness is accented by a superb carriage, projecting the regal easily. I had noticed Moussin's musical line exhibited as the Third Variation in Act III on April 30, but her Gamzatti variations in two or three instances were quite wobbly, particularly in the en dedans sections.
Agnes Letestu, dancing Gamzatti May 3, possesses a deadly certain technique and conveys the
calculations of a woman willing to get her man at all costs. Her height makes her shoulder and head placement almost a separate unit to her carriage, but in classical technique she was all of a piece while it seemed confined to sur la place.
Jean-Guillaume Bart was nicely matched physically with Fanny Gaida. His technique was certain, tending towards the lyric. Because of his size and physique, he reminded me a little of a
young Anthony Dowell, though his schooling is quite different.
My initial impression of Gaida was solidified in the May 3 performance. Like other members of the company, there is a distinct stiffness in neck and shoulders which short circuits the musical phrase and tends to make port de bras weightless, somewhat habitual and lacking in substance.
A most singular treat May 3 was Laurent Queval as The Grand Brahmin. His dramatic projection was simply superb. The use of his eyes, the sharp direction of his index finger and the rubato in his torso when spurned, informed Nikya was to be eliminated and observes her as she confronts Gamzatti's machinations and her own death, lent force and focus to the plot.
The male corps continued to be one of the real strengths of the production. The kshatriyas remained impressive and their approaches to the dancing girls reminded one Hall of Mirrors in the Palais Garnier continues to echo its earlier practices.
The corps in the Shades scene continued to win special bravos. A former de Basil dancer remarked to me with delight, "They walk on demi-pointe!"