"Le Parc" (1994)
Paris Opera Ballet
San Francisco Opera House
Friday, May 4, 2001, Performance Number 38
Music: W.A. Mozart
Sound: Coran Vejvoda
Choreography: Angelin Prelojocaj
Costumes: Herve Pierre
Decor: Thierry Leproust
Lighting: Jacques Chatelet
Elizabeth Maurin, Manuel Legris
Confronted with the West Coast dotcom existence, I appreciate style, the more historic the better. I relish it in a culture where it is cheaper to demolish 30 and 40 year structures of steel and concrete than to remodel them. Yet vintage clothing and objects salvaged from the 50's bring exorbitant prices for those with disposable income and idiosyncratic collecting tastes.
Anything with baroque movement or costuming can sweep me away, if superbly presented and danced with consummate feel for style and tradition. Ergo, Paris Opera Ballet's Le Parc was a set piece to engage my attention, while I knew Angelin Prelojocaj would do something totally unexpected. The program notes warned Le Parc was to be performed without intermission and made explicit Le Parc was concerned with relationship between men and women.
The curtain went up, on a sky, clouds, triangular shapes in the background, a low, stylized horizon, fluted pillars and cage like constructions jutting out and up the depth of stage right and left. Thunder and palpable sighs of a young woman, perhaps in sexual ecstasy, are heard.
Four young men face each other. Did they represent the four corners of the compass? Or the four Jungian perceptions, thinking-feeling, intuition-sensation? Their geometrical movement qualities - below the waist, quite like swordsmen - in the arms like birds poised for flight, hovering. Can Europeans ever depict such images and lowering skies! Alessio Carbone, Herve Courtain, Mallory Gaudion and Adrien Bodet comprised the gardening continuity, dressed in brown and wear leather tunics, traditional gardeners' garments?
Young men in scarlet trousers and black jackets with cascades of lace at the wrists, hair drawn into small pony tails, drag in Parisian park chairs and sit. The young women arrive in longer, more ornate jackets but in similar style, with more chairs. Legris is distinguished by dressing entirely in black and wearing a hat, but he arrives quite circumspectly, except perhaps for the exaggerated precision of his walk. During the ensuing episode with chairs he sits both down stage front, observing the maneuvers, hands calmly folded, and also up stage.
A musical chairs episode exhibits a knee-jerk reaction in the men, curiosity in the women, with a sizable feminine capacity to unseat the male. A few of the men are able to resist, principally Legris. It becomes rapidly apparent dressing women in male costume tells the audience women determine the course of relationships and courtships just as much as men. Who knows this better than the French!
Elizabeth Maurin arrives and there is an initial encounter with Legris;. attraction, resistance, and rejection. A beautifully paced exposition of encounter, exploration and wariness, it conducted with courage and mutual measuring, two well-matched dancers long familiar with each other.
The gardeners commence the next episode. The cage-like apparatuses have moved on stage
with the columns, abstracted trees or massive hedges. The gardeners dance to contemporary sounds, making one wonder if they are chains and leather exponents. Their gestures have
become more like contemporary code signals, and in some instances clearly sexual.
The women come on in handsome costumes with sweeping trains, moving, weaving around
the pillars with awareness of their charm and style to sounds of flute-like feminine sounds,
laughter, exclamations. . There is a series of swoons and women picking up one of their sisters. The episode ends when they all swoon to the floor; audience laughter. They next appear in pegnoirs and period underwear, and they weave around the pillars. They disappear behind the
pillars, only their hands reminding us of their presence. But not before Elizabeth Maurin has appeared in red gown, a striking cover-up contrast to the nearly disrobed young women. She regards them, they regard her, she walks around and goes off stage.
The men arrive crawling on all fours, not particularly aware that the women are around, veritably the male animal on the prowl. The women feel it adroit to approach. The men, including Legris, engage them around the pillars, in an ebb and flow of desire. The passage which follows, is called Conquest. A splendid pas de quatre ensues for Guillaume Charlot, Herve Moreau, Yann Saiz and Alexis Renaud, an exhilerating exposition of classical technique from its fountainhead, wonderfully aerial, with much ballon and elasticity.
The gardeners accompany Elizabeth Maurin on stage and ceremoniously remove her clothing.
She and Legris encounter each other with palpable attraction and resistance on her part. There are gestures outlining the face, the torso, the line of the body to the thigh. She nearly capitulates but, again, there is rejection.
The culminating pas de deux follows a dream sequence where Maurin is carried, frequently swooning, by the gardeners. They patiently support and lead her into the acceptance of both feeling and necessity. The landscape has changed to starry night.
Legris then appears in a magnificent dance, first with a single man, I believe Gauillaume Charlot, tall and impressive, and then with a quartet, epitomizing the transience and glory of classical technique. Again, it is an opulent display of skill.
The hedges/trees have cleared back to the original grey-hued stage. Maurin and Legris return, pared down to minimal costuming, to dance their ultimate pas de deux of a total nakedness to each other, repeating gestures to the face and torso, moving through the crook of each other's arms, feeling their backs. At one point Maurin clasps Legri around the neck, they sail together as he, back arched, turns in several broad circles upstage, in a feat both incredible and totally in key with the ultimacy of love and union.
Ultimately the gardeners reappear, their gestures now a combination of old and new and the sound track conveys the laughter of children as the stage lights gradually darken.
My mother used to quote some lines from Longfellow, imperfectly remembered. It runs , "Though he woos her so he leads her, as she bends him, does she follow, useless each without the other." I wonder if Angelin Preljocaj read those lines before creating Le Parc. He provided the ideal exposition of Henry Wadsworth's sentiments.