Paris Opera Ballet Enthralls Harris Theater Audience

For the first time after nearly a half a century Paris Opera Ballet has visited Chicago with a series of performances.

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Last time they were seen on stage in New York was also more than a decade ago. Not surprisingly, many of their performances at Harris Theater have been sold out, and those who attended felt lucky to be there for the shows. One of the performances, Giselle, was also simulcast for free outdoor viewing in the Millenium park. The Company Director, Brigitte Lefevre, has met with Mayor Emanuel, who is known to be a dance connoisseur. Those spectators who had attended Bolshoi Theater’s performances in the past, in Chicago or in Moscow, noted that the classical technique that both theaters are most famous for, is of course similar, as it should be, to preserve the historical artistic achievement of the classical ballet. The Epic French Masterpieces performance has shown that the Paris troupe branches out into modern compositions, as well. Many of our readers will recall that another reason for certain similarities in technique is the fact that famous French and Russian choreographers have worked at both places, contributing greatly to the enrichment of the technique, repertoire, and artistic quality of the dance. “Suite en Blanc,” performed by the ballet in Chicago, was choreographed by Serge Lifar, who came in the 1920ths escaping revolutionary turbulence in Russia, to lead the Paris Ballet for more than 20 years. The Ballet is located in Paris at Palais Garnier where lessons and rehearsals are often held in the rooms named after famous artists who choreographed there, including Serge Lifar, and Rudolph Nuriev, who led the ballet in the 1980ths. The version of Giselle that the ballet has now performed in Chicago is based on Patrice Bart’s and Eugene Polyakov’s choreography, while sets and costumes were designed by Alexandre Benois in 1924, for the Ballets Russes.

Paris Opera Ballet was founded under the auspices of none other but the King-Sun, Louis XIV. Giselle was created, however, in the post-revolutionary France, and has seen popularity for decades, before going out of vogue, and then it was revived by Marius Petipa in St. Petersburg, and brought back to Paris by Serge Diagilev in the early 20th century. The bizarre story of Giselle, the girl who has gone mad and died after discovering her beloved’s dishonesty, is full of nightdream-like fantasy and metamorphoses that everybody endures. Although admittedly, we seem to rather rarely witness any such drama in the modern times, what seems to be appealing in the story is its symbolic texture. Perhaps it is not necessarily the person but the feminine spirit, enacted in its opposites by the Giselle herself (Dorothee Gilbert), and collectively, by the outworldly Willis and their Queen Myrtha (Emilie Cozette), that is broken and is possessed by anger, and searches for recovery and for the ability to forgive and to love again. And on the other side, the male spirit of Albrecht (Stephane Bullion) is longing for genuine love, and searches for ways to overcome one’s dishonesty. The “other man” Hilarion (Vincent Chaillet), who exposed his rival Albrecht’s dishonesty to the girl, is then thrown away forever from the female spirit realm.

L’Arlesienne, also a romantic story, performed by the Paris Opera Ballet, reflects on another turbulent couple’s story that, in a way, parallels the story of Giselle and Albrecht. Here, a young peasant Frederi (Jeremie Belingard) discovers infidelity of Vivette, L’Arlesienne (Isabelle Ciaravola), “the girl from Arles”. Both characters then strive desperately to regain their love and their humanity as they descend into tragedy. Set on Bizet’s score, choreography by Roland Petit allowed dancers to present the story in a more modern way. We found that both Giselle and L’Arlesienne performances echoed each other, not only thematically, but also in the way that dancers infused performances with their acting and personality. Dorothee Gilbert as a charming and naïve Giselle suited well with a fantasy of a fluid female spirit, while Emilie Cozette as Queen Myrtha is fascinatingly out of this world in her eerie and slightly accented movements. In turn, in L’Arlesienne, we were especially impressed by Isabelle Ciaravola’s gentle sophistication and elegance in her complex character, as she was holding, echoing and supporting, Jeremie Belingard’s Frederi’s sharp and powerful, restless urges and strives.


S Telis, L Mogul, Kontinent Media
Photos: courtesy of Harris Theater

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