Paris Opera Ballet
29 May 2010
by Marc Haegeman
copyright 2010 by Marc Haegeman
Mindful of the centenary of Marius Petipa’s death, the Paris Opera programmed a revival of “La Bayadère” in Rudolf Nureyev’s well-known version. Nureyev’s opus ultimum, “La Bayadère” suffered less from his interferences with the choreographic schemes and dramatic concept inherited from the St. Petersburg background and has always been one of the more convincing items in his Parisian legacy. Having been mounted for most of the previous runs at the spacious Opéra Bastille the ballet was now brought back again to the stage of the Palais Garnier, where it had been premiered back in November 1992. The more intimate feel of the Garnier secures a different experience, drawing you even more into the production yet without diminishing the splendor and theatrical impact of Ezio Frigerio’s striking scenic design or Franca Squarciapino’s eye-catching costumes. I just wish they were better lit and especially the Shades Act less overexposed than it was now.
In any case, the evening belonged to Delphine Moussin. One of the veteran étoiles in this company (she is scheduled to retire next season), Moussin’s Nikiya demonstrated an instinctive understanding of how to instill the academic patterns with emotion, and to invest her stage character with a natural femininity. As becomes a ballerina of her status, she claimed and possessed the stage upon entering, always charming the choreography – never forcing it upon us – with a clarity of purpose and assurance of delivery, which result as much from her maturity as from her schooling. There were some issues in the 3rd Act, most obviously in the scarf variation, but they didn’t linger like issues in the overall picture. Perhaps not the most accomplished Nikiya I have seen in Paris, but one that seemed to have a clear understanding of the role, put her whole being into it and strummed an emotional string from start to end.
The success of Moussin’s performance was all the more remarkable when considered in the light of her bleak partners. Stéphane Bullion was nominated étoile for his Solor a few days later. Possibly he underwent a miraculous transformation during that period, yet the evening I attended couldn’t really convince me I was witnessing an étoile in the making. At 30, Bullion is no longer a newcomer. A solid, reliable partner who seemed to warm up in the moments with Moussin, creating a convincing rapport, but sort of shut down when not solicited. The role isn’t Hamlet, but others have done a lot more with it than Bullion seems prepared to give us. His mime wasn’t particularly clear, there was very little sign of any personal input, and his variations were weakly danced compared to what a Nicolas Le Riche, Benjamin Pech, Laurent Hilaire, Jean-Guilaume Bart or Manuel Legris can or could accomplish in them. And thinking of the anecdote Laurent Hilaire told me once in an interview about Nureyev’s reaction after the young soloist completed a variation in near-ideal fashion, exclaiming a triumphant “Voilà!”, I just wonder what he would have said of a Solor who ends both his solos with the same technical mistake, awkwardly out of balance.
As for Stéphanie Romberg’s Gamzatti, I remember commenting on her debut in the role while still a sujet in January 2002, that she as yet had failed to make any impact, that her character remained sketchy, her dancing totally undistinguished. She is now a première danseuse and in fact these comments are still valid. The Paris Opera has given us several outstanding Gamzatti’s with ballerinas like Elisabeth Platel, Agnès Letestu and Aurélie Dupont, who transformed the mime-duel with Nikiya in the 1stAct or the betrothal scene with Solor in the 2nd Act in little theatrical gems and actually danced the role. Stolid, inexpressive and undynamic, at no point did Romberg look involved in drama or music, she struggled with the steps in Act 2 just as before and her idea of the ballet’s emotional moments seems to be a limited to an invariably stern face. The confrontation with Moussin’s Nikiya tapered off to nothing as it takes two to carry the scene. There were too many moments of simply going through the motions (“Sit down, here, take my bracelet” in one single breath, or: “Stop, you go no further!” while Nikiya was already standing still for seconds) and eventually I didn’t care whether they would have stabbed each other or not. Romberg is totally miscast as Gamzatti, but I wonder how many more years it will take before the Opera will admit she is.
Supporting roles were variable as well. Mallory Gaudion bounced about in clouds of gold dust as the Golden Idol. Unfortunately, there was very little golden about the performance itself, with average placement, lack of precision as well as sheer panache. And yet, there were moments of wonder, like the already mentioned Shades, or Aubane Philbert’s lovely Manou dance, Muriel Zusperreguy’s nimbly fluent 2nd Shade variation, or even Yann Saiz’s excitingly danced Indian number, but as a company’s showcase this was far from being their defining moment.
Kevin Rhodes conducted the Orchestre Colonne with his usual brawny enthusiasm. He continually went for the big and loud effects, which is exactly what Ludwig Minkus adapted by John Lanchbery does not need, especially with an orchestra that was frequently caught off guard.
Photos, both by Sébastien Mathé.
- Corps de ballet in the Shades Act.
- Delphine Moussin and Stéphane Bullion