Review: Paris Opera Ballet presented by Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay
Three works that showcase why Paris Opera Ballet remains one of the best ballet companies in the world.
While most audiences tend to associate ballet with classical works, the best ballet companies of today have slowly but surely made the move towards a mix of both the contemporary and the classical. And for a company as renowned and respected as the Paris Opera Ballet, they’ve become masters of both, retaining a strong repertoire of classical work while constantly innovating and inviting the very best choreographers today to contribute new, modern pieces to their line-up, allowing the dancers to show off their skill at full capacity.
With their arrival at the Esplanade last weekend, they performed three of their very best and known contemporary works, each piece showcasing different variants of their wide repertoire, skill and grace to Singapore. With featured étoiles Léonore Baulac, Dorothée Gilbert, Germain Louvet, and premiers danseurs Marion Barbeau, Héloïse Bourdon, Sae-Eun Park, Audric Bezard and Paul Marque, alongside the rest of the ensemble. Comprising of three exceptional works by incredibly respected and reputable choreographers, the amount of excitement in the audience was evident this evening, as we waited with bated breath to see the pure beauty of the dancers and choreography to unfold before our very eyes.
Opening the evening with William Forsythe’s Blake Works I, the Paris Opera Ballet showed off their versatility and and willingness to go modern with seven short pieces set to seven ballads by English musician James Blake. With Forsythe known for his postmodern and deconstructive style of approaching ballet, one could clearly see the rules of ballet being followed in this work, yet, innovative in its structure as it melds the electronic music with familiar moves.
With the choice of Blake’s music, one feels the keen link to popular culture, a sense of youth and welcoming of a new generation of dancers inheriting the legacy of the Paris Opera Ballet as they celebrate their time onstage, emanating joy in every moment. The lighting in this work is key to this piece, unveiling the silhouettes of the dancers as if by sorcery, as they flow across the stage in time to the music. One could see every body outlines onstage, accentuated by the light with mesmerising shapes and movements in every piece.
With each group that came on, one saw a different facet to these dancers, each piece well-organised and layered with beauty, almost as if it were poetry in motion. Various nuances of the dancers were brought out with each step and twirl, and moving with fluidity onstage, one could evidently see how much work had gone into their rehearsals and honing their craft, and one feels the privilege of having a chance to watch the majesty and power of the Paris Opera Ballet in this work.
In the second work of the night, the Paris Opera Ballet performed Jerome Robbins’ In The Night. a work that’s been in Paris Opera Ballet’s repertory since 1989. Presenting three duets, each choreographed to a different nocturne by Chopin, each set of dancers showcases a different set of lovers, meeting beneath the night sky. When the curtain opens, we see a pianist playing the Chopin pieces live onstage, adding a dash of class to the performance. In addition, with every forte played on the piano, the dancers accentuate that further still with a distinct step, imbuing the piece with emotion and sincerity.
In the first duet, Sae Eun Park and Paul Marque come onstage dressed in violet costumes, hypnotic in their execution as their moves exude tenderness. In the second duet, étoiles Léonore Baulac and Germain Louvet appear dressed in gold and rust, expressing restraint and elegance. After having interviewed them in the afternoon, watching them onstage and their chemistry is simply phenomenal, with Baulac exceptionally light on her feet, while Louvet picks her up, almost as if she floats in the night sky like a drifting cloud, evidently full of trust for each other. In the third duet, Dorothée Gilbert and Audric Bezard come together in an explosive dance performance, where Gilbert, dressed in a dark dress, exudes desperation and rage as she argues with her partner, before finishing with a calmer reconciliation.
In the finale, all six dancers return to the stage as they reiterate this portrait of the complications of love in all its facets. At some point in a ‘state of confusion’ exchanged partners with each other but soon realize that they are better off as the pairs they started with. And as they dance together after, it is almost as if they are stars in the night sky, exemplifying the fickle nature of romance and relationships, and bringing this brilliant choreography to a graceful close.
Finally, Paris Opera Ballet closed the show with Crystal Pite’s The Seasons’ Canon, no doubt the most anticipated work of the three and promising plenty of visually stunning scenes and numbers. Comprising 54 dancers performing to Max Richter’s recomposition of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, The Season’s Canon immediately presents itself as a daring work willing to take ballet to new heights by breaking tradition and incorporating multidisciplinary movement styles and art forms into it. Inspired by her meticulous observation of natural phenomena, Pite uses the massive number of dancers to form intricate shapes and patterns, a series of structured tableaux as the dancers move in unison as one. There is a strong emphasis on the visual language of the piece, and one feels as if one is almost in a dream watching this.
Incorporating video projection into the piece, in the first part of the work, we see a ‘ball of energy’ float across the screen, a pulsating sphere of light drifting from one end of the stage to the other, as the dancers gather. The women dressed in bodysuits and the men barechested, from the audience point of view, there was a sense of uniformity and equality in their appearance, looking almost exactly alike. Almost as if a body of water, the dancers flow across the stage as they perform a suite of movements that suits each ‘season’ featured in Richter’s score. The lighting featured covers just the right amount onstage, never overbearing as it lights each dancer just right, and presents them as a single unit. With a visual of crystals onscreen, one sees the dancers glistening under the light, and one thinks of the formation of crystals, the dancers themselves individual atoms coming together to form molecules, that then form a far more intricate, beautiful and magnificent structure with their combined efforts.
Choreographer Pite is evidently aware of the narrative she wants to tell, knowing exactly what she wants to present to audiences through her dancers. As the music soars and we reach one of the most well-known parts of the piece, the dance soar in a fury, stretching from left to right, going on pointe in unison, as if in a unified trance and completely aware of their place onstage and the dancers around them. One particularly powerful and iconic scene features the 54 dancers standing in a single line, from the front of the stage to the back, their arms outstretched and swaying, as if an army of trees moving, changing, and becoming one with the seasons. Pite’s visuals are nothing short of mesmerising, always aware of precisely the effect she wants to produce with both projection and choreography. In another scene, the onscreen visuals showcase the arrival of autumn, falling leaves that metamorphose into pink, almost as if sakura petals in slow motion, while the dancers then mimic these visuals, looking like falling leaves rustling in the wind in autumn. By the end of this piece, we are left with a sense of awe at the ensemble, this phalanx of well-coordinated, incredibly well-rehearsed dancers operating as one body, completely in sync with one another.
We are privileged to have had the rare chance to see all three of these incredible pieces live in Singapore in a single show, considering that the company often does their longer, classical works instead, and to represent themselves with these pieces cements their position as nothing less than one of the best of the best dance companies in the world. Paris Opera Ballet has proven that they are more than deserving of the many accolades and praise they’ve received over the 300 year history, respecting the traditions of ballet as an art form while consistently taking it to new heights with innovative, limit-breaking choreography that the expertly trained dancers manifest as pure art onstage.
Performance attended 21/6/19
Paris Opera Ballet played from 21st to 23rd June 2019 at the Esplanade Theatre.