Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Paris Opéra Ballet: Le Songe d’Une Nuit d’Éte

When someone mentions ‘Fairy Land’, what key words spring to mind?




Butterfly wings and twinkly lights.

Paris Opéra Ballet’s recent production of Le Songe d’Une Nuit d’Éte, known in English as A Midsummer Night’s Dream, evoked all these  images during its recent run at Opéra Bastille. 

Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing
By William Blake - Tate Britain Image, Public Domain, 
It was the Paris Opéra Ballet debut of this George Balanchine production and it showcased the depth of the company with a cast of both veteran and student dancers. 

Le Songe d’Une Nuit d’Éte is a story ballet of love, passion, confusion and trickery within the collision of two worlds: the mystical world of fairies and sprites ruled by Queen Titania and her consort Oberon, and the mortal world inhabited by young lovers Lysander, Hermia, Demetrius and Helena. When Lysander and Hermia flee to the woods because they are forbidden to be together, they are pursued by Demetrius, who also loves Hermia and shows no interest in the advances of Helena, though she clearly loves him.

If that Shakespearean-Soap Opera wasn’t complicated enough, the mischievous sprite Puck, on a mission from Oberon to trick Titania into falling in love with a man with the head of an Ass, fumbles his potion/fairy dust and causes both Lysander and Demetrius to fall for Helena and to jilt Hermia. This prompts a duel among the men, a lot of hair-pulling among the women, and an exasperated dance- declaration from Puck: “Lord, what fools these mortals be!”

Thankfully, ‘all’s well that ends well'. By the end of Act One, the lovers are back in the arms of their correct partners, Titania makes a sufficient (metaphorical) ass of herself with Bottom, the literal Ass, that Oberon lets her off the hook and makes up with her, and Puck and the Fairies rejoice!

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is right up there with Romeo and Juliet for popularity and success with both play-going and ballet audiences. Both stories translate well to dance due to their action-packed plots and large casts of characters. The trade-off when transforming these texts into dance is the loss of the text itself and of that poetic, rhythmic language. At best, those iconic words are reimagined through creative, character-specific dance vocabulary that captures the essence of the text and highlights the character’s emotional state; at worst, the text is reinterpreted by dancers doing a lot of mime. Aye there's the rub.

Fortunately, in this ‘Dream, the mime was minimized and the characterization was solid, particularly among the Fairy trio of Puck, Oberon and Titania. I really enjoyed how Puck’s trickster persona was gleefully showcased through springy jumps and flawless, scurrying footwork. It was fun to see how Titania - at once elegant, proud, and refined  – go head over heels in her worship of Bottom and his adorable Ass head, while Oberon took it all in, a satisfied smirkiness in his steps.

The lovers were fine, but the only real distinguishing features between them were the colours of their costumes: Team Lysander/Hermia in blue, Team Demetrius/Helena in red. Balanchine’s choreography looked great on the quartet, but they needed that something extra to really ignite the characters and heighten their ridiculous conflict. Some of the best feisty-women quotes are in this scene:

Hermia:                How low am I, thou painted maypole? speak;
How low am I? I am not yet so low
But that my nails can reach unto thine eyes.
Helena:                 O, when she's angry, she is keen and shrewd!
She was a vixen when she went to school;
And though she be but little, she is fierce.

Here are two women ready to have it out with each other, but the dancers just didn’t bring enough attack. It was much too perfect, too restrained. I wanted more: more frustration, more passion, and more heart. How can you fight for love without heart?

The student corps in the fairy ensembles of Act One also danced well, if somewhat stiffly in their turns and ports de bras, but that’s nothing more performance experience can’t remedy. The large corps divertissements of Act Two matched every majestic blast of the horns in Mendelssohn’s Wedding March. They brought the smoothness, precision and fluidity I’ve come to expect from the POB and they were a joy to watch.

The sets and costumes were lovely and everything you’d expect to see in this most classic of classical fairylands: lots of shimmering pinks, soft greens, gossamer fairy wings and sparkling tiaras. The music was top-notch as always and the rich operatic vocals during Titania’s scenes with her fairy entourage added another element of whimsy to their magical world, where “the lunatic, the lover, and the poet, are of imagination all compact.”

While “the course of true love never did run smooth”, watching it all unravel on a beautiful stage, with stunning music and dance, was a delightful way to spend a mid-spring evening with one’s love.
Date night at the ballet!
Special thanks to our friend Crystal for babysitting our munchkin
and for taking this photo. 

Monday, January 30, 2017

Putting the 'Dance' back in 'Dancer'

My first dance class this New Year took me back to the very beginning of my Paris dance experience, where it all began in September 2014: the beautiful Centre de Danse du Marais.

Back then, we were a few days shy of our one month anniversary of moving to France. Everything was so new and we were still in the ‘honeymoon/feels like vacation’ phase.

We were still living in our temporary apartment on Rue Pernety, a charming, loft-style space with worn hardwood floors, a spiral staircase and much more of a neighborhood night-life than we’d bargained for.

Public transit was so daunting; I would look up my routes well in advance and make meticulous notes in my phone. We didn’t even have French phone numbers yet, let alone decent data plans, so any and all transit apps were out. I got by on the wifi in our apartment and the occasional functioning off-line map. 

I was a bundle of nerves leading up to that first class: on the one hand, I was anxious about getting there on time, having to speak French at the front desk, finding the right studio, and actually doing the class itself – what if the instructor spoke too fast? Was my technique up to ‘snuff? What if I got injured?

But on the other hand, I was so excited to be finally taking a ballet class in Paris, at this historic dance center, in the land where ballet originated. My excitement won out over my anxiety; I went for it and I loved it.

My experience in that first class was a victory on many levels: my street-smarts, my French and my technique. It proved I could figure it all out and make it work. I could dance here and feel at home, so I could live here too.

But that was then. What about now?

Two and a half years into what will now be a five-year stint in France, we are settled squarely into our real life here; ‘real life’ being work, baby, groceries, cleaning the bathroom, changing diapers, paying taxes, endless French bureaucracy/paperwork and lingering homesickness. We are well beyond the ‘honeymoon’ stage. We live in the suburbs, where we’re close enough to the city that we can go in for a day and still marvel at all it has to offer, but then go home where it’s quiet.

Public transit is so integrated in our daily lives, it’s actually fun to try different routes to get places. Now when I leave my house, all I worry about is getting somewhere on time, not getting lost.

And apparently, my French has also changed over the years. Aside from that one weird time someone thought I sounded Portuguese (?), more people ask if I’m British, not assume I'm American.

These changes happened gradually, as life unfolded itself day by day. But I was hyper-conscious of them as I made my way back to Le Centre. I strode in confidently from a direction I’d never taken before, spoke French to everyone, found my class without any fuss and got down to dance class business.

I was still nervous, since it was my first post-baby dance class, but I found out quickly I didn’t need to be. The exercises were straightforward and not overly complicated, but still technical and challenging. We spent a few minutes really breaking down the ronde de jambe exercise and reviewing the key elements: rotate from the hips, pull up out of the supporting leg, engage the abs, etc. It was a great refresher for my dancer brain, as well as my body.

The music choices were spot-on. I couldn’t help grinning as we did our frappées to a piano version of ‘Everything is Awesome’ from the Lego Movie and some center exercises to Taylor Swift’s ‘Shake it Off’. Who wouldn’t love that?

What a wonderful feeling, after constantly negotiating the changes in my life, to discover the essence of some things is exactly the same. The class was still great. The instructor, Laurence, the same from last time, was still welcoming and supportive. I still love to dance and my technique is still good enough.

Only this time, it wasn’t about proving that. It was about revisiting the fundamentals, finding my center and building on where I was at that moment. It was a very ‘yoga’ perspective to have in a dance class.

It also still felt like home, which is such a joy and comfort these days.

Sometimes, it’s important to get back to basics - to go ‘home’, check-in and see how far you’ve come – and use all that to keep dancing onward.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Let us Read and Let us Dance

"Let us read, and let us dance; these two amusements will never do any harm to the world."

These words adorn the current brown paper bag from Shakespeare and Company Bookstore, one of my favorite places in Paris. It's my new favorite quote because it brings together two things I love to do; things I can do on my own but also share with my baby girl.

I have always loved reading and being read to. What child doesn’t? One of my favorite childhood memories involves the Book – the one every kid has on repeat, demanding it be read over and over and over again. Mine was Peter and the Wolf.

Or as I called it, Peter and the Woof.

I remember it well: after much asking, pleading (or let’s face it, nagging) my Grandpa would finally bring it down off the shelf in the hall closet. I would clamour up onto his lap and together we would dive into the story of Peter, his Grandfather, the Cat, Duck, Bird and the menacing Wolf. Grandpa wouldn’t just read me the story; he told me the story, which meant it was different every time. It also didn’t hurt that our version was a beautiful pop-up book, so the plot really came alive on every page.

I know now the reason it was always different was so my poor Grandpa wouldn’t go crazy with having to read it exactly the same every time. He had to change it up because we read that book A LOT.

It was my favorite and I loved it. Every single time.

Books can transport and transform; educate and entertain. I have such fond memories of being read to and reading that books are now my go-to gifts for the kids in my life. Kids can never physically out-grow books and as they get older, they can share their favorite stories with the other children in their lives – their siblings, cousins, and friends. Stories may be repeated over and over but repetition is an important learning tool. I know – repetition can sometimes get painful but it doesn’t have to, as my good-sport Grandpa demonstrated. A beloved story can inspire imaginative retellings and feel brand new again.

My baby girl already has an impressive library of books on all kinds of topics and we are so excited to keep building it as she grows. Story time is an important part of our bedtime routine and it’s something we all look forward to as a family.

As my gift to you this holiday season, here is a list of some of our favorite storybooks about dance. They have all passed my Tiny Dancer’s enjoyment test and I hope they will for yours too.

Dance Bunny Dance - Jellycat Books 

This board book is from the Jellycat brand of toys and books and it’s a favorite in our collection. Its simple, rhyming text pairs nicely with tactile aspects of Bunny’s world for Baby to explore: fuzzy ears, a piece of tulle for Bunny’s tutu, a real ribbon bow on her head, etc. Dance Bunny Dance was one of the first dance books we read to our Tiny Dancer and it’s we one we enjoy coming back to for a fun, quick read any time during the day.

Dancing with Degas - Julie Merberg and Suzanne Bober

It`s never too early to introduce your little one to beautiful art and there’s no better way to start than with the magical works of the great impressionist Edgar Degas. Dancing with Degas features some of Degas’ famous ballerina paintings alongside text that explores the story of each painting. It`s part of the Mini Masters series, so you can continue Baby’s art education with other titles featuring Matisse, Monet, Van Gogh, Picasso, Renoir, Seurat and Cassatt.

Rupert Can Dance - Jules Feiffer 

This book tells the funny story of Mandy, a girl who ‘dances her days away’ and loves to perform for her cat Rupert. Little does she know that Rupert is a dancer himself and spends each night dancing in secret – in Mandy’s dancing shoes. It`s the perfect arrangement, until Mandy accidentally finds out how her cat spends his nights and tries to give him dance lessons. What`s a dancing cat to do? Jules Feiffer’s cute characters and delightful sketch-like illustrations are sure to charm you, your child and your cat.

Ballerinas and What They Do - Liesbet Seglers

This book offers a great introduction to the day-to-day going’s on in a dancer’s life: from class, to rehearsal, to performance. It's full of straightforward and practical information for inquiring young minds, such as “A dancer must get enough sleep, eat healthy food and stay fit”. With its bright illustrations, this book is a fun behind-the-scenes look into the dance world.

T is for Tutu: A Ballet Alphabet - Sonia Rodriguez and Kurt Browning

What better way to start learning the ABC’s than with this lovely ballet-inspired alphabet? Written by Canadian power couple Sonia Rodriguez of The National Ballet of Canada, and her husband, World Champion Figure Skater Kurt Browning, T is for Tutu is a must-have for any dancer’s library. My girl enjoys its rhyming script and Wilson Ong's richly painted illustrations, and I enjoy the short educational snippets on each page, such as the history of the pointe shoe (‘P is for Pointe’…) or an explanation of the French terms used in ballet’s ‘Universal language’. I’ve even read it to my junior and senior high aged dance students as an intro to ballet vocabulary and history. This book is one of my personal favorites and I look forward to reading it again and again.

Firebird - Misty Copeland

A new addition to our library, Firebird is gorgeous and destined to become a classic. American Ballet Theatre's Misty Copeland weaves a heartfelt tale of a young dancer who struggles with self-confidence and doubts she can ever achieve her dancing dreams. It’s a story that’s very close to home, as Misty herself faced the same struggles yet found the courage to persevere and became the first African-American Principal Dancer with ABT. Through her sincere, poetic text, Misty is a guiding voice, providing gentle encouragement and reassurance that all is possible, and with faith and hard work, the young dancer will someday dance like the Firebird. Exquisitely illustrated in textured collage-style by Christopher Myers, Firebird is a mesmerizing, uplifting story for dancers of all ages.

Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina
Misty Copeland’s Bestselling Memoir

I couldn`t resist adding this memoir as a bonus title for older dancers and fans. I finished it in three days and all I can say is my admiration for this incredible dancer and woman quadrupled - and then some. There’s a quote that gets thrown around a lot on social media: “She needed a hero, so that’s what she became”. That is Misty Copeland.

The world of books is a wonderful, magical place that we like to visit each night. Everybody wins when you make time to read and dance together, so on that note, I wish you all many joyful hours spent reading and dancing, and a peaceful and very happy 2017.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

When 1st Position Looks Different – Part Two

I’m carrying an extra 15 lbs in front and an extra big smile when I stand at the barre these days: my 6 month old Tiny Dancer is strapped in for the ride and it’s even better than I thought it would be.

I was extra excited to dance with her on October 4 – World Ballet Day 2016. I dressed Moira in the tutu onesie we were gifted with this summer, plus some baby legwarmers and - for the ultimate dose of cuteness - the pink, baby-sized ballet slippers.

 Mid-Pas de Cute!
(Step of the Cute)

After the photo shoot captured the moment for posterity (and her future graduation and wedding slideshows), I strapped her in her carrier, took the obligatory selfie, and we danced together once again.

We were joined by our YouTube friend, former New York City Ballet Soloist Kathryn Morgan as her Easy Ballet Barre Video began. As I went through the exercises, accompanied by Kathryn’s beautiful piano music of Disney and Broadway hits, Moira cooed and giggled, smiled at our reflections in the mirror of our office ballet studio, and kicked her feet along with my movements. She already has quite a powerful grand battement and sometimes the shoes end up across the room, however the slippers stayed on that time.

I still modify the exercises so I can do them with her safely. The first time I tried a grand pilé in 1st while wearing her, everything cracked – my hips, my knees, my ankles – and I couldn’t get back up without pulling on the barre. Not exactly proper grand pilé alignment! So instead, I work on deepening my demi-pilés in 1st, 4th and 5th position and only go for the grand in 2nd.

All port de bras need modifying too, since it’s not safe to bend forward at the waist or too far to the sides while baby-wearing. I always take her off to stretch and for the final grand battement exercise. Other than these modifications, this is an excellent barre video to do with a baby. Her extra weight really makes me work on proper alignment through my core and the footwork strengthens my feet and legs. I still stand by my standard disclaimers that I’m not a health care professional and you should consult yours when planning to baby-wear while exercising and do what’s best for you.

And did I mention how much fun it is for the both of us?

It’s the most fun I’ve ever had doing a basic ballet barre! Though I want to keep working on the basics and maintaining proper technique, I’m not out to be the perfect dancer or to impress anyone. My main goal, when I strap on my baby and step into my ballet shoes, is to be in the moment and just enjoy dancing with my girl.

Because this Mom thing is a hard job.

The nights are long and some days are filled with doubt and second-guessing. But it’s also full of so much joy. Dancing with her is joyful and I consider it a huge victory that it’s an activity that balances taking care of her with taking care of me.

Dancing with Moira has also helped me get motivated to get back into dance class shape. My goal is to keep working through Kathryn’s videos along with some yoga, so I can take more dance classes in Paris in the New Year.

I don’t know if Moira will want to dance when she’s older and I promised myself (and my husband) that I won’t be one of those Crazy Dance Moms if she does dance. It has to be fun, first and foremost. That’s the moto my mom went with when I was a young dancer and it’s a good principle to live by.

I do hope that our dancing together helps to instill an appreciation for music and movement. I want her to enjoy being active and moving her body. I want her to be happy and healthy and to find many moments of joy herself.

Until then, we’ll find them together when we dance our special pas de deux.

Some tips for Dancing while Baby-Wearing:

1-Check your baby’s diaper first. Unless you want a new definition of Dirty Dancing, this is just common sense.

2-Make sure your baby is secure in their carrier. Common sense again.

3-Modify exercises when necessary. See my suggestions for modifications to grand pilé and port de bras exercises above.

4-Watch for your baby’s sleepy cues. Sometimes the movement and the music can lull Baby off to Sleepy Town (You're welcome!), so be prepared to press pause and resume after you've put your Tiny Dancer down.

5-Have fun and make it your own! I like to talk through the exercises with Moira, hold her little hand or even say the counts out loud to her.

I also never pass up a chance to share an extra smile or funny face in the mirror with my girl. That’s not something I can do in a regular dance class and that’s the whole point(e).

Happy Dancing to All Dancers, the Big and the Small!

The Dancer Abroad and the Tiny Ballerina

Friday, October 14, 2016

When 1st Position Looks Different...

It started off like any other ballet barre workout: I ran through my checklist of positioning and alignment, like all dancers everywhere, when I started my pliés.

Rest hands lightly on the barre.

Turn out from the hips.

Engage the abs.

Tuck the pelvis under.

Pull up and press the feet into the floor.

Knees over toes.

And then I laughed at out since I could barely see my feet at all. My baby bump was squarely in the way.

At 32 weeks pregnant, first position looked very different.

I enjoyed dancing throughout my pregnancy for so many reasons. It was good for my growing and changing body, it was good for my mind and it was wonderful for my soul. It kept me active and helped ease some of the pregnancy discomfort of sore hips, back and feet. It gave me a comforting, familiar activity to do during a very unfamiliar and somewhat anxious time.

And it was a great way to connect with my baby. I loved feeling her little feet and hands respond to the music and to my movements. It was a very special pas de deux.

Before I go any further, it’s important I give the same disclaimer from my Yoga for Dancers post: I’m not a healthcare professional and though I’ve been dancing for most of my life and have even taught dance, I don’t consider myself an expert. I can only speak to my own personal experience. I talked to my doctor and my midwife about dancing while pregnant, as I would recommend anybody do. You need to do what’s best for you.

For me, that meant alternating gentle ballet barre workouts with prenatal yoga, taking lots of walks and meditating.

I followed Kathryn Morgan’s Ballet Barre videos with a few modifications as things progressed: no forward port de bras, very small port de bras backwards, extra special attention to hip placement and low extensions. It was really interesting to feel how my body was changing and to figure out how to adjust to those changes. No surprise, the biggest shift I felt was in my balance. I really had to work on engaging all the muscles in my ankles, legs, core and arms to compensate for my bump pulling me out of alignment.

I searched and searched for a prenatal dance class in Paris but I just didn’t have any luck, hence why I opted to dance at home. But if you’re in the Edmonton area, check out J’adore Dance for their excellent pre and post-natal dance classes. My sister did Salsa Mama dance class there with both her boys and they now offer a Ballet and Barre Mama class.

Most yoga studios offer special prenatal yoga classes. Do some research beforehand and ask around so you can find the right class for you. Additionally, there are tons of prenatal yoga videos on YouTube. Again, be mindful of how you feel and always check in with your doctor/midwife/healthcare providers.

Another perk of dancing while pregnant was the exciting thought of having something in common with some of the top Ballerina Moms and Moms-to-Be around the world:

Dana Stephensen, Soloist with The Australian Ballet, recently celebrated her son’s first birthday and her return to dancing full-time this season. Check out her excellent blog and Instagram account, The Balance Point(e) for her insights into balancing dance and motherhood, plus tips for healthy eating and general wellness.

Principal Dancers Heather Ogden and Guillaume Côté of The National Ballet of Canada are expecting their second child, a sibling for their young daughter Emma, in January 2017. Their announcement on NBC’s Facebook page was beautiful and garnered thousands of ‘Likes’ and comments from well-wishers around the world, including yours truly - The National Ballet even ‘Liked’ my comment back!

New York City Ballet Principal Ashley Bouder documented her pregnancy on Instagram with her own hashtag #Bouderbump. There’s a great photo of her, sweaty and beaming post-performance with her fiancé and an 8 week sticker on her belly, having just performed the roles of Odette and Odile in Swan Lake at two months pregnant - like a boss! Her little girl Violet was born the day after my Moira made her grand entrance, also by C-section. It’s cool to know I have a badass C-section scar just like one of the best ballerinas in the world; that definitely bolstered me during my recovery.

Though I was never whipping myself around in perfect fouetté turns at six months along like Ashley was in this video, I was always proud and thankful to be dancing while pregnant. It kept me happy, healthy and connected to my Tiny Dancer and I will cherish those memories forever.

It also reaffirmed how much I love to dance and how much I looked forward to dancing and sharing that with my girl.

And that’s something so special, it needs its own blog post.

Watch the blog for Part Two of When 1st Position Looks Different coming soon!

37 weeks pregnant at Le Centre de Danse du Marais
Photo credit: Crystal Hedeman

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Paris Opéra Ballet: Giselle

A Dancer Abroad marked its two-year anniversary in June, so we celebrated by taking in Giselle, our final performance of the 2015-2016 Paris Opéra Ballet season.

Marc Chagnall's great ceiling at Opera Garnier never gets old.
It’s the Classic of the Classics and is often touted as one of the great ballets of the Romantic era. Its use of mime throughout pays homage to the choreography of the great Marius Petipa, “the most influential ballet master and choreographer in ballet history” and it features one of the most demanding roles for a ballerina to perform, both in terms of technique and characterization.

Such history breeds high expectations and raises the stakes for the company who dares take on the mighty Giselle. Naturally, the Paris Opéra Ballet rose to the occasion and then delivered on every possible level: technique, character complexity, ensemble, music, costumes and emotional impact.

Giselle tells the story of a simple peasant girl who is wooed by a handsome stranger visiting her village. As they flirt and dance together, young Giselle falls in love with this dashing gentleman, much to the chagrin of her mother. Unbeknownst to her, the man is actually Prince Albrecht in disguise and he is already engaged to the lovely Lady Bathilde. Giselle does not heed the repeated warnings of her mother against the dangers of dancing and falling in love so quickly and is devastated to discover the true identity of her mystery man.

So acute is her shock and humiliation in front of the entire village and Lady Bathilde’s entourage, Giselle goes mad, tearing out her hair, threatening the crowd with the Prince’s sword and eventually collapsing in Albrecht’s arms, literally dead of a broken heart.

Act Two resumes in the nearby woods at twilight, where Giselle’s spirit joins the Wilis, the collective souls of women who have been betrayed and spurned by love. They are merciless in their torment of the men who cross their path and make them dance until they die of exhaustion. This is the fate that awaits Albrecht as he lays flowers on Giselle’s grave in an act of repentance for misleading her.

Myrtha,The Queen of the Wilis, is deaf to his pleas and sentences him to death. Giselle, being kind and pure of heart, forgives him and protects him until dawn. His remorse and love is found genuine and Giselle is released from the Wilis. As she and the Wilis disappear with the rising sun, she is finally at peace and the Prince is alone – exhausted and grief-stricken – but alive thanks to the forgiveness of his fallen love.

A story so rich and tragic demands performances of the highest caliber and Myriam Ould Braham’s Giselle hit all the right notes. She combined flawless technique with multifaceted characterization to capture Giselle’s innocence and vulnerability; a sweet, bright-eyed bird flitting joyfully across the stage, feather-light in her leaps and extensions, her expressions full of dreams and naiveté. Her descent into grief and madness was harrowing to witness because it was all too familiar; who hasn’t ever felt that same pain of a broken heart? Her spirit character contrasts her anguish with a soothing calmness in her forgiveness of Albrecht, giving her the courage to defy the Wilis and protect him. Braham’s performance was truly a feat of strength and grace.

Mathias Heymann’s Albrecht was dashing, brash, arrogant, yet tender and ultimately sincere in his heartache over Giselle. The sheer physical strength in his jumps and turns was astounding. His final series of leap after leap was mesmerizing and his exhaustion was palpable as he eventually collapsed, front and center, powerless to resist the wrath of the Wilis. Normally, male dancers are supposed to make it all look so effortless but Heymann’s character allowed the effort to show and the struggle to remain upright was real. He was tremendous.

And as for the Wilis, Hell hath no fury than a corps of women scorned.

They were at once ethereal, beautiful and terrifying. Clad in white, flowing tutus, the image of their long, laces veils suddenly being whisked away was haunting. With some billowing fog and eerie, shadowy lighting thrown in, the Wilis’ calm, calculating presence and perfect unison was deliciously chilling, just like a ghost story’s perfect villain should be.

Giselle was the whole package - romance, tragedy, mystery, drama, redemption – the perfect bow to wrap up our season with the Paris Opéra Ballet. This company’s range never ceases to amaze and inspire me. From contemporary ballet, to Rudolph Nureyev’s old-school classic, new choreographers Anne Teresa der Keersmaeker and Justin Peck, to the Grand Masters – Rudolph Nureyev, George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins – from the short, statement pieces, to the big, sweeping epics, we journeyed far and wide through passion, dance, music and this great city.

The journey continues next season and I can’t wait to see where we’ll be swept up to next.

Opera Garnier in Summer

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Paris Opéra Ballet: Ratmansky, Robbins, Balanchine, Peck

I recently had a date at the ballet with four ballet choreographic masters: Alexei Ratmansky, Jerome Robbins, George Balanchine and Justin Peck.

It was ballet at its most simple and pure, danced with the incredible heart and passion of the Paris Opéra Ballet ensemble, at the always spectacular Palais Garnier. The simple staging of each piece split the focus equally between the dancers and the musicians, reminding us all of the special partnership between music and dance.

The orchestra pit was empty at Palais Garnier because the music was all onstage with the dance.

Seven Sonatas – Alexei Ratmansky

Russia-born Alexei Ratmansky is currently the Artist in Residence at The American Ballet Theatre in New York City. A dancer with The Ukrainian National Ballet, The Royal Winnipeg Ballet and The Royal Danish Ballet, Ratmansky the choreographer is well-known for his original works and for successfully “restaging traditionally classical ballets for large companies”. He is the master behind the 2011 production of Romeo and Juliet for The National Ballet of Canada and his most recent big production was the February 2016 restaging of Petipa/Ivanov’s Swan Lake in Zurich, Switzerland.

His original piece Seven Sonatas premiered at ABT in 2009 and is new to the Paris Opéra Ballet’s repertoire this season. Accompanied onstage by a stirring rendition of Domenico Scarlatti piano sonatas, it was the most complex structurally of the evening. The ensemble of six dancers, three males, three females, alternated between full cast, solo, duet and trio variations as they flitted effortlessly across the stage. Donning simple, ethereal white costumes, the dancers – especially the ladies – seemed to float as though dancing above the stage, their feet barely audible, their lines endless, their arms lithe and flowing.

It was a gorgeous ballet to start the evening and I’m sure it will continue to delight Paris audiences for many years to come.

Other Dances – Jerome Robbins

Having been a fan of Jerome Robbins’ choreography since the first time I saw West Side Story, I was really excited to finally see one of his ballets. A five-time Tony Award Winner, two-time Academy Award Winner (Best Director and Best Choreography 1961, West Side Story), former Artistic Associate and Ballet Master of The New York City Ballet, his style is one that blends musicality with intricate, lightning-fast footwork.

Other Dances premiered at NYCB in 1976 by dancers Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshinkov and has been in POB’s repertoire since 1999. It was a simple, yet lively duet between dancers Ludmila Pagilero and Mathias Heymann, set to the piano music of Frederic Chopin. It had a springtime, folk-dance flavour, complete with simple, lavender costumes and a soft, dreamy lighting design. The dancers flirted and wooed each other in that joyous, playful Robbins’ flair. It had none of the drama of West Side Story, but it showed off the classical side of Robbins’ choreography, of which I’m definitely eager to see more.

Duo Concertant – George Balanchine

George Balanchine is often referred to as the “father of American ballet”. Born in Russia, where he trained with the Imperial Ballet School, his choreographic “neo-classical” style blends ballet technique with Broadway and Hollywood dance influences. He is the founder of the School of American Ballet and the New York City Ballet, he had a long-time collaboration with composer Igor Stravinsky and created the majority of NYCB’s repertoire, which is still taught and performed to this day.

Duo Concertant is a romantic double-duet between two dancers and two musicians who each take turns showcasing and acknowledging each other’s’ talents. The dance has a lovely sense of spontaneity, as though the dancers are hearing the music for the first time and letting it inspire their every movement. The lighting design also interacts with the dancers, mimicking the moonlight and highlighting different aspects of the dancers’ bodies, giving the whole piece a sense of mystery and intrigue. It was my favorite piece of the evening because of its simple beauty and the way the dance and music played off each other.

Plus getting to see Balanchine’s choreography in Paris? A huge check off my Ballet Bucket-List.

In Creases – Justin Peck

The most contemporary piece of the night was saved for last and Justin Peck’s dynamic In Creases did not disappoint. It reflected the youth and energy of Peck himself, being the youngest of the featured choreographers and currently the Resident Choreographer of the New York City Ballet. He choreographed his first ballet in 2008 and his star has risen steadily as “he’s since created over 25 new works” for ballet companies across the US; the two most recent being The Most Incredible Thing and In the Countenance of Kings for NYCB and San Francisco Ballet, respectively.

In Creases, in its’ Paris Opéra Ballet premiere, was the most athletic and aesthetically different piece of the evening. Fast-paced and electric, the dancers flew for 12 minutes of jumps and extensions, accompanied by dueling pianos playing Philip Glass. They brought the performance to a rousing, satisfying conclusion.

Overall, it was a brilliant evening of dance at its most timeless. It celebrated some of the best choreography of the past and present, and the music that gives dance its heartbeat and soul.

The simplicity of the evening was what really struck me. Just a piano, some strings and beautiful choreography – at Palais Garnier, what more could be needed?

For other posts on the Paris Opéra Ballet's 2015-2016 season, check out:

Rudolph Nureyev’s La Bayadère from December 2015.

Anne-Teresa De Keersmaeker from November 2015.