Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Swan Lake in Paris - A Christmas Eve Treat

Karl Paquette, Myriam Ould-Braham and Mathias Heymann
Photo Helen McDonough
(c) 2016 Helen McDonough: all rights reserved
Reproduced with kind permission of the 

Paris Opera Ballet, Swan Lake Opera Bastille, 24 Dec 2016

Here is the New Year treat I promised you. My fellow blogger and ballet goer, Helen McDonough, who tweets as @Scarfie1went to Paris for Christmas. While there she attended the Paris Opera's performances of Swan Lake which she agreed to review for us.  I think you will agree she has done a very good job.

"On Christmas Eve I set out from Manchester Airport for Paris although the aeroplane did try to hamper this by requiring a wheel change which delayed me by 3 hours! However, I eventually got to Paris in good time for 2 performances of Swan Lake.

The Paris Opera Swan Lake is choreographed by Nureyev after Petipa and Ivanov and after watching 2 performances you can really see his stamp on it for reasons which will become clear.

Act 1 opens with the Prince asleep on a throne played by the very elegant Mathias Heymann. While the Prince dreams, Rothbart (Karl Paquette) appears at the rear of the stage in a large cape which he sweeps over Odette who has been dancing towards the back of the stage, turns her into a swan and makes off with her.   It is not clear who danced Odette's steps in this prologue as Myriam Ould-Braham is not due on stage for some time yet! The dramatic scene has Rothbart in black and Odette in white being lifted high up into the fly area.

 Rothbart then reappears as the tutor to the Prince (who makes a habit of whispering to the Prince throughout). With the Prince now awake the corps de ballet appear on stage and perform several ensemble dances.  There follows a lovely solo for the Prince and then a Pas de Trois for him with some of his lady friends.

 Mathias Heymann is a beautiful dancer to watch: one of those men with exquisite line and movement and lovely hands/fingers.

 I personally found the corps de ballet a little ragged at points but what I found very refreshing was that Nureyev has decided to employ the male element of the corps quite heavily in Act 1 - and Act 3 for that matter. It was a real “dancer’s ballet” for the men if you see what I mean!

 Over and over through this ballet one sees geometric formations. A lot of work in groups of 4 and 6 went on. For example, with the men the front 4 at the front right of a group would move out of the main group of 16 and move across the stage and then the next group of 4 would follow until all 4 groups of 4 had move around whichever way required etc... There were also joint male and female dances as well in Act 1. At times the large Bastille stage looked a tad overcrowded!

The jewel in this performance’s crown (never mind just Act 1) was the Pas de Trois. I give you Francois Alu! Wowzer! What an amazing dancer! Not since I saw Ivan Vasiliev explode onto the stage in Don Quixote with the Bolshoi years ago, or saw ENB’s young Cesar Corrales in Le Corsaire as Ali, have I been this trilled by a dancer. He was ably partnered by lovely Leonore Baulac and Hannah O'Neill. Both of whom are great to watch but Francois Alu really stole the PdT in my eyes! His circle of 12 tours en l'air had each one as exact as the next right to the end. No slacking. He put his own stamp on the turns as he had one leg slightly straighter. It  looked really difficult to do. His other jumps and cabrioles were similarly high and powerful. He was on fire! I am so pleased I got to see him as it was totally unexpected! He danced again in Act 3 in the Czardas which was great too.

In this version there is no interval between Act1 and 2 (great) so we moved swiftly on to Act 2 where Odette appears and meets the Prince. The mime was good and I could see it clearly even from my eagle’s nest of a seat! Ould-Braham has lovely soft arms, but I did not get much emotion – I think because I was so far away in this huge theatre! However, the “piece de resistance” were the swans:-

Corps de Ballet
Photo Helen McDonough
(c) 2016 Helen McDonough: all rights reserved
Reproduced with kind permission of the author 

Corps de Ballet
Photo Helen McDonough
(c) 2016 Helen McDonough: all rights reserved
Reproduced with kind permission of the author 

I especially adored the choreography for the swans. I was seated in the 2nd tier - so very very high up – but it was the perfect place to see all the details of the choreography and detailed it was. There were 32 swans at times on the stage and it was sight to savour – thankfully Paris Opera Ballet utilise proper “pancake” tutus so all the better for effect. The swans entered the stage very much like the Shades in La Bayadere as they snaked across and down the stage to form their bolt straight lines. The swans were really well “together”, moving as one with lines so straight and moves so well executed that there can only be the Mariinsky that is better when it comes to swans, in my humble opinion. The swans moved as if on air around the stage going from a circle to a pointed V moving forward towards the audience. 

Then they would divide up into groups and make 4 smaller Vs with the points to the middle of the stage so making a square and then they moved again into another shape - I was totally immersed in this geometry and symmetry! Quite how Nureyev managed this I do not know – genius perhaps?

The 4 cygnets were danced very competently and were followed by the 4 big swans doing their piece – all really lovely.

I’m afraid I am not well versed enough to say much about Ould-Braham and Heymann other than that they were very good as you would expect from Etoiles of the POB! My attention was 100% absorbed with the swans! 

 Ending Act 2 though the Prince swore his love to Odette as per usual....

After the single interval we moved on to Act 3 and all the national dances and a Queen desperate for her son to marry.

The dances were very nice and well danced but none of them particularly stood out for me. Rothbart dances a solo piece just before the Prince and Odile do their fireworks so that altered the flow of the story for me a little bit BUT on the plus side it made good use of Rothbart (see more male dancing - Nureyev’s touch?). This allowed Karl Paquette to show that he still has what it takes.  

Miriam Ould-Braham did her 32 fouettes although I found that she did travel quite a bit across the stage if I am being picky, and her "error" was to do a double right at the end, after having done singles, so she landed a little untidily. Mathias Heymann whipped off his 16 turns perfectly and it was all quite the thrill to see. 

Once the Prince realises he has been duped when he sees the vision of the real Odette there was a brief pause and then Act 4 began. 

The fabulous swans returned to the stage and were just as amazing as before in Act 2 with their precise lines and wonderful patterns.

The ending is quite tragic as Odette throws herself off a cliff closely followed by Rothbart and the two of them go up to heaven whilst the Prince is left lying on the stage - I presume dead."


Helen also attended the Christmas day performance and has reviewed it for us.   I will publish it tomorrow.

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