(Above: Snapshot of the faux curtain hiding the stage)
(Below: Painting by Chagall on the ceiling of the Palais Garnier)
Seeing the Paris Opera Ballet perform Ballet Russes (for more information see my earlier post, "Diaghilev's Theater of Marvels? Marvelous" by clicking here) over the holidays was the most incredible gift. It was the first time I had been inside the Palais Garnier, and wow, it was glorious! I was speechless upon entering, finding myself staring with my neck craned at the Chagall painting on the ceiling until the lights began to dim and the show commenced. I was in a sanctuary of great beauty, artistry and history. The company performed four remastered ballets: Le Spectre De La Rose, L'aprés-midi D'un Faune, Le Tricorne and Pétrouchka. For me, each ballet topped the one before it, with my favorite, Pétrouchka, closing the show.
(Above: Nijinsky and Karsavina, La Spectre De La Rose)
Le Spectre De La Rose (Specter of the Rose)
Original choreography by Michel Fokine, music by Carl Maria Von Weber, costumes/set by Léon Bakst
Michel Fokine choreographed the role of the Rose in this ballet for Nijinsky. This short ballet, only 10 minutes in length, is magical in nature. A young girl falls asleep and dreams she is dancing with a rose, who was played in this version by the animated Emmanuel Thibault. Unfortunately, Delphine Moussin is not quite as convincing as the young maiden. Margot Fonteyn, as seen in the youtube clip below, showed much more emotion in her face, and that is really what the role is all about. You would think it would be the other way around, that it would be the man who falls asleep to be visited by a female rose in his dreams - the ideal woman constructed by a man. Yet in this ballet, the rose, such a feminine object, is played by the male character, and the female character is empowered through the vision of her man-rose.
(Above: Nijinsky as the Faun)
L'aprés-midi D'un Faune (Afternoon of a Faun)
Original choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky, music by Claude Debussy, costumes/set by Léon Bakst
This was Nijinsky's first ballet, and he also starred as the faun in the original. It was so parfait to have the honor of seeing this famous ballet performed just a week after seeing Tamar Rogoff's "Diagnosis of a Faun" (read more by clicking here) here in New York City. Viewing the two choreographies in contrast to one another helped me better understand Rogoff's vision. Although this ballet is not a favorite of mine, the set is just gorgeous and the movement wonderfully stylistic.
(Above: Picasso's set design)
Le Tricorne (The Three-Cornered Hat)
Original choreography by Léonide Massine, music by Manuel de Falla, costumes/set Pablo Picasso
Le Tricorne is like a Spanish novella in the form of a ballet. Fighting, love, humor, what's not to like? With original set and costume design by Pablo Picasso, we are transported into a colorful Spanish village full of colorful characters. The ballet is about a miller and his wife, whose adoration for one another is tangible in the opening scenes, and the foolish Governor who tries to seduce the miller's wife, which leads to his public humiliation. The Governor was played perfectly by Fabrice Bourgeois, who was both funny and pitiful at once. However, it was the miller, José Martinez, who stole the show with his long-legged jumps, fanciful stomping and air of confidence. I did not know much about this ballet going into it, and it was great to view the ballet through fresh eyes, something rare in my experiences as an audience member. Another highlight of this performance was the mezzo-soprano, Andrea Hill, whose angelic voice carried us through the ballet.
(Above: Costume design for Pétrouchka by Alexandre Benois)
Original choreography by Michel Fokine, music by Igor Stravinsky, costumes/sets by Alexandre Benois
This was my personal favorite of the evening. I couldn't help but fall in love with the floppy-bodied, dejected and endearing clown, Pétrouchka, played by Benjamin Pech. This was, along with Le Tricorne, one of the most solidly performed ballets of the evening. I am a major Stravinsky fan, and it was a treat to listen to the orchestra play the score right up close in my first row seat (!!!). In fact, sometimes I became very much caught up with watching the conductor, who was dancing himself as he waved his arms to direct. There were three different sets for this ballet, taking us from the carnival on the street to the rooms of Pétrouchka and La Maure. We saw that although Pétrouchka is just a puppet, he still feels human emotions, and he is in despair, not to mention lonely, locked up in his dismal room. He is mistreated by the evil Charlatan who has two other puppets, La Maure and La Ballerine. Pétrouchka falls in love with La Ballerine, yet when he walks in on her dancing with La Maure, he tries to fight his rival, only to be chased out into the street and sliced down with one whack from La Maure's sword. The ballet's ending is beautiful, for after the Charlatan carries Pétrouchka's lifeless body away, we see his ghost, or rather his soul, looking down to the street from the top of the theater, finally free. Our hearts soar along with his.
(Below: Outside the theater)
Anticipating the upcoming performance I was about to see, I went to one of my favorite places, the Montmartre cemetery, and paid a visit to Nijinski. I couldn't help but pose in an arabesque for him.