Illusions of Grandeur

19 Jun

Whether it’s PNB or the Fremont Arts Council putting on a parade of naked, body-painted cyclists in celebration of the summer solstice, Seattleites inject a healthy dose of the arts into their livelihood…but in some cases, not enough.  Thus, the responsibility falls upon me to culture the quasi-wife from a misshapen pearl to a rounder one, since PNB doesn’t really do Petipa as far as I know (unless it’s Balanchine after Petipa).  Don’t get me wrong…she has an undeniable love for classical music for she is no mere flute player; she is a razor-fanged, competitive, ambitious, power hungry flautist.  I mean, who else would borrow music to practice in their spare time for fun?  I did lend the music to her, but is it not she who borrowed it?  In addition to classical music, she dabbles in opera and ballet as well—she too went to see PNB’s Coppélia (a different cast than I saw though, and she criticized the third act for being superfluous) and was supposed to see the Paris Opera Ballet’s production of La Bayadère while she was working in France, but her mother is now undergoing treatment for breast cancer so instead of travelling around after her contract ended, she came home to the Emerald City to be with family and understandably so.

The Palais Garnier opera house, from when quasi-wife visited Paris.

Although a filmed performance is never the same as live, I thought I’d try to recreate the experience for her and borrowed the DVD of POB’s La Bayadère, with Isabelle Guérin as Nikiya, Laurent Hilaire as Solor and Elisabeth Platel as Gamzatti.  It was a play date of pretend as we had a fanciful Italian dinner (spaghetti and meatballs) and sat in the prime seats (she sat in a recliner…you won’t find one of those in any opera house box!).  Despite my role as impresario educatorio extraordinario, I actually hadn’t seen a full production of  La Bayadère myself, although I knew the basic plot and have of course seen my fair share of variations on le YouTube and I figured that would be enough to get us through without program notes.  I was kind of wrong because we both found ourselves a little confused, but a quick online search clarified what we needed to know (I am without a copy of Clement Crisp and Mary Clarke’s The Ballet Goer’s Guide because I practically had the copy from the Columbus Public Library on permanent loan, such that it never occurred to me that I don’t actually own the book).  I find that a number of ballet DVD’s will often scroll program notes for the viewers during the overtures played after intermission, and I was surprised to find that POB’s La Bayadère did not (and possibly edited out overtures altogether).  I was excited to emphasize the Frenchness of the experience by putting the DVD in French, assuming it would be those program notes that would appear in French, but really the language settings only change the DVD menus.  Lame.

At any rate, the production overall was really quite beautiful and although we decided some elements were kind of racist, we took it at face value—it’s not like La Bayadère was written yesterday with today’s knowledge of what’s politically correct and such.  I don’t think any audience member really expects a ballet to be perfectly cast ethnically so I don’t know that painting dancer’s skin (with the exception of the Gold Idol of course) is really necessary, but I think understanding of the intent eliminates the possibility of fostering racism.  Ballet audiences are smarty-pants…we know.  We know.  Regardless, the costumes were stunning and the dancing sublime.  POB is ridiculously clean and their dancers so well rounded, which of course is best shown in the famous corps de ballet scene in Act III, The Kingdom of the Shades, when the ghosties enter in linear fashion, where replication of near-identical arabesques between each dancer is key.  I figured she would like this scene for its symmetry and orderliness, after all, we’re talking about a girl who calls Storables (a store that sells containers and storage items for the home) a “store after her own heart.”  I told her that the Kingdom of the Shades is probably the most famous corps de ballet choreography, such that scholarly ballet people write papers and whatnot about just that scene.  If someone would like to confirm this for me, do let me know…I prefer to tell truths.  Speaking of smart audiences though, she even got the whole “shades-as-the-puffs-of-smoke-from-Solor’s-opium-hookah” symbolism all on her own!  I tell you, I’m training these little ducklings so well…although she did ask me if this was the only ballet where someone is on some serious drugs and my question to you is who asks that kind of question?!?

Quasi-wife appreciated the drama and beauty of Guérin as Nikiya and the height of Hilaire’s jumps (though she did not care for the character of Solor himself…I believe there were words exchanged pertaining to his passive-aggressive and sometimes negligence).  She also said that Hilaire looked very French (whatever that means) and I too enjoyed the performances of the lead dancers and Platel’s Gamzatti (quasi-wife didn’t like Platel’s bow though).  Platel is exceptional in the grand pas de deux…lithe, cunning and yet sickeningly elated that she has claimed Solor through dastardly means.  She does a unique fouetté en dedans during the coda, whipping into attitude instead of passé which I thought was an interesting touch instead of the usual Italian fouettés.  Hilaire was floatacious in his variation as mentioned earlier.  I found it interesting that he opted for cleanliness and style as opposed to big bravura steps, such as a single cabriole instead of a double, but he finds fifth in the air like no other (it’s unfair really).  However, I find this to be proof that cleanliness and taste always supercedes sloppy fireworks.

Solor and Nikiya variations and coda:

In the end, quasi-wife enjoyed La Bayadère even though I basically insisted the entire time that she would like Manon better.  ‘Twas enough culture for one eve though and Manon can wait since I own it, while the library beckons for it’s hookah ghosties.  If your library does not provide, you can always sate the beast with le YouTube.  If you have just over two hours to kill, follow this link to watch POB’s Bayadère in its entirety.

Meanwhile, you have now participated in our little pretend game as well.  The picture of Palais Garnier from above is actually a photo of the post card quasi-wife sent me from Paris.  Behold!  The power of imagination!

It trickses preciousss!!!

PS. I love to collect post cards people send me…wink wink!

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2 Responses to “Illusions of Grandeur”

  1. Paul August 23, 2010 at 11:49 am #

    In mind of your pictures and comments about the Palais Garnier, am thinking you will enjoy reading the middle of this piece I wrote yesterday:

    http://www.dcartsbeat.com/2010/08/ballet-on-film.html

    Paul Moon
    Washington, D.C.

    • youdancefunny August 23, 2010 at 1:11 pm #

      Thank you for the link! I enjoyed reading that a lot…also intrigued by your thoughts on Mao’s Last Dancer. It was just released in local theaters here so I’m off to see it sometime this week.

      Thanks again!
      -Steve

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