Tag Archives: mathieu ganio

La Danse? La Revue

7 Feb

So I finally got to watch the highly anticipated documentary on the Paris Opera Ballet, La Danse, directed by Frederick Wisemen.  I have to say it wasn’t quite what I expected (for one thing, it is LONG…I knew going in how many minutes it was, but it felt twice as long) and there were some things I found disappointing.  That’s not to say it didn’t have its share of charming moments too and inevitably any accurate portrayal of life is going to have both “cookies and celery” as I like to say…things you like and things you don’t (I challenge you to find me someone who loves raw celery…no dip, no peanut butter or what have you…just plain celery with nothing added.  Such a quest is fated to failure in my opinion.).

One of the issues I had with the documentary was the target audience.  To me, a typical documentary audience has an interest in the topic but a successful filmmaker will take care to render that topic into something both the knowledgeable and the casually interested can understand.  Easier said than done…but I have a hard time believing someone completely new to ballet would be able to follow the film easily.  Names were never given unless someone in the film called someone by name and so unless you’re already familiar with the faces of the Paris Opera Ballet you’re going to get lost.  Furthermore, names of the dances they showed were also not given, so you don’t know who choreographed what or even which piece was what.  I recognized Wayne McGregor, I deduced one piece was Mats Ek’s because there was screaming in it and I was fairly familiar with Paquita.  Meanwhile, I totally didn’t know that Casse-Noisette is French for Nutcracker so I was totally confused because the music was sounding familiar but the costumes were different, and it was further exacerbated by the fact that during rehearsals for the Prince’s variation in The Nutcracker, for some odd reason I kept hearing Prince Florimund’s variation from Sleeping Beauty.  Until someone told me afterward what Casse-Noisette meant, it really was a hot mess in my head.  Damn you Tchaikovsky!

I was not perturbed at all by the lack of commentary or narrative, because it seemed that the goal of the documentary was to film and let be.  There were some questionable additions, like filming workers vacuuming the theater or spackling a hole in the ceiling, but while unimportant to the ballet itself I felt those moments gave a sense of reality to the film; as if you were touring the STUNNING Palais Garnier (of which has a ceiling painted by Marc Chagall that was mentioned in several reviews of La Danse, and I wanted to see it because I saw a Chagall exhibit once in Korea, and of course they showed the ceiling once, for about half a second) and happened to pass such workers along the way.  There were all kinds of interesting shots, like the subterranean labyrinth underneath the building (which had a…pond?  Seriously, it looked like a sewer but there were plants and fish swimming in it.) and apparently someone has a hobby of keeping bees and harvesting honey on top of the building as well.  The documentary as a whole sort of followed a formula where it was mostly rehearsal footage, then some performance footage and each clip of performance footage was followed by a shot of Paris.  Actually I’m pretty sure several people in the audience fell asleep during the first segment of the piece of Médée, and it was a bright shot of outdoor Paris that woke them up.  Somehow I felt that this formula was a little detrimental to the film though, because rather than emphasize the sense of renewal that follows a performance, it made it seem more mundane.  I felt the goal was to clue the audience into the process, but unfortunately the film made the process itself seem less interesting.

What I did love was some of the footage they captured in the costumes shop.  Even though I worked on costumes crews in theatre (high school, nothing professional) to actually see them hand bead tutus and glue individual rhinestones with the same attention to detail and diligence that dancers use in their approach to their technique was really something.  It was somewhat brief, but enough to give you some (but totally inadequate) appreciation for the craftsmanship that goes in to costuming.  I’m surprised they didn’t shoot the fittings, but they did shoot hair and makeup and one of the hairdressers had a WILD set of rainbow dreadlocks.  THAT…was amazing.

As for the dancing itself, there is more than enough raw, peanut butter and dipless rehearsal footage to satisfy the eyes (although I would have liked to have seen more of company classes) and some of the little things that happen in rehearsals were the best parts.  Hilarious exchanged between Pierre Lacotte (choreographer) and Ghislaine Thesmar (who I believe teaches at the Paris Opera Ballet) and the dancers themselves inserted a witty comment or two.  Or a gesture like during the coda for Paquita, as the principal dancer was doing her fouettes, she started travelling forward and one of the members of the corps de ballet stuck out a flat palm as if to push her back.  Plenty of performance footage as well and I thought Mathieu Ganio and Agnes Letestu looked amazing in McGregor’s Genus, looking mechanically alien.  The second segment of Médée was visceral and pretty disturbing with onstage blood as Medea (of Greek myth) murders her children to get revenge on Jason (of Argonaut fame).  It was pretty clear they wanted to show a great contrast in Paris Opera Ballet’s repertoire, with several modern works and a couple of classics as well, which emphasizes the company’s identity as one of the most innovative and experimental companies in the world.  Although I am left wondering if they are perhaps pushing the envelope a little too far and not doing enough of the classics…if they’re constantly experimenting, they will inevitably alienate people by not providing enough familiarity.  In fact, that was one of the weaknesses of the film because of the classics they showed, The Nutcracker was very different and Paquita had all kinds of revisions by Lacotte.

Mathieu Ganio and Agnes Letestu in Wayne McGregor's "Genus." Image courtesy of Zipporah Films. This took me like eight tries to upload properly.

Surprisingly, I wasn’t particularly enthralled by the dances they showed (I even find myself less interested in McGregor ballets) but it’s worth the watch just to see the process unfold.  Unless you can wander around Palais Garnier, there’s no other way you can get this kind of access to inner workings of Paris Opera Ballet.

I suppose you could join them.  Good luck with that!

Oops.

12 Oct

So I’m working my way through the stack of library DVD’s, ready to come back to the world of the living after a Romeo and Juliet overload.  Next in queue was La Sylphide, and I was really excited to see the Bournonville ballet especially because of its unique, completely authentic preservation.  Whereas most ballets are fossils that are spotty at best and can only give glimpses to their true histories, Bournonville’s Sylphide is like an insect preserved in a shiny piece of honey colored Baltic amber, leaving us with no questions as to what it looked like.  And yes, I have a thing for amber fossils…they fascinate me, and I totally ogled this piece of Dominican amber that had an extremely rare, fully preserved hymenaea blossom, which is a remarkable inclusion.  Insects are more commonly found because they were attracted to the tree sap and also because of their hard exoskeletons which didn’t degrade quickly, while soft organic materials like leaves and flowers are less common because they would rot quickly and needed to be covered faster, which would actually sometimes damage leaves and flower petals by rolling them.  So the circumstances for a blossom to be fully preserved with petals intact meant that a flower had to fall onto some tree sap, be covered quickly but carefully so that it remained open.  It’s an extraordinary occurrence, and the $2000 price tag certainly reflects that!

Anyway, I thought I was all clever because I had learned of the difference between La Sylphide and Les Sylphides beforehand, because when you’re knew to ballet it’s an easy mistake to make.  However, like the flower fossilized in amber, Bournonville’s ballet eludes me still, as it turned out I borrowed Pierre Lacotte’s staging with the Paris Opera Ballet.  Oops.  Serves me right for assuming I knew what I was getting myself into.  However, the Paris Opera DVD features the wonderful Aurélie Dupont, who I adore, partnered by the magnificent Mathieu Ganio, who I had never seen before.  The plot was the same, so the bits that I read about it still matched.  The staging was different in that Lacotte drew upon sparse notes and drawings of the original La Sylphide for Marie Taglioni who danced it with the Paris Opera Ballet.  Wait…what?  Ok, so it goes that the original La Sylphide was choreographed by Filippo Taglioni for his daughter Marie, who danced it in Paris in 1834, where August Bournonville saw it and wanted to do his own version so he staged his two years after seeing the original for a favorite pupil of his, Lucile Grahn, with the Royal Danish Ballet in 1836.  Long story short, the Taglioni was lost, the Bournonville preserved.  Lacotte draws upon sketches and notes to try and recreate what he thought the Taglioni would have looked like.

It’s always a shame (and kind of annoying) when ballet history is so fuzzy, but perhaps the ambiguity and mystery are what draws me to it (and fossils) and the opposite is what makes recorded history such a snooze.  I’m fascinated by Marie Taglioni, mostly because Pierre Lacotte said in the extras that the crossed position of the arms developed as a way to mask the uber-lengthiness of her arms and I was all “I have long arms!” and now the crossed arms is very much a part of the Romantic style.  Dupont also talked about having to wear a corset in rehearsals, which other cast members and various people were riled by as misogynist and whatnot, but Lacotte’s intention was to see how having to wear corsets (which the women did) affected the look and technique of the dancing.  Dupont said the corset sort of forces a forward posture of the torso, which changed the line of the arabesque leg, and sleeves changed how the port de bras moved (port de bras being something Taglioni was complimented on as well).  Kind of sucks for the dancers that had to wear the corsets for rehearsals, and Dupont said it took a while to get used to, but it’s an interesting detail nonetheless.

I actually loved Lacotte’s choreography, because it was so technically demanding with itsy-bitsy beats and such but I’m finding it hard to believe this is how they danced early/mid-19th century because quite frankly, it was very difficult.  Inspiration from Taglioni with a hefty dose of artistic liberties I’d say, but it’s still a wonderful Sylphide.  Ganio is so young in the video as well, a mere twenty years old, but he had these buoyant jumps, and incredibly clean beats.  I was very impressed by his dancing, and he did one of my favorite steps, the brisé volé,  So I had my “olé!” moment as well.  He was a truly naïve James, captivated by the Sylph and so sad when she died.  Watching Ganio dance the role made me feel as though he didn’t intend to hurt Effie, he was simply mesmerized by the unattainable, and it wasn’t until the penultimate moment did he realize what he had done.  Dupont was gorgeous in every way imaginable, and subtle in her teasing of James.  She was ethereal, curious, and yet so tragic at the end.  Unlike Romeo and Juliet, this was a ballet that made me sad when everyone died.  Although I’m still not fully on board with the “go insane and die” in the way that James does and a la Giselle too…but I guess people at the time found that seriously romantic.

Some might argue that the Sylph was a figment of James’ imagination and never existed in the first place (the pas de trois between him, Effie and the Sylph could indicate that as a possibility), and so this ballet is a lesson about infidelity and chasing pipe dreams and myths, but those people need to get out of the 21st century and stop being so pragmatic.  HELLO!  Romantic ballet, key word, starts with an “R” and ends with an “omantic.”  Clearly, the character Madge (who I think I want to be one day) exists, and I see this story being more about man’s love for nature, and the destructive power of that love when he tries to possess it.  Like enjoying a bouquet of flowers inside of our home, as a belonging to us, inevitably kills them.  It’s similar to what Tamara Rojo had to say about Ondine, in that a fairy cannot be owned.  So I really enjoyed it, especially the score which I read that is different from Bournonville’s, because he was a cheapskate and couldn’t afford the original, so he bought a different one.  Lacotte’s Sylphide uses the original score Taglioni used, by Jean Madeleine Schneitzhoeffer (lord Billy that’s a mouthful!), which felt…I hesitate to say this, but Mozart-ish, and very classic-classical if you know what I’m saying (some crotchety music historian would probably slap me for this comparison, but there isn’t much information on Schneitzhoeffer.  It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve made this kind of mistake either, so I’m okay with it.)

An excerpt featuring exceptional jumps by Mathieu Ganio (So many little beats!  Looks like men have to work on petite allegro after all!)

And the whole thing is also available on youtube in fourteen parts, this being the first.  The DVD is wonderful quality though, so I’d defos recommend it!