writers on dancing

The DanceView Times, international edition

Symphony in C in Paris

Paris Opera Ballet
Palais Garnier
Paris, France
October 15, 2003

By Alexander Meinertz
Copyright ©2003 by Alexander Meinertz

There was confusion before the start of the Paris Opera Ballet's new season about whether the company dance Le Palais de cristal, as originally announced, or Symphony in C. It turned out to be the latter. The program book explained it this way: "This new production is danced in the New York City Ballet's black and white version, just as the choreography ultimately envisaged it."

But Symphony in C is not Le Palais de cristal. Balanchine created the latter in just two weeks for Paris Opera Ballet in 1947, with sumptuous sets and glamorous costumes by Léonor Fini, and restaged it for Ballet Society in 1948. In Paris the ballet had different colour costumes for each movement, in New York the ballet was uniformly clad with the women in white tutus and the men in black tights and vests. In France each movement was named after a jewel—my personal favourite being Black Diamond (2nd movement) and in New York Balanchine simply named them numerically. And although the overall structure and outline of Symphony in C remained the same as that of Le Palais de crystal the choreography in fact differed greatly in detail, not to mention atmosphere: The Black Diamond more so than the other three movements.

This, at least, is how I remember it from the performances I saw at the Paris Opera in the 90's, and I was disturbed to learn that Symphony in C has now been substituted for Palais de crystal. Not only does the new staging feature costumes after the 1948 designs, the choreographic details and indeed the spirit has also been lost.

There are also, of course, differences in style. The dancers of the Paris Opera Ballet do not build momentum in the same way as New York City Ballet, and they do not have a similarly emancipated and dynamic approach to music and choreography. Rather, their schooling gives them a strong classical technique and an aesthetic that emphasizes precision and presentation, and because of this their rendering of any choreographic text is usually admirable, flawless, and performed with great stylistic integrity: They dance the steps with a full and deep dimension that is very rich and that certainly becomes Balanchine.

Nothing is left to chance, and even when off-balance movements are asked for you see them going for physical extremes (but not musical ones) that American dancers do not, but you also realise that, as classicists, they do this with absolute control. The French dancers also have a certain spirituality, they are Bayadères, and approach their art with a solemn reverence that is at odds with the way New York City Ballet dancers seem to view choreography, and those are some of the reasons that the Paris Opera Ballet looks better in Palais de crystal, when coached by their own ballet masters, than in Symphonie en ut staged by Patricia Neary.

Emmanuel Thibault's riveting entrances and daunting exits into the wings of the Third Movement of Symphony in C, thus, were the most exciting moments of the Paris Opera Ballet Balanchine Triple Bill on Wednesday the 15th. Simply because the man soars as if suspended by an invisible string or lifted by silent gusts of a benevolent wind, and because he carries himself beautifully up there. Back on the ground he knows how to modulate accents without making them look strained, he gives full shape to his pirouettes, while his port de bras draw wonderfully clean arcs and lines around his centre.

In a company of outstanding artists, Thibault is one of a handful of Princes of Dance —Manuel Legris, Laurent Hilaire, José Martinez and Jean-Guillaume Bart being the others—and the only one with such a superlative gift and outstanding facility for classical ballet dancing. He is also the only one who is not an Étoile and, sadly and unfairly, never will be. (Thibault must be close to 30 and is still a Sujet). Worse still, he only gets cast in soloist roles very infrequently and was given just this one performance of Symphony in C.

Mélanie Hurel and Benjamin Pech danced beautifully and confidently in the Fourth Movement, but Karin Averty and Karl Paquette in the First Movement left much to be desired. Laëtitia Pujol (a soubrette, and standing in for an injured Delphine Moussin) does not have the lines for the Second Movement, at this performance she also did not have the balance either, while Yann Bridard cut a very odd figure with his mannered Lifar-style partnering.

Ironically, while Paris Opera has lost Palais de crystal the company seems to have made The Prodigal Son its own: Nicolas Le Riche, Marie-Agnès Gillot and every man and rogue on stage performs the ballet with zest, verve, fun and drama in abundance. The Four Temperaments remains an animating challenge.

Originally published:
Volume 1, Number 4
October 20, 2003

Copyright ©2003 by
Alexander Meinertz



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last updated on October 20, 2003