We are a month or so into a new season, and many balletomanes are already planning short “ballet trips” around the world to catch favourite works or famed companies. Well, Paris is hardly the worst destination possible, is it? So if you’re wondering about the strange repertoire or the opaque booking system of the very French Paris Opera Ballet, here is a guide to the 2010-2011 season – and a few tips for those who will be visiting the City of Light.
It’s Grand ballet, silly – The Paris Opera Ballet’s 2010-2011 season
The new season is titled “The Great Theatre of the World,” after Calderón. As it means, well, everything one wants it to mean, the powers that be seemingly decided to sample ballets and choreographers with pure diversity in mind, and the 2010-2011 dance season can look at times like a “best of the last decade” enterprise. In other words, apart from the guest companies and 2 premieres very late in the season, this is the occasion to catch up with programs you wish you had seen.
If you secretly think there just isn’t enough steps in Petipa ballets…
- Paquita (Pierre Lacotte), October 18 – November 7, Palais Garnier
Lacotte’s classical extravaganza, based on Joseph Mazilier’s 1846 ballet and Petipa’s late-19th century Russian production, premiered in Paris in 2001 and has been danced countless times since. The reconstruction work is, as usual with Lacotte, fairly limited: the pas de trois performed in Russia as part of the Grand Pas shows up in Act I, while the Grand Pas itself is severely re-arranged and retains none of the delightful Russian soloist variations. The rest is vintage Lacotte: expect as much petit allegro as can be crammed onto the music, but the production is beautiful and provides a (not entirely needed, perhaps) context to Paquita and her beau’s legendary wedding.
Dream cast : Aurélie Dupont and Clairemarie Osta are sadly not dancing the title role this season. In their absence, Dorothée Gilbert is bound to provide the technical fireworks and presence needed, and Myriam Ould-Braham, in her Paris debut, sheer ballerina charm. As Lucien d’Hervilly, Matthieu Ganio is the most experienced Etoile scheduled, with Karl Paquette (he of the blond princely looks) a strong contender in the crowd-pleasing category.
- Coppelia (Patrice Bart), March 17-30, Palais Garnier
Why Patrice Bart’s 1996 version of Coppelia is danced so often these days will probably always remain a mystery, but there it is again this season. Saint-Léon’s delightful ballet was created in Paris in 1870, and this production, which retains nothing of it (not even the doll) save the score, is either a betrayal or a strong-willed attempt to give the ballet dramatic coherence: you choose. The choreographic result is not very probant in any case, with enough steps to leave you dizzy and particularly convoluted partnering. My advice? Go and see the Paris Opera Ballet School in Lacotte’s reconstruction of the same ballet in April instead.
Dream cast : The spirited Mathilde Froustey should be a hit if she takes on the lead role; Myriam Ould-Braham was the saving grace of the last run. As far as Franz is concerned, let’s just wait and see who is left standing when the performances start – Matthias Heymann or Josua Hoffalt, perhaps?
If you’re curious about Nureyev’s lasting imprint on the company…
- Swan Lake (Rudolf Nureyev’s production), November 29 – January 5, Opéra Bastille
Nureyev fought long and hard to mount his own production of Swan Lake in Paris; the company’s dancers even went on strike to keep Vladimir Bourmeister’s version in the repertoire, but once Nureyev made some concessions, it soon dawned on everyone that his production was the better choice for the company. Heavily influenced by psychoanalysis, Nureyev gives dramatic weight to Siegfried and Rothbart, with hints of a homosexual subtext, but nonetheless keeps the sacred Act II almost intact. His version of Act IV is one of the best currently performed, with a thoughtful adagio for Odette and Siegfried at its heart. Don’t expect joyous ballroom scenes or the lyrical sweep of Russian productions, but this Swan Lake has much to offer.
Dream cast: This should be a very special run, as the ultimate Swan, the glorious Ulyana Lopatkina (Mariinsky), who rarely dances with a foreign company, will be guesting with the Paris Opera Ballet on December 18 (eve) and 21. See her at any cost: watching her in Nureyev’s tragic Act IV, as opposed to the silly happy ending of the Sergeyev version, should be worth the ticket price alone.
As far as the home team goes, Marie-Agnès Gillot has shown in the past she can bring edge and excitement to the dual role of Odette/Odile, and Agnès Letestu is the most experienced Swan in the company. Nureyev’s Siegfried is a fine vehicle for Nicolas Le Riche as well as the tall, melancholy Mathieu Ganio.
- Roméo et Juliette (Rudolf Nureyev), April 11-30, Opéra Bastille
Romeo and Juliet may well be the best ballet Nureyev ever choreographed from start to finish. The Russian star had direct contact with some of of world’s greatest productions of Romeo; he even premiered Kenneth MacMillan’s in 1965 alongside Margot Fonteyn. When he set on choreographing an entirely new version, premiered at the Paris Opera Ballet in 1984, he brought this wealth of experience with him, with a few extras: lovely cinematic transitions, as well as scenes and characters rarely elaborated on elsewhere, from a fleshed-out Rosaline to Friar Lawrence’s murder. As this is still Nureyev, the choreography is overly complicated, but if the technique is there – this Romeo can deliver a beautiful evening of theatre.
Dream cast: Juliet could be a true come-back moment for Laëtitia Pujol, a beautiful Etoile in the French tradition who has been on and off the stage for a few years now. The ballet hasn’t been danced since 2005, so expect a number of debuts as well – among those in the wings, the delicate Myriam Ould-Braham looks like a born Juliet, and watch out for Dorothée Gilbert‘s debut. As Juliet’s beloved, Benjamin Pech stood out five years ago, but a number of Etoiles and Soloists (Christophe Duquenne, for instance) could make an impression with the right Juliet.
If you believe star dancers can be usefully recycled as choreographers…
- Caligula (Nicolas Le Riche), January 31 – February 24, Palais Garnier
The Paris Opera Ballet inaugurated a new tradition with Kader Belarbi’s Hurlevent in 2002: giving Etoiles with more or less experience, and occasionally other dancers, a chance to choreograph short or full-length works for the company. Nicolas Le Riche, José Martinez and Nicolas Paul have followed suit since then, but Hurlevent arguably remains unsurpassed. Le Riche has very little previous choreographic experience before Caligula, and sadly this work, based on the mad Roman emperor and returning to the Palais Garnier for a third run, has been noted for its flaws, including poor use of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and below-par production values for the Paris Opera Ballet. An experiment for Le Riche and his dancers, worth seeing perhaps in that guise.
Dream cast: Jérémie Bélingard, a powerful dancer who created the role of Caligula, or Nicolas Le Riche himself, who danced the same role in a subsequent run. Clairemarie Osta is a true artist, and worth seeing as the Moon, a role created for her by her husband, Le Riche.
- Les Enfants du Paradis (José Martinez), June 29 – July 15, Palais Garnier
It’s a sad fact of life that José Martinez’ Les Enfants du Paradis, a wonderful project based on the iconic Marcel Carné film, wasn’t quite as successful as it could have been. Martinez has choreographed delightful miniatures for company dancers and the Paris Opera Ballet School in the past, but the transition to a full-length ballet is a tough one. His version of Les Enfants du Paradis is full of very good ideas, delightful costumes, and remains very faithful to the 1945 film, but the choreography lacks distinction and diversity – a solid neo-classical production, in a sense, but lacking the moments of genius that would take the emotional response to a new level. José Martinez may still tinker with his children of paradise for the first revival, however…
Dream cast: the all-star cast of the premiere (Isabelle Ciaravola as Garance, Matthieu Ganio as Baptiste, Alessio Carbone as Frederick Lemaître, Benjamin Pech as Lacenaire…) should be back and hard to surpass, but I would also go and see the stunningly talented Soloist Eve Grinsztajn in the lead role.
If you like the idea of a Paris Opera Contemporary Dance Company…
- Apollo / O zlozony/O composite / The Rite of Spring (Balanchine/Brown/Bausch), December 10-31, Palais Garnier
Why we need to see Apollo or O zlozony/O composite again in Paris is a moot point: Balanchine’s Apollo has been danced too many times in recent years at the expense of the rest of the company’s Balanchine repertoire, and it is the second revival of Trisha Brown’s enigmatic creation in only five years, again at the expense of other short works. Pina Bausch’s The Rite of Spring is the most interesting item on the program: it was the first Bausch work the Paris Opera Ballet acquired, in 1997, and it remains a landmark interpretation of Stravinsky’s pulsing score. A new generation will dance it this time around, a year and a half after the choreographer’s death, and it is a fitting homage by a ballet company which had grown very close to her.
Dream cast: Nicolas Le Riche or perhaps Jérémie Bélingard as Balanchine’s Apollo and the sophisticated Agnès Letestu as Terpsichore for the first ballet of the evening. In O zlozony/O composite, Nicolas Le Riche is the only dancer left of the original cast (Manuel Legris has now retired, and Aurélie Dupont is on maternity leave) – see him with his wife, the eerie Clairemarie Osta, and young Soloist Josuah Hoffalt. Finally, the fiery Eleonora Abbagnato reprises the role of the Chosen One in The Rite of Spring – not to be missed, given her larger-than-life personality!
- La Maison de Bernarda / Une sorte de… (Mats Ek), April 20-29, Palais Garnier
Two more revivals to complete this season’s pot-pourri of works danced by the company in the past 10 years. Whether a ballet company’s mission is to dance Mats Ek or not is still an ongoing debate, but the Paris Opera Ballet’s collaboration with him now spans nearly two decades – Ek even created a work for the company, Appartement. This double bill is an occasion to discover two rarely-seen works, both interesting in their own right – the first one based on a Federico García Lorca play, the other one a quirky, delightfully absurd miniature.
Dream cast: Highlights in 2008 included Manuel Legris (Bernarda), Marie-Agnès Gillot and Laëtitia Pujol in La Maison de Bernarda, as well as Nolwenn Daniel, the woefully underused Miteki Kudo and Nicolas Le Riche in Une sorte de…
» Video: Mats Ek’s The House of Bernarda
- Rain (Anna Teresa de Keersmaeker), May 25 – June 7, Palais Garnier
Rain is undoubtedly one of Belgian choreographer Anna Teresa de Keersmaeker’s biggest successes to date. Created in 2001 to a score by Steve Reich, who has inspired Keersmaeker time and again, it now enters the repertoire of the Paris Opera Ballet – an odd choice maybe for the company, but it ensures at least that this acclaimed work will be seen again, and perhaps enjoy a new life at the Palais Garnier.
No dream cast yet, of course – we shall see who Keersmaeker herself chooses!
And finally, if you’re in the mood for a scientific adventure…
- L’anatomie de la sensation (Wayne McGregor), June 29 – July 15, Opéra Bastille
The Royal Ballet is not the only company in love with Wayne McGregor. The British choreographer was first invited in Paris for Genus in 2007, and the Paris Opera Ballet has now decided to out-dare other troupes by commissioning McGregor to choreograph his first full-length work for a ballet company. Very little is known about L’anatomie de la sensation so far, but it is apparently inspired by Francis Bacon and will feature a score by Mark Anthony Turnage titled Blood on the Floor. So far an evening of McGregor has always meant slightly too much of his extreme, relentless idiom, but the gamble might just pay with more nuance and a convincing dramatic arc.
The Guest List
Sometimes guest companies is what you most look forward to in a Paris Opera Ballet season, particularly if you’ve seen most of the works on offer, and the 2010-11 line-up promises glorious evenings of ballet at the Palais Garnier:
- Hamburg Ballet – Parsifal, November 12-16
John Neumeier’s company has been a regular guest in Paris over the years, which is hardly surprising – Neumeier is held in high regard at the Paris Opera Ballet, who has been dancing his works for nearly three decades, from A Midsummer Night’s Dream to the very successful Sylvia he created here. Parsifal – Episodes and Echo, created for the Hamburg Ballet in 2006, deals with a quintessential myth well-known in France through Chrétien de Troyes. A most interesting narrative venture, and hopefully a choreographic success as well.
Today’s most life-enhancing ballet company will be back in Paris with a bang in May 2011. With their vibrant production of Don Quixote and Flames of Paris, Alexei Ratmansky’s exciting re-creation of a Soviet classic, fireworks are on the menu at the Palais Garnier. Tickets will once again be impossible to get, but if you’re in France, beg or steal one to see Natalia Osipova, Ivan Vassiliev or Maria Alexandrova in some of their best roles. The Bolshoi is just that good at the moment.
» Video: TV feature on Natalia Osipova & Ivan Vassiliev in Don Quixote
» Video: TV feature on the premiere of Alexei Ratmansky’s version of Flames of Paris in 2008 (with Maria Alexandrova, Alexander Volchkov, Denis Savin…)
Now, about those elusive tickets…
Tickets are very hard to come by for a number of shows every season. These include the classics and popular narrative works, especially around Christmas time, but it is also bound to be particularly difficult to get tickets for the Bolshoi’s visit in May. So what can you do if you are a ballet-lover, and desperate to get your hands on the Holy Grail – decent tickets?
- Make a note of the booking calendar on the Paris Opera Ballet’s website. There are 3 different dates to mark for every production: one for the opening of Internet booking, 2-3 months before the first performance, the second for phone orders and the last for booking at the box-office in Paris, in person only. Quotas apply: restricted-view tickets (under €20 for ballet) are only sold at the physical box-office.
The POB’s website has no waiting room, a tendancy to crash on the first day of booking, and you will not be able to choose your seat (only the price category), but it is a good bet if you want to plan your stay ahead.
You will be able to choose your seat over the phone, but availability can be limited for that booking option and casting is seldom given that far in advance, so be prepared to book without knowing who you are going to see.
The physical box-office is often the only solution if you want to see a particular cast, and then casting is not always given before that last booking option opens. Queues can also be daunting when you are looking to see Swan Lake or another classic.
- If you haven’t been able to bag a ticket for a sold-out run, check daily, and even several times a day, the website of the Paris Opera. Once in a while, a few (usually top-price) tickets for one or more performances are made available this way.
- Audience members will sometimes sell tickets they cannot use, and a few do so on Dansomanie, a popular French website, via “post-it” posts on top of the main discussion board.
- If you are in Paris and want to see a sold-out performance, go and queue for returns at the box-office. They are sold at regular prices around 45 minutes before curtain up, but the queue can get absolutely huge, and if you want to be sure to get a ticket you should plan to arrive much earlier than that. If you are eligible for concessions last minute tickets, you might be able to get some for contemporary works or triple bills. If you’re looking to see a popular production, don’t waste your time – concessions tickets are only sold after everyone in the returns queue has been served.
- If the program you want to see is at the Opéra Bastille, you can also try to get standing tickets. 62 of them are sold an hour and a half before the performance, on machines situated near the shop, inside the Opéra – you generally need to queue outside the main entrance for these. Unfortunately, only the 1st row guarantees a full view, as all three rows are on the same level.
- Beware of the black market – you will undoubtedly find resellers around the entrance of each Opera, Bastille and Garnier, who try and sell cheap tickets at five times their regular price. Don’t accept.
Have a good 2010-11 season, everyone!