Tuesday, 6 July 2010


4/07/10, Opera Garnier, Paris

Paris Opera Ballet based on Degas' paintings of dancers. A promising young dancer with a pushy mother turns up at the ballet school where she strives to attract the attention of the ballet master but is upstaged by the prima ballerina. She does however attract the attention of one of the "abonnes" (which we think means subscribers or season ticket-holders). At a party she dances with him, but on a subsequent visit to a nightclub grows jealous when she sees him with some prostitutes and steals his wallet. She's discovered, imprisoned and ends up as an uncharacteristically willowy washerwoman. There are hints (the narrative not being entirely clear) that mother in an earlier life may have been a disreputable can-can dancer and wants better things for her daughter.

The rather anaemic original score made more use of tubular bells than Mike Oldfield. John thought the score very bitty, with lots of musical ideas none of which were properly developed. The jazzy ensemble bits were better than the quieter, more reflective music or the big solos. Really it called for a full-blooded pastiche of Tchaikovsky. Apparently there was a bit of T in there, in the star dancer's solo: I of course failed to recognise it but D did.

There was plenty of dance and plenty of real ballet steps (which meant relatively little mime) which was a plus, even if it meant the storyline wasn't always clear.

The lighting designer had fun, with expressionistic touches like our heroine behind bars in prison, backlit, and a dream sequence during the ball scene in which a dramatic diagonal of light slashed across the stage along which our petite danseuse danced backwards elegantly on pointe, and then the abonne lurched towards her on his toes as if being dragged. There were footlights, too: you don't see them often nowadays. That was for a scene in which four of the dancers came out in front of the curtain, striking poses: pure Degas.

Degas himself apparently made brief appearances as a "man in black" and artist. He had relatively little to do. There was no hint of the real Degas' clearly obsessive interest in young dancers. And no tin bath.

The Garnier (an unbelievably large and pompous building with a Chagall ceiling dating from 1964 in the auditorium which I had forgotten and John greatly liked) was full of little balletomanes and their pushy mothers, lots of people photographing one another on the grand staircase (so evidently, like us, not regulars). I wanted to ask some of the pushy mothers and offspring what they thought of this rather bleak view of the ballet: the ballet master and star dancer dismissive of our heroine; the abonne clearly interested only in a bit of skirt; the mother channelling her own failures and frustrations into her daughter's putative career; disaster waiting just around the corner. But I didn't think my French would be up to it.

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