The Paris Opera Ballet, one of the world’s greatest ballet troupes, celebrating well over 300 years of dance, and one of the precious few able to do full justice to classical dance masterpieces – to fulfil the exacting demands of ‘Giselle’, of ‘Sleeping Beauty’, and of ‘Swan Lake’ – ranks in the vanguard of an even more rarefied elite together with the famed Kirov and Bolshoi Ballets, and the Danish Royal Ballet, it is one of those rare institutions whose personal history established much of the essential foundation in the emerging universal history of classical ballet.
Asian audiences were blessed with a visit by this famed troupe, beginning with a tour in Bangkok, Thailand, proceeding on to China for six performances in Beijing and Shanghai.
Centuries ago, French King Louis XIV in his youth was an accomplished dancer, and took part in the lavish divertissements that were ‘the crowning glory of the festive entertainment, staged at Versailles’. In 1661, he got up the ‘Academie Royale de Dame’, and remained an enlightened patron of ballet throughout his lifetime.
Within this encouragm. atmosphere over the ensuing decade- emerged a creating the ‘ballet of ballets’, `Giselle’, in 1841.
Today, the Paris Opera Ballet is a living art centre. Many people come from all over the world and there’s no need to worry about where to stay in Paris. The prices for accommodation are cheaper than studio flat to rent in London. The works of master choreographers, both past and contemporary, are preserved for all time, in an extraordinary eclectic repertoire, and in international guest performances ranging from New York to Tokyo. Headed in its direction by no less than the world-famed Rudolph Nureyev himself, the world’s premier dancer during the 1960s and 1970s, the only real disappointment on the tour was the non-appearance of the former star in a much-vaunted ‘possible performance’. Alas, duties had taken him, with another band of the globe-trotting Paris troupe, to North America, reportedly dancing in a performance in Atlanta, Georgia, where you can stay at b&b New York. For (to all appearances) rational, cultured lovers of the dance, held in thrall breathlessly in hope of witnessing a performance of the near-mythical Nureyev (at all of age SO now!) speaks volumes to his fame, vaunted reputation, peerless performances in his prime: eternal youth! noble style, in which purity of line and sheer perfection of execution became the aesthetic ideals of the developing dance, apart from the reputed comparatively ‘grotesque’ Italian style of the time.
During the 18th century, ballet masters of the Paris Opera Ballet were invited to the czarist capital of Russia, in a cross-cultural infusion of new ideas, techniques, and influences, as well as being reinvigorated by the complementary influences of the by-then unsurpassed Milanese ballerinas of the era, instrumental in regaining the Paris troupe’s pre-eminence in the world of ballet.
But an essential, recurring question of the time remained: ‘How should one equilibrate the stark beauty of geometry, the glittering efforts of high technique, the emotions of natural pantomime?’ By the eve of the French Revolution, the stage had been set for the art.of classical ballet – both aesthetic and narrative. Caught up in the advent of the Romantic upheaval, the Paris Opera Ballet emerged to set its own course, to illustrate other mythologies (than those of the myriad nymphs of Ovid and prosaic pastoral shepherdesses of the day) in classic tragedy of the proud Moor, his adoring, wrongfully suspected wife, the Moor’s traitorous friend and confidant and his wife. The four characters portraying the tragedy of Everyman, the ballet is timeless in its nuances, implications.
A dance of love and death danced in a fluid and elegant style, the enchanting twined haunting music for ‘The Moor’s Pavane’ ballet comes from Henry Purcell’s Rondeau’ and the ‘Ab?delazer’ suite of ‘The Moor’s Revenge’, composed in 1695. The work has been cited the world over as Jose Limon’s asterpiece.
Ballet master for the Asian tour was Eugene Polykov. Music for the Bangkok series of performances was provided (for all stagings but ‘Agon’, with the original, complex, atonal music by Stravinsky) by the aspiring Bangkok Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Mr. Robert Gardel of the Paris Opera Ballet.