American master choreographer Jerome Robbins considered the Paris Opera Ballet as his second home after the New York City Ballet.

This production in his honour, to mark the centenary of his birth, brings together four works displaying his incredible range and versatility. All pieces are accompanied live by the splendid orchestra of the Paris Opera, meticulously and enthusiastically conducted by Valery Ovsyanikov.

Fancy Free opens the program .It inspired the musical On The Town. Nowadays it could possibly be regarded as quite dated and sexist, but the choreography is terrific.

The simple plot revolves around three boisterous sailors on 24-hour leave in New York City during the Second World War. They get drunk and try to chat up women. The French dancers , who are also splendid actors ,have a wonderful time with the jazz like moves and showy choreography which in some ways is reminiscent of Broadway /Hollywood musicals of the era. Those familiar with Robbin’s work will note the athletic and travelling steps already visible in this rather early work which is trademark ‘Robbins‘ , hinting at works such as West Side Story.

A Suite of Dances was a wonderful dialogue between cellist Sonia Wielder-Atherton, playing selections from Johann Sebastian Bach’s Six Suites for Solo Cello, and dancer Paul Marque. There is no set just a turquoise background  with Marque in a vivid red costume whilst  Wielder-Atherton is in orchestral black.This work was originally created for the legendary Mikhail Baryshnikov in 1994 . It was superbly danced by Marque in smooth virtuosic feline form with reflective awareness.

Robbins drew on a wide variety of movement styles, from walking in parallel to showy cabrioles and brise voles, balancing tension and release , princely bearing and an almost improvisational feel. Marque and Wielder-Atherton interact, Marque eventually rather humorously dismissing Wielder-Atherton with a wave of his hand.

After interval we saw Robbin’s version of Afternoon of A Faun now rightly regarded as a classic, to Debussy’s hypnotic music, an updated version of Nijinsky’s famous work based on the Mallarme poem. Aaaahhh… a languid, hazy, summer morning in a light airy studio with the audience as mirror … It is a dreamy, romantic pas de deux for a male and female dancer and everything depends on them getting the atmosphere just right. It begins with the Faun (here, Hugo Marchand) asleep on the floor. He wakes and stretches and slowly warms up in the dancer’s daily routine of preparing for class.

Suddenly the Nymph (Amandine Albisson ) arrives , concentrating on checking her shoes and also stretches and warms up . Robbin’s choreography includes tiny hints and references to Nijinsky’s Faune and Spectre de la Rose but is very different – Nijinsky’s work used profile and was frieze like whereas here the dancers face front.

There are some wonderful floating lifts and enfolding partnering , the dancers concentrating on the unseen mirror. All leads to a tentative kiss, but the startled Nymph scurries away … Meanwhile the Faun returns to his warm patch of sunlight to sleep again (with a possible allusion to the scandalous conclusion of Nijinsky’s Faune).

The final work was Glass Pieces , a tribute to the corps de ballet, to the relentlessly driven scores of Philip Glass . In some ways it reminded me of Wayne McGregor’s work .It was aggressively, starkly contemporary, mostly with a backdrop of what appeared to be a tiled white wall. The large cast of dancers, in bright multi coloured clothes, crossed and recrossed the stage as if at a large train station or airport, interspersed with bubbles of pas de deux and quartets by others in single coloured unitards

Everything was extremely tightly synchronised and controlled. The second section of the work (with a beige coloured plain background) featured a pulsating constantly moving chain of looming silhouetted dancers with others – in coloured costumes – darting and swooping in the foreground. The choreography was quite demanding .The work suddenly concluded with a snap to blackout.

The Paris Opera Ballet’s Tribute to Jerome Robbins screens at selected cinemas 14-19 December 2018.

Running time just under 2 & ½ hours – includes interval and various interviews with cast members and the Ballet Master.

Valery Ovsyanikov
Orchestre de l’Opera national de Paris
(Afternoon of a Faun) Hugo Marchand, Amandine Albisson; (A Suite of Dances) Paul Marque; (Fancy Free) Alice Renavand, Stéphane Bullion, Karl Paquette, François Alu, Eleonora Abbagnato, Aurélia Bellet, Alexandre Carniato;, (Glass Pieces) Sae Eun Park, Florian Magnenet
(Afternoon of a Faun) Claude Debussy; (A Suite of Dances) Johann Sebastian Bach; (Fancy Free) Leonard Bernstein; (Glass Pieces) Philip Glass
Jerome Robbins