Paris Opera Ballet: Balanchine and Millepied

As part of the current Palace Opera and Ballet season, we were privileged to see the Paris Opera Ballet perform a classic double bill, Balanchine’s 1947 ‘Palais de Cristal’ and a new version of Ravel’s ‘ Daphnis Chloe’ by Millepied (who will take over from Brigitte Lefèvre in November). Both were steeped in the essence of classical ballet but revealed to be rather abstract. The dancing was superb, but I was left a little disappointed.

Balanchine’s ‘Palais de Cristal’ to Bizet’s ‘Symphony in C ‘, was originally produced in 1947 for the Paris Opera Ballet, and is one of his works that is a homage to Petipa and his Imperial Russian roots .It hints at his major full length work ‘Jewels’, choreographed twenty years later. Technically the performance was superb. but it was plotless and very show , with no real emotion. The glittering ,lavish costumes were designed by Christian Lacroix .As in his ‘Jewels’ , Balanchine assigns each movement of this work a particular colour: Allegro in red, Adagio in dark blue, Allegro Vivace in green, the second Allegro in pearly white. These colours and the choreography attempt to illustrate and emphasise the music and its structure.

With four movements and a finale, the dancer’s technique is severely tested with difficult balances and changes of direction and also Balanchine’s trademark demand of the fiendish speed with which the dancers have to perform very technical academic sequences. It was all extremely formulaic and formalised. There is no ‘set’ as such just a plain beautifully lit backclcoth. A lot of the ballet was shot from above so you could see the lines and pattern effects of Balanchine’s very demanding choreography. Balanchine devised angular, off balance movements with a dynamic thrust yet simultaneously his style here is very controlled and metronomic , at times repetitive and definitely On The Beat. The work , slightly adapted , is now often known as ‘Symphony in C’. The orchestra under enthusiastic maestro Phillipe Jordan was splendid with an enchanting, warm tone.

After interval came Millepied’s Op-art reworking of Ravel’s ‘Daphnis and Chloe ‘, using the sumptuous full length choral version of the score, severe in its simplicity. The dancing is heavenly. With bold eyecatching geometric designs by Daniel Buren the ballet is a retelling of the story that originally was choreographed by Fokine for the Ballet Russes in 1912.Readers might be familiar with the Ashton version or the Graeme Murphy one for example. The plot is somewhat simplified – Daphnis and Chloe are already happily in love when the ballet begins , there are no gods or nymphs and Lycénion and Dorcon emerge from the corps de ballet as temptation figures.

The pastoral Arcadian world is updated , the dancers in flowing white costumes by Holly Hynes in the early scenes .Millpied’s style demands extremely long, fluid yet razor sharp legs and ‘line’ and features some very difficult lifts. Aurélie Dupont as Chloe was ravishing , at times elegant and queenly .She has a rock-solid base of Russian technique, French precision , and the intelligent flow of an Australian. Dupont forms a beautiful couple with the terribly handsome yet rather naïve Daphnis (Hervé Moreau ) and her duet with pirate Briaxis ( François Alu , in black ) was dramatic and tempestuous. Dupont in one of her pas de deux with Moreau has an incredible almost orgasmic backbend that expresses volumes.

Moreau as Daphnis was tremendous showing off some awesome dancing. Milepied has written Alu as Briaxis ( also very handsome) a dramatic ,virtuoso leaping part to show off his excellent acting , astonishing elevation and charismatic personality. We see Millepied’s ability to create both very sensitive “pas-de-deux” with beautiful arms – the various pas de deux for Daphnis and Chloe , with the circular linking arms , for example – and wonderful group movements, some frieze like. It is perhaps a little bit confusing at the end as the distinction between the couples formed by Daphnis with Chloe and Lycenion with Dorcon in the last movement is rather blurred. At the end, to the overflowing,exultant,lush score the dancers are joyously in assorted strong colours – cadmium yellow , green, blue with red for Daphnis and Chloe as they resume their Arcadian lives.

It will be very interesting to see how the Paris Opera Ballet fares under Millepied.

Running time 2 hours 30 (approx) including interval .There are interviews with Millepied, Jordan and designers La Croix and Buren.

The Paris Opera Ballet in Balanchine/Millepied screens at selected cinemas as part of the Palace Opera and Ballet season 24 -31 July 2014

For more about Balanchine /Millepied Paris Opera Ballet, visit