The latest in the Palace Opera and Ballet season of dance is a striking mixed programme of works by four of the world’s most exciting contemporary dance makers as performed by the Paris Opera Ballet

 Frôlons , a new work from Switzerland’s James Thiérrée, opens the programme. The dancers in Thiérrée’s work invade the magnificent public areas of the Palais Garnier and introduces us to his dream-like world. There are also singers and musicians involved. The costumes are extraordinary – inspired by some of the various statues and decorations around the Opera building. Featured performers include huge slithering dragons, and a lady with an incredible lamp headdress.  There are some sections where the lighting is isolated and concentrated and the various ‘balls’ of light can be hand held and manipulated. 

A lot of the work involved pulsating, writhing, throbbing ensemble performance of geometric choreography and interaction with the crowded audience but this is interwoven with the spotlighting of various individual performers . The security guards who maneuver the crowds are also heavily involved (are they actors?)  The audience is in assorted sections of the foyer , milling around and only at the end is allowed to enter the auditorium , where a huge curtain billows on stage ( described as a ‘larva mass ‘ by Aurelie  Dupont the artistic director).  The creatures are mysterious and rather Baroque in design .       

 Israel’s Hofesh Shechter, often praised for his earth-bound, trance-evoking dances, provides a new, very powerful version of his piece The Art of Not Looking Back ( first created in 2009)for nine women of the company who are dressed in dark red earthy tones. The work expresses Shechter’s pain at his mother leaving him at a very young age. It is collage of movement, primal screams,bodily sounds,  garbled voiceovers, lighting and various shattered, jagged, blasting techno sound effects.  Classical ballet is taken and deconstructed to the music of Bach.  The choreography demands a very flexible back and also includes runs and skips.  At one point there is a frieze like line for the ensemble with a folk dance like feel.  

The Male Dancer by Spain’s Iván Pérez , a dancer with Nederlands Dans Theatre 2003- 2011 came after interval. The cast of ten were extraordinary, the costumes by Alejandro Gomez Palomo, rather overwhelming and overdone, although beautifully textured and detailed. The costumes almost become characters themselves in an analysis of how male attire and attitudes towards it have changed over the centuries (the outfits range from flowing robes like that of an ancient Eastern emperor to martial like tunics recalling ancient Rome or Greece, to disco pantsuits for example). 

The work performed to the haunting melancholy and relentless music of Arvo Pärt’s Stabat Mater explores stereotypes of what is considered masculine and the male dancer. There are allusions to Nijinsky’s Afternoon of A Faune and Spectre de la Rose. The dancers fight against the accepted expected stereotypes. Perez’s choreography is at times sinuous, rippling and soaring, at others full of unusual lifts and partnering and pulsating sculptural groups.  

The last work on the programme is Canadian Crystal Pite’s The Seasons’ Canon, set to Max Richter’s recomposed arrangement of Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons , which returns after being part of the 2016 season. Pite’s choreography is very demanding and eloquent including swirling, writhing massed blocks of movement in impressive synchronicity that ripple, fold and unfurl, machine like arms at one point and explosive leaps.  The dancers are like waves of the sea , with one dancer bobbing up from the ensemble to catch the notes in impeccable timing  with the music.  The dancers move parts of their body in opposition. Knees bent in second position, they are repeatedly forced to shift from left to right while the head and shoulder are almost impossibly overextended to the back

The dancers wear baggy combat trousers and skin coloured tops, with green paint on their throats, embodying natural forces. The dancers forge a giant wave at the beginning of the piece. Their synchronicity is outstanding. At one point an individual dancer bobs up from the massive collective and moves her head to catch the notes in impeccable unison with the music.  A main theme of Pite’s work is tense struggle with dancers moving parts of their body ‘in opposition’.   With a deep plie in second position, the dancers repeatedly move from left to right while the head and shoulder are overextended to the back. Overall there is a sense of striving and overcoming.Eventually the ensemble separates and each dancer begins to move separately in a labyrinthine , surging tableaux.

The Pite work was a great crowd pleaser.

The quadruple bill of the Paris Opera Ballet in Pite / Pérez / Shechter & Thiérrée as presented by Palace Opera and Ballet [Facebook] runs at selected cinemas July 6 – 17 2018

Étoiles: Amandine Albisson, Valentine Colasante, Stéphane Bullion, Hugo Marchand, Laura Hecquet, Ludmila Pagliero, Alice Renavand , plus premiers danseurs and corps de ballet of the Paris Opera

Music: John Zorn, Johann Sebastian Bach, Nitin Sawhney, Arvo Pärt, Max Richter

Choreography: Crystal Pite, Iván Pérez, Hofesh Shechter, James Thiérrée