Chopin: such appropriate music for a ballet

 2nd October, 2006

A friend very kindly suggested going back to the Palais Garnier to take a break from the beastly, Singapore-like weather that we have been having in Paris since the end of the holidays. I jumped at the opportunity to have a second look La Dame aux camélias, by Neumeier, rightly described by the programme as America’s most European choreographer. I’d seen it once already in June but, with hindsight, there had been too many distractions on that opening night.

The friend accompanying me took his ballet quite seriously and his comments on the work itself, on the set and on the individual participants were more than up to scratch. Mathieu Gagnio and Clairemarie Ostia were performing tonight as Armand and Marguerite. They turned out as perfect as they had last season, though I felt the corps de ballet had perhaps fallen abck a tad from the high standards reached in June—which is not surprising, really, when you consider the new season has just started and they have yet to gather steam.

This minor issue was hardly worth making a fuss about. I am even more impressed by the splendor of this production: the world’s best ballet company, sublime music, Jürgen Rose’s breathtakingly beautiful costumes. The latter are of a more classical style than the very sexy ones he created for Sylvia, but just as splendid. And for some reason, not wearing a dinner-jacket makes one more attentive to them.

The Chopin/Dumas fils combination is complete success. This may seem obvious, but actually isn’t: Chopin was a frequent source of inspiration for choreographers, so Neumeier is merely following established precedent here. As Etienne Bariller point out in the programme (page 46) that was given to us when we arrived, dancing (waltzes, mazurkas, polonaises) is a constant reference within Chopin’s work, so the temptation to do this is obvious. Yet this doesn’t mean either that it’s a trap, or that it’s easy to go for the combination. Bariller feels it was a risky thing to do and points out that Neumeier had initially considered using the music for La Traviata. opera music in a ballet? I think Chopin was a much better choice. Bariller rightly points out that Chopin, contrary to what a lot of people imagine, is hardly the Romantic composer: in many ways, his music is cold and analytic rather than Romantic. Consequently, it is actually well-suited to a modern ballet production built around a very nineteen century theme—but this is actually a less-than-obvious idea. And finally, Emmanuel Strosser and Emmanuel Voysse-Knitter made a magnificent rendition of the Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor, Op. 21.