For performing arts aficionados, summer in Los Angeles can mean only one thing: wining and dining under the stars at the iconic Hollywood Bowl, where a ticket can still be snagged for—yes—a buck. Currently celebrating its 100-year anniversary, the outdoor venue and summer home to the Los Angeles Philharmonic, with its 1927 Lloyd Wright-designed shell that has since undergone several incarnations, has been the backdrop for boldfaced names of all stripes.
Indeed, Stravinsky conducted his own “Firebird Suite” there, while everyone from the Beatles and Judy Garland to Bob Dylan and Tony Bennett have all crooned on its massive stage.
World-class dance has also been presented in the Cahuenga Pass, with Martha Graham Dance Company, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and the Joffrey Ballet all having demonstrated their movement chops since “Elysia,” an evening-long ballet was presented in 1932 to celebrate that year’s Summer Olympic Games.
But only now is the Paris Opera Ballet (POB), one of the world’s preeminent troupes, making its long-awaited debut, courtesy of Gustavo Dudamel. LA Phil Music and Artistic Director, the maestro took over as POB musical director last year, so it was a no-brainer that he would invite members to perform a program of solos, duets and ensembles. (The full company was last seen in Southern California in 2001, bringing its critically acclaimed “La Bayadère.”)
And what a night it was! Under outgoing POB director of dance Aurélie Dupont (she leaves at the end of July), who brought some 30 étoiles, the eight classical and contemporary works proved a mixed bag for the company that was founded in 1661.
But the good was, well, great. Case in point: A sensuous pas de deux from Angelin Preljocaj’s full-length, “Le Parc,” created for POB in 1994. Set to the Adagio from Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23, it was accompanied by the stellar—and frequent Bowl habitué—pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet along with the glorious LA Phil.
Danced barefoot by Laura Hecquet and Germain Louvet, lovers nonpareil in frequent push-pull mode and clad in cream-colored flowy garb, the eight-minute number was a study in sumptuous partnering. Replete with Preljocaj’s distinctive hand gestures and impeccable unisons, Louvet, lifting his precious cargo with finesse, deployed precise pirouettes in the duet that was also stuffed with one-arm lifts.
As if discovering each other’s bodies, the dancers, even while rolling on the floor, one, by the way, that Dupont said the troupe brought with them from Paris—mesmerized. And the icing on this splendid gâteau? Hecquet, her arms clasped around Louvet’s neck, the pair engaged in a deep bisou (kiss), was then spun around in what seemed an endless circle of amour. With her legs nearly parallel to the floor, this was akin to an e-ticket ride, the ‘e’ for excellent, exciting and utterly exhilarating.
Louvet was also swoon-worthy in his solo, “Clair de lune,” performed to the ubiquitous Debussy tune of the same name, with Thibaudet accompanying the Alastair Marriott-choreographed work. Shirtless and wearing capacious pajama bottoms overlaid with a kind of sarong, Louvet appeared to float through the air, his arched back and deep pliés nothing less than perfection. And his arms? Decidedly swan-like, even when slicing the air, making this work another testament to the grandeur and beauty of the dancers of POB.
With “Faunes,” a world premiere recently presented by the troupe on its home stage, choreographer Sharon Eyal, who was a member of Batsheva Dance Company from 1990 to 2008, had a fabulous, Gaga-esque take on the Nijinsky classic. Set to Debussy’s beloved “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun,” the work featured a cast of eight, with Antonin Monié and Marion Barbeau as the lead creatures. Slinking, with shrugged shoulders, the dancers fashioned a tableau with brilliant, arched back unisons in their flesh-colored, body-hugging togs.
Occasionally clasping hands, this gaggle of lithe, neo-satyrs romped through a bewitched, albeit, imagined, forest, all the while framed by the Bowl’s stunningly lit shell – here the blazing of an orange sun, dramatic in and of itself. Add to the scene the lush playing of the LA Phil under Dudamel’s precise baton, and this lunge-filled work, one also highlighting geometric patterns and über-arched feet, may not have offered a scandalous Nijinsky-esque masturbation climax, but gently faded out, a sublimely satisfying ending, nonetheless.
Also sublime: “Trois Gnossiennes, choreographed by Hans van Manen in 1982, made use of Erik Satie’s 1890 piano music of the same name, with Thibaudet again on the ivories. Performed by Ludmilla Pagliero and Florian Magnenet, the dance seemed as haunting as the score, with the couple offering articulated footwork, feathery lifts and yes, even executing the splits, with the pair as at home on the floor as in the air.
William Forsythe’s “The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude” (1996), accompanied by the band playing the Finale from Schubert’s Symphony No. 9, is all about the art of dance, with the choreographer giving a shout out to balletic history and its vocabulary in this pas de cinq. A witty work of solos, duets, trios and group formations—often in diagonals—this 11-minute opus is upbeat, dynamic and focused on speed, with high-flying jetés often on view.
Three women—Valentine Colasante, Marine Ganio, Hannah O’Neill—adorned in single-layered, disc-shaped chartreuse tutus, moved with ease through the complex choreography, while the two men—Pablo Legasa and Paul Marque—offered their own brand of fast footwork. Not Forsythe’s edgiest piece, it nevertheless remains a perfect marriage of music and movement.
Completing the bill were three works from the classical canon. “The Dying Swan,” Fokine’s solo made famous by Pavlova in 1907, was danced by Dorothée Gilbert with perfunctory aplomb, with Thibaudet and LA Phil principal cello Robert deMaine performing “The Swan” from Saint-Saëns’ earwormy, “Carnival of the Animals.”
Another nod to the balletic avian, the Act II pas de deux from “Swan Lake” featured Nureyev’s choreography and saw Sae Eun Park and Marque go through their terpsichorean motions in a trifle that was lost in the vastness of the Bowl’s stage.
The evening’s opener, Victor Gsovsky’s 1949 “Grand Pas Classique,” creaked with age, its dancers, Colasante and Moreau, however, appealing and occasionally thrilling in their grit and grace. Still, it was a breathtaking night to remember, and one can only hope that this will be the beginning of an ongoing artistic relationship between the City of Angels and the City of Light. Dance on, s’il vous plait!