Norwegian National Ballet floods Parisian stage of Theatre des Champs-Elysées
Norwegian National Ballet
floods Parisian stage of
Théatre des Champs-Elysées
Review by Christophe de Jouvancourt. Photos: Erik Berg
PARIS/FRANCE: The Parisian audience still remembers last production of Norwegian National Ballet when they presented a Jiri Kylian program two years ago. That was an unique production as Kylian’s Gods and Dogs was presented in Paris for the first time. With this second production, Alexander Ekmanns A Swan Lake, the Norwegian company is starting to make a name for itself in a cultural capital such as Paris and confirms its importance on the world’s ballet scene.
For their second tour in Paris, the Norwegian National Ballet has chosen to present a creation by Alexander Ekmann, A Swan Lake. That was a very risky choice, as the Parisian audience might be very demanding when it’s about their classics. Presenting a modern version of the famous Tchaikovsky’s ballet could have turned bad if it hadn’t been performed by such a wonderful company as the Norwegian National Ballet. Also, that is a good way to be known for Ekmann, who is creating a ballet called Play for the Paris National Ballet which will be premiered on December 2017.
A Swan Lake
A Swan Lake has indeed nothing, or very few, to be compared to the original Swan Lake. There is no story, the music isn’t Tchaikovsky’s, and there is no proper variation as in a classical ballet. In this way, this piece can perturb a purist audience. But this puts apart all the creativity of the choreographer and forgets that the A in the title has a major importance. The choreographer suggests since the beginning that this is not Swan Lake.
The main purpose of this ballet is to imagine a dance performed on real water. In this way it is maybe more a performance than a ballet. That’s what Ekman himself explains at the beginning of the piece, which is set like the opening title of a movie, with credits on a giant screen and a voice-over. This introduction is a great occasion to present the magnificent Norwegian Opera House in Oslo, glimmering like an iceberg on the shore of a fjord, but also the work of the dancers, contributing to the creation of the ballet.
Using water on stage isn’t really new as it was already done by Pina Bausch in one of her most beautiful piece, Vollmond, in 2006. Her dancers spread water on stage, dance on it and it even starts raining on stage, which is quite spectacular combined to the unique language of the choreographer. The originality of Ekman is to create a real lake on the stage and to make his dancers evolve on it.
And they do it very well, despite the difficulty to be on point shoes in the water. Ekman uses his imagination and humor to create beautiful pictures and a unique esthetic out of the water and the dancers’ movements. They slide on the water, jump, and make water splash in the air. Ekman knows he can rely on the great technique of the Norwegian dancers. Not only are they dancing on water, which implies they had to learn and get used to dance in water, with wet and heavy clothes, but they are also executing very difficult movements. The ensembles create an amazing effect, like a living fountain show underlined by beautiful lights by Tom Visser, costumes by Henrik Vibskov and music by Mikael Karlsson.
Of course there are some references to the two main classical ballets about swans: Swan Lake of course, with a strange “pas-de-deux” between the white swan, danced by the beautiful Camilla Spidsøe and the black swan, danced by the energetic Melissa Hough; but also to the Dying Swan by Mikhail Fokine. The emblematic movements of the arms created by Anna Pavlova in 1907, reproducing the movements of a swan’s wings, punctuates the ballet.
Eventually, the strength of this ballet lies in the humor of its choreographer who creates really hilarious scenes and knows how to entertain an audience. The choreography itself can seem poor and one can say that it could have been more developed, but in the same time the challenge to create variations on water isn’t as easy as it seems. Besides that, Ekmann succeeds in elaborating very beautiful pictures. The final part of A Swan Lake is the high point of the performance, like a fireworks’ final: the dance is eventually in accordance with the music and creates a fantastic thrill. One would have loved to see more of it.