The Paris Opera Ballet’s traditional autumn mixed bill is all light and shade this season, and while this unusually short evening of dance promised only low-key pleasures, an exquisite revival of Jiří Kylián’s Doux mensonges lifted it out of the shadows.
The programme opened with Darkness Is Hiding Black Horses, Japanese choreographer Saburo Teshigawara’s second creation for the company. This 25-minute work for three étoiles is as esoteric as his 2003 Air, and not a little mystifying – an exploration, the programme tells us, of the colour black, complete with a poem penned by the choreographer.
Halloween leftovers seem to make up most of the costumes, with Aurélie Dupont in a mass of torn cobwebs, Jérémie Bélingard as a moody wizard and Nicolas Le Riche as a jumpy witch with a moustache. They go their meandering ways amid puffs of smoke and offer a few striking images, among them a quiet, low lift in which Dupont and Le Riche’s hands flutter searchingly near each other. There is a patchy, unfinished quality to the rest of Teshigawara’s simple steps, however, and the work remains lost in translation.
Trisha Brown can be every bit as inscrutable, but her Glacial Decoy was a welcome return to choreographic clarity after Darkness. This 1979 piece has been in the Paris Opera Ballet repertoire for a decade now, and is revived on the heels of the American choreographer’s latest visit to the Théâtre de la Ville with her company. It is one of her earliest works for a traditional theatre stage, and Brown playfully probes its limits. Five dancers skip on and off the stage, echoing each other from one wing to the other or picking up a phrase where the previous dancer left it.
In the background, black and white photos by Robert Rauschenberg (in his first collaboration with the choreographer) come and go on four screens. The Paris Opera dancers bring out the classical shapes in Decoy’s dry, silent modernity – a fertile contrast with Brown’s more grounded troupe.
But the evening really came to life with the overdue revival of Kylián’s Doux mensonges, a captivating exploration of truth and appearances. As the curtain rises, a woman in a crinoline vanishes through a trapdoor as singers appear up to their waists. Flowing, intensely beautiful movement for two couples – danced to Gesualdo and Monteverdi madrigals under a chiffon canopy – contrasts with the shadowy world lurking below. As traps open and close, dancers are followed under the stage by a camera and darker feelings are exposed in close-ups. When they return, it’s as if nothing has happened, their abstract stage relationships restored.
The oft-imitated Kylián is at his best here, the choreography a wonder of pencil lines and musicality shrouded in mystery. A superb cast includes Eve Grinsztajn, one of the company’s finest dance actresses at present, Aurélia Bellet, Alessio Carbone and Alexandre Gasse. Doux mensonges was created in 1999, at a time when the choreographer had a much closer relationship with the company; the contrast between commissions then and now is telling, as was the audience’s thunderous reaction to the Kylián.