What could go wrong with a work titled Goddesses and Demonesses? If you’re looking for a modicum of feminist awareness onstage, quite a lot. Spanish choreographer Blanca Li, a regular at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, enlisted long-time Bolshoi Ballet principal Maria Alexandrova for Déesses et Démones, a two-woman show suffering from a bad case of feminine mystique.
Déesses et Démones takes its duality very seriously. For much of the piece, Li and Alexandrova share the stage, one in white and the other in black, mirroring each other’s movements. They appear as shadow silhouettes, striking Egyptian-inspired poses; behind masks, leaning sensually on chairs; in Isadora Duncan-like flowing dresses. Goddesses and demonesses are “mothers, witches, muses, furies, virgins”, we are told in voiceover, a list worthy of the 19th century’s dichotomy between the angel and the whore.
The production, which duly culminates in a scene of trance-like tossing of hair extensions, negates Li and Alexandrova’s complexity as artists. They are both credited with the choreography, and are at their best when they allow themselves to be individuals rather than clichés.
They share a beguiling androgynous quality. Alexandrova is a force of nature even by Moscow’s standards of bravura, a ballerina who takes charge on stage. It shows in a long solo where her rippling swan arms give way to imperious marching on pointe. Li, meanwhile, is angular and commanding in an oversized red skirt that is at once toga, flamenco prop and a throwback to Loie Fuller’s serpentine dance.
In such moments, Déesses et Démones shows us how Li and Alexandrova’s relatively similar bodies have been shaped by training; too often, however, it banks on the lowest common denominator between them. There was far too much poker-faced, tone-deaf posing to “psychoacoustic” spins on Saint-Saëns or Chopin, who didn’t deserve this fate.
Alexandrova wasn’t the only Russian ballerina spending the holidays in the French capital. At the Paris Opera Ballet, the Mariinsky’s Kristina Shapran guested in La Bayadère; she couldn’t match her partner Kimin Kim’s technical fireworks, but hers was the more compelling portrayal, with a rare spiritual quality. La Bayadère comes with its own dichotomy between Nikiya and her rival Gamzatti, and Shapran and Héloïse Bourdon, a vivid, theatrical dancer, found more truth in their 19th-century characters than Déesses et Démones could offer.
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