The Paris Opera Ballet is the oldest ballet company in the world. It originated ballet’s foundation and codified its form. And residing at the Palais Garnier, it remains a bastion of classicism.
That’s why the street-art savvy and downright silliness of 3e Étage: Soloists and Dancers of the Paris Opera Ballet is a jolt. The company of young dancers, making its U.S. premiere, is hardly what one would expect from the opera house artists. In a program at the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, 3e Étage tosses out formality, piling its contemporary program with white-faced mime, squeaky sounds and a mix of dark and slapstick humor. While much of the mime is overdone and some of the humor is disturbing, the serious dancing in between, which is firmly rooted in the classical vocabulary, is marvelous.
The company, led by Samuel Murez, is unusual on many levels. First, the evening of 10 works is meant to be viewed as a whole — rather than a showcase of individual pieces. That’s where the mime comes in. Linking each work are slump-shouldered toadies who drag slumped dancers into the wings or clown around in the aisles or at the edge of the stage. They first appear after the opening work, Raul Zeummes’ “La Valse Infernale.” This piece is a stunner — with five dancers showing off their technical prowess. They race about, arms and legs blurring as they shred the air. The dynamic Francois Alu is the ringmaster, the center of the tornado of activity.
3e Étage: Soloists and Dancers of the Paris Opera Ballet
WHEN: 8 p.m. tonight, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, 358 George Carter Road, Becket, Mass.
HOW MUCH: $58 and $63
MORE INFO: 413-243-0745 or www.jacobspillow.org
As they disperse, (without taking a bow) the lights go up and we see the first white-faced creature. With her hair in disarray, and making curious noises with her mouth, she shakes hands with audience members and then struggles with one of them to steal his bag. Of course, the cherry-red bowling ball bag is a plant as it reveals bananas and other props for her folly. As the bag looks to go up in flames, as smoke billows out, the next piece begins.
And so it goes all night.
The best parts of the evening are the straight dancing. Murez’s “Processes of Intricacy,” a duet, is another sensation. Danced by Ludmila Pagliero and Takeru Coste, this is a seamless coupling, an intimacy between two dancers that demonstrates trust and respect — and their willingness to experiment in ways that feel good to them and look good to the audience. Without music playing, Pagliero and Coste converge and separate in the most alluring ways.
Light then sinister
An excerpt from William Forsythe’s “Limb’s Theorem” is also welcome — as it discloses the glorious nature of the dancers’ line. Also wonderful is “Trios,” a hilarious battle of one-upmanship with Alu, Allister Madin and Simone Valastro as the stooge. Alu is also tremendous in the solo for Ben van Cauwenbergh’s “Les Bourgeois,” as cued by the famous Jacque Brel song.
Murez’s “Epiphenomenes,” on the other hand, is creepy as a trickster (Murez) unites a couple, Jack and Jill (Pagliero and Coste), and then kills them. Of course, the white-faced lackeys (Laura Hecquet and Pauline Verdusen) tow them away.
The following work, Murez’s “Chaconne,” is heartbreaking as Lydie Vareilhes tries desperately and fails to win the affections of Alexandre Carniato. They are so convincing, it is hard to be amused by the antics after that.