Full disclosure: I’m not a huge fan of classical ballet. I’ve seen the shredded feet of ballerinas, and I know what they do to their bodies in order to stay so thin. I find the excessive focus on technical perfection and the hyper-stylization of movement offputting. I also know that from ballet’s inception in the 16th century, or at least from its codification under Louis XIV in the 17th, the prettification — and objectification — of dancers merely created a thin veil for their frequent role as courtesans to society’s elite. I much prefer the rawness and honesty of modern dance, where all secrets are revealed and the underbelly of life is often exposed.
But enough about me.
When the Paris Opera Ballet shows up in Montréal after 47 years (they were last here for Expo 67), bringing 83 dancers (including 3 “étoiles”), 25 technicians, 22 members of the artistic team, 353 costumes, 41 tutus, 400 pairs of point shoes, and 70 musicians from Les Grands Ballets Orchestra, to perform a ballet that only the Paris Opera Ballet has in its repertoire, obviously I’m going to check it out if given the chance.
Set in 19th-century Spain, Paquita tells the story of a young noble girl, abducted by gypsies in her childhood, who later, as a young adult, manages to save the dashingly handsome French military officer, Lucien d’Hervilly, from a dastardly plot to take his life. Long story short, the bad guys are eventually arrested (at a ball of course, so that it makes sense that everyone is dancing as the plot unfolds), the truth of Paquita’s history is revealed (thus legitimizing the obvious chemistry between Lucien and Paquita), the French officer gets the beautiful and slightly — but not too much! — exotic almost-gypsy-but-thankfully-noble-and-French girl, and they live happily ever after.
True to form, the dancing was technically so flawless that one actually noticed if a foot slid a millimeter to the left or right when landing a grand jeté. The sets and costumes were richly sumptuous: gypsies dressed in burgundy, aristocracy in Wedgewood blue and other pastels, so we could always keep track of who was who. The story of course is meant to provide a backdrop for solos, duets, trios, and often extended group dance sequences, some of which make sense (everyone knows that gypsies show up and dance!) and others that inevitably strain credibility, but of course that’s what it’s all about. The male étoiles were sublime—lean and light as a feather, miraculously able to hang suspended in space while executing very impressive batteries, and of course the ballerinas were everything that anyone could want in a ballerina: graceful, elegant, beautiful, weightless. If you like classical ballet, I truly hope you check this out, because it’s probably a once in a lifetime chance. If you prefer your dance a little grittier, watch this space because modern dance is always on the menu!
Paquita runs October 16-19 at Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier at Place des Arts (175 Ste Catherine St. W.). Tickets $55.50-$204.