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Danse a la Lyonnaise - From Baryshnikov to Silk Tango: Where to see and make dance in Lyon this month

by Paul Ben-Itzak
November 2, 2009
Lyon, OT (France)
Lyon Opera, Maison de la Danse, Tango de soie

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How can the dance bug infect the general public, without at the same time becoming too mainstream with programming based just on mass appeal? The Maison de la Danse in Lyon, founded 30 years ago next June by five local choreographers in a cosmopolitan quarter best-known as the heart of the silk industry in France, the Croix-Rousse (the russet cross), might provide an answer. Opened on June 17, 1980 as the first 'house of dance' or space devoted entirely to dance in France, the project proved so popular that it soon attracted the support of the Rhone-Alpes region and the national culture ministry, added a biennial dance festival that became a city-wide hit and drew international attention and, in 1992, moved to the Theatre du 8e in another quarter, a facility that offered an 1,100-seat auditorium, a more intimate studio performance venue, and a rehearsal space to visiting companies.

Under the direction of Guy Darmet — who will be retiring in 2010 after 30 years — the Maison de la Danse has offered a program that, if not quite eclectic, ranges from major touring spectacles to regional upstarts. This season, that includes "In the Sky with Diamonds," a Beatles show from Brazil, which played earlier this fall, and "La Mecanique des Anges," a multi-disciplinary work by a regional company, Arcoism, created in residence and which runs November 18- 20.

If the presenter seems at first glance a little friendlier to U.S. companies than its Paris cousins, it still helps to have a French connection. Thus, the Utah-based Ririe-Woodbury company met the grade because the work it brought, "The Crystal & the Sphere," was created by Alwin Nikolais, who used to direct the dance conservatory in Angers. And this month's big attraction, Benjamin Millepied, is headed by a New York City Ballet dancer and choreographer who is, of course, French. (And, not incidentally, possibly has the best dance name this side of Yvonne Borree, "millepied" translating as "thousand feet.")

Millepied, who cut his teeth (feet?) at the Ballet du Capitole in Toulouse, opens November 10 and runs through the 15th with a program featuring George Balanchine's 1972 "Duo Concertant," William Forsythe's 1985 "Steptext," and his own 2008 "Without," a tribute to Jerome Robbins danced to Chopin, all featuring an all-star cast of American Ballet Theatre principals and soloists. It's a package that prompted the French weekly Le Nouvel Observateur to attribute to Millepied "the rare talent of bringing to this classical dance that is his language a formidable dynamism that dissolves any impression of deja-vu," and London's Observer to call his company "one of the best in the world."

The rest of this month, which might indeed justify the epithet 'eclectic,' includes "Asphalte," the latest work from Pierre Rigal, which plays off hip-hop, in re-ascendance on French stages the past year, running November 3-7; Association Woo / Antonio Montanile, November 5-7; Israeli choreographer Hofesh Shechter, November 18-22; Koen Augustijnen, 24-25; and Angelin Preljocaj's latest evening-length ballet, 2008's "Snow White," set to Mahler and running November 29-December 5.

Looking ahead, the Yanks return with the appearance of "Stomp" Dec. 16-21, and Complexions, March 16-21 (I'm looking forward to seeing French critics try to translate "Booty Blues"). Flamenco returns April 7 to 10, dialoging with the Aragon jota form in a spectacle presented by Miguel Angel Berna, Ursula Lopez, and Rafael Campallo.

Milliepied's 1000 feet also kick-off the Lyon Opera Ballet's "Here, we dance" mini-festival, running November 10 - 25 at the Opera, as one of the two solos and two duets being brought to the Opera House by Mikhail Baryshnikov and Ana Laguna November 10 - 13. His "Years Later," set to the eponymous Philip Glass and to Erik Satie and Akira Rabelais, and with (groan) a 'concept videographique original" by Olivier Simola, features Barkyshnikov, as does Alexei Ratmansky's "Valse-Fantasie," to Glinka. Laguna joins Baryshnikov for Mats Ek's "Place," to the Flesh Quartet, and excerpts from his "Solo for Two," to the equally eponymous Arvo Part.

Ek, a sort of contemporary classicist who sometimes founders when he tries too consciously to be what used to be avant-garde, succeeded in his take on "Giselle," which in lieu of killing the heroine off sends her off to an insane asylum, and dramatically exhibits the hero's ultimate humbling by stripping him naked and rolling him across the stage in the epilogue. Heroine and hero will be on display in all their psychological and physical nakedness November 24-25, when the Lyon Opera Ballet performs the work.

If you're looking for less heady fare, try Jiri Kylian's piece of chiffon, "Bella Figura," which features just that, women in gauzy skirts and, upstairs, glistening flesh, to Pergolese and others, and which the Opera Ballet presents November 17-22 on a program with Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker's "Grosse Fugue," to Beethoven, and Meryl Tankard's "Bolero."

Now that I've got you in a Latin mood, if "Here, we dance" is not enough for you and you want to progress to "Here, I dance," not too far from the Opera House (located on the Place de la Comedie) you'll find Tango de Soie (silk), which offers a range of classes, balls, and milongas. The big night is Friday, from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., but if you go Sunday, the 7-11 p.m. milonga is preceded by 'directed practice' from 6 to 7 p.m.. The good news is that the association did so well last year this year it dropped the admission from 5 to 4 Euros; the bad news, if you're just passing through, is that you also have to belong to the association, at a tariff of 25 Euros annually (which also gets you into the Wednesday night free dance, starting at 10 p.m.).
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