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Paul Ben-Itzak
Special Focus
Argentine Tango
Les Eyzies, OT (France)

More than wine - A preview of dance in Greater Bordeaux, France

by Paul Ben-Itzak
October 14, 2009
Les Eyzies, OT (France)
Paris? For dance in France, Bordeaux is the place to be

Bordeaux - Le Grande-Theatre
Merignac - Le Pin Galant
LES EYZIES (Dordogne), France — Everyone knows Bordeaux first as a capital of wine, but it's less known that Bordeaux is a capital of dance that, in the variety of the offer, sometimes surpasses Paris. Here's the deal:

If Paris is the more cosmopolitan city, its dance programming tends to be dominated and determined by a handful of curators, who share a proclivity for dance that thinks and talks as much if not more than it moves, and an antipathy for classical dance. Thus while Bordeaux may be known as a bourgeoisie city, in dance, anyway, it's the French capital whose programming is more orthodox.

Let's start with the Ballet of the Bordeaux National Opera which, under the direction of Nureyev prodigy Charles Jude, makes up for in earnest enthusiasm what it may lack in star power. At first glance, you might say that it's opening the 2009-2010, this Sunday at the Grand Theatre, with a Ballets Russes-themed program is just the same ol' same ol'. Nijinsky's "Apres-midi d'un faune." Michel Fokine's "Petrouchka." His "Spectre de la rose." (As an editor who's received a plethora of Ballets Russes tribute-related press releases, it's a wonder that I don't have nightmares in which I'm chased by thousands of rose specters.) But wait; take a look at that "Sacre du Printemps," which is not that of Nijinsky, nor any of the myriad of attempts to replicate his initial success to the Stravinsky score of the last 50 years, but that of… Leonide Massine. The one from 1920 which, in its American premiere, featured a certain Martha Graham as the Chosen One, an alliance which (according to Walter Terry's Ballet Guide) produced some angry battles. It turns out that the Bordeaux ensemble is one of the few companies in the world to perform this particular version. The program plays through October 25.

The Ballet is also the co-presenter of the season's other production which would seem to make a trip to Bordeaux worth it even for a teetotaler: "Alas," Nacho Duato's take on Wim Wender's cult film "Wings of Desire," the story of isolated living beings and of an angel who descends to Earth and mortality to live among them. Created with the Slovenian director Tomaz Pandur and performed by Duato's Companía Nacional de Danza, the work is set to original music by Pedro Alcalde and Sergio Caballero, as well as the eponymous Arvo Part, Jules Massenet, and Pawel Szymanski and another musical group*. It plays for one night only, March 12, at the Theatre Olympia in Arcachon, a coastal town better known for its oysters than for pearls of dance.

The Ballet's season also includes Jude's production of "Swan Lake," in December; Mauricio Wainrot's "Le Messie," in June and July; and, in March, a mixed program featuring work by Angelin Preljocaj, Claude Brumachon, Vaclav Kunes and William Forsythe, and somewhat anachronistically called "Four Tendencies." Forsythe's "In the middle, somewhat elevated" may have been a tendency 20 years ago, but today it's simply… in the middle, somewhat elevated. Other guest artists to be presented over the course of the season include Rosas, with the reprisal of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker's seminal 1983 "Rosas danst Rosas" (January) and the Uchuu Cabaret.

But let's get back to Stravinsky, whose "Firebird" the Bejart Ballet Lausanne brings to the Espace Culturel du Pin Gallant (in the Bordeaux suburb Merignac, also the location of a French prison camp during the Occupation) October 20 and 21, on a program which also includes "Sonate A 3," after Jean-Paul Sartre's "Huis Clos," set to music by Bela Bartok; and "Ce que l'amour me dit," to Movements 4, 5, and 6 of Gustave Mahler's Symphony No. 3.

Staying with Stravinsky, and at the Pin Gallant, his music, after Pergolese, is the setting for yet another unique take on Ballets Russes-related programming, "Pulcinella" as choreographed by the brilliant Argentine dancemaker Ana Maria Stekelman. (You might remember her from Carlos Saura's film "Tango," which featured her riff on Argentina's Missing.) The Ballets Russes was also known for Diaghilev's use of giant visual artists, and this program, given by Europa Danse November 27, focuses on Picasso and the Dance. The program, performed by a company which claims to assemble the most prodigious young dancers (or 'future hopes") in Europe, also offers Massine's "Parade" and Thierry Malandain's "Mercury," both to music by Erik Satie, and a "Cuadro Flamenco" performed not by ballet dancers but authentic flamenco dancers formed at the flamenco school of the Royal Conservatoire of Madrid.

Did someone say tango? There have been so many attempts at semi-narrative tango extravaganzas over the past 20 years, it's hard to say, without seeing it, whether "Tango Metropolis," playing at Pin Gallant December 15, will live up to the stated goal of creators Claudio Hoffmann and Pilar Alvarez to take their dancers through a sensual tour where city denizens and phantoms roam Buenos Ares, in an evening replete with passionate encounters, violent ruptures, and games of seduction, but with Piazzolla heir Daniel Binelli at the musical reigns, at the least your aural senses won't be disappointed.

The season at Pin Gallant also includes Les ballets jazz de Montreal, in work by Aszure Barton (January 12) and Blanca Li (February 22).

* Editor's note: I've blotted out this word, the name of a musical group, because I think it's inappropriate for this publication.
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