Considering that my son loves taking ballet, he's surprisingly uninterested in going to see it. Maybe at 9 he's still a bit young for formal performances or maybe he's more of a doer than a watcher. Still, as part of his dance education, I think it's important that he go to at least one show a year. Especially since we're lucky enough to live in a city with one of the best ballet companies in one of the most beautiful opera houses in the world.
Not that such distinctions matter to most children. Parisian kids are pretty jaded and I guess mine are no exception. I mean, when going to the Louvre becomes a chore, yet another visit to the Palais Garnier opera house is unlikely to impress. My only hope is that as they get older, they will come to realize just how lucky they are.
In the meantime, I will persist with foisting culture upon them. Which this weekend meant taking Alexandre to see the end of year show for the Ecole de Dance. This is the feeder school for the Paris Opera Ballet and credit is often given to the school for the high quality of the dancers at every level of the company. Which means that the graduating dancers from this school are often as impressive as some experienced professionals.
I decided to bring Alex to the dance school's show because I thought it might be shorter and more child-friendly than the regular productions. I was half-right. At over two hours, the show was much longer than it should've been (given the number of children in the audience, I wasn't the only one who thought this was a good intro-to-ballet choice). But at least some of the program choices were tailor-made for a young audience.
The show opened with Claude Bessy's Concerto en Ré, set to Bach's music. This was apparently the first ballet choreographed specifically for the students of the school and gave an opportunity for even the younger children to show off their skills. The dancers were accompanied by a youth orchestra made up of graduates of Paris and Lyon's music conservatories, who were also given a chance to shine.
The program continued with two 19th century pieces by choreographer August Bournonville, "The Flower Festival at Genzano" and "Napoli". Very classical in nature -- in both senses of the word -- this section gave the older dancers a chance to show off their moves. I think a lot of little girls probably appreciated the alpine setting and folkloric costumes, but Alex told me at intermission he basically thought it was a snooze (ok, he was actually more diplomatic than that, but I got his meaning).
Luckily, after intermission things picked up. "Scaramouch," by former star dancer José Martinez, was also created for students at the school. Martinez used the colorfully-costumed characters of the Commedia Dell'Arte tradition to anchor the three-act ballet, which included a fantasy dream sequence and a finale at a carnival (including silver firework-like streamers shooting across the stage). This guy clearly knows what will appeal to a young audience.
The show closed with John Neumeier's contemporary piece "Yondering," set to popular songs of the American West. As I tend to like things on the more modern side of the classical spectrum, this was my favorite part of the matinee performance. The ballet's seven different tableaux presented the school's graduating class in various combinations (two's, three's, as a group, etc) and gave the students the chance to show off the mix of emotion and technical skill that is the Paris Opera Ballet's hallmark.
In a uniformly excellent group, Julien Guillemard, Simon le Borge, Isaac Lopes Gomes and Marion Gautier de Charnacé stood out as dancers to watch, but they were hardly the only bright spots in the evening. Any of these youngsters could be future "étoiles" and I look forward to dragging my kids to see them for many years to come.