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TV REVIEW : Breaking Tradition With ‘My Pavlova’

At the beginning of “My Pavlova,” Sunday at 8 p.m. on cable’s Bravo, we see choreographer Roland Petit directing, cuing, shadowing members of his Ballet National de Marseille, accompanied by the same Saint-Saens music used for the vintage Anna Pavlova solo “The Dying Swan.”

Suddenly ballerina Dominique Khalfouni materializes at Petit’s fingertips wearing a glittering black tutu, and the components of this hour-plus, 1987 studio-taped ballet suite are all in place. Neither a tribute to Pavlova nor solely a showpiece for Khalfouni, this full-company vehicle will take music and imagery associated with Pavlova and other dancers of her era, reclaiming them for a new generation.

The point: that ballet needn’t be a hostage to the past--that fine dancers and choreographers can extend dance history at every performance. Thus Petit radically recontextualizes the most cherished icons of the repertory, invoking not only “The Dying Swan” but the Black Swan and White Swan of “Swan Lake” plus adding “Leda and the Swan” for good measure.

As his swan corps, he deploys eight bare-chested men, setting their wing-beating, finger-fluttering and geometric interplay to passages from the very end of Tchaikovsky’s score. The music, steps and metaphoric gesture may be classical but all those gleaming muscles, the use of gymnastics and, elsewhere in the piece, a beguiling assortment of Petit’s slinky, flouncy eccentricities, mark the style as distinctly contemporary.

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Other sequences evoke the petalled costume that Pavlova wore in “California Poppy”; reconceive the “Don Quixote” pas de deux as a trio (with the familiar Minkus music drastically recomposed); introduce black sylphides as well as the usual white ones, and multiply the image of Isadora Duncan to fill the stage. Petit not only refuses to acknowledge any sanctity in tradition, he shapes his cheeky revisionism into star turns for his company principals.

Khalfouni can’t redeem the grotesque excesses of the solemn “Solitude of the Artist” finale, but her dancing otherwise has the warmth and sensuality Petit always prized--along with a purity especially evident in the “Meditation From Thais” duet with Denys Ganio. Dirk Sanders directed this unusual and often refreshing declaration of artistic independence.


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