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Paris Opera Ballet Has Its Moments

TIMES DANCE CRITIC

When national styles clash, take cover. The dancers of the Paris Opera Ballet may be more beautifully schooled than nearly anyone else these days, but they can also impose ruinous mannerisms on masterworks of the international repertory.

Certainly the 22-member “Stars of the Paris Opera Ballet” touring ensemble looked persuasive as a whole only in French choreography during its program of ballet-vaudeville (to taped accompaniment) at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts on Thursday.

Specifically, Jacques Garnier’s familiar 1980 male trio “Aunis” had an ideal sense of loose yet elegant camaraderie as danced by Bertrand Belem, Jeremie Belingard and Christophe Duquenne. Even better, Alexandre Proia’s brand-new duet “Desrever” offered a perfect blend of sensuality and in-your-face athleticism as executed by Stephanie Romberg and Laurent Novis.

Although a former New York City Ballet dancer, Proia seemed influenced most of all (like many in his generation) by American expatriate William Forsythe, using classical steps and the structure of the traditional grand pas de deux to construct a confrontational contemporary showpiece suffused with cold fury.

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Toward its end, he introduced a moment of betrayal: Novis deliberately let go of Romberg’s hand when supporting her, leaving her momentarily off-balance, vulnerable. In Proia’s world, you trust no one and your only chance of survival comes from the brutal self-sufficiency so brilliantly sustained here.

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Unfortunately, the rest of the seven-part program had only one major saving grace: Florence Clerc, the epitome of French refinement and, especially, the ability to make every movement look simple, natural and radiant. In Mikhail Fokine’s “Dying Swan,” she subsided into darkness with great lyric purity and in Rudolf Nureyev’s clumsy adaptation of the wedding act from Marius Petipa’s “Raymonda,” she dominated nearly the full company with that sense of centered, serene majesty that is classical style.

In contrast, Charles Jude (her husband) hurled himself at the technical challenges of the coda and emerged desperately insufficient, while the capable Elisabeth Maurin and Kader Belarbi couldn’t find a coherent dance impulse either in their “Raymonda” variations or in Nureyev’s hopelessly unmusical “Nutcracker” pas de deux. Not their fault, though you could argue that the intense, powerful Belarbi is miscast in prince roles.

Spasms of flouncing and flirting distorted both a patchwork of passages from the second act of August Bournonville’s “La Sylphide” and the 1980 abridgment of George Balanchine’s neoclassic masterpiece “Apollo.” Danish Romantic style simply has no place for all that ooh-la-la inflicted by Nathalie Aubin as the Sylph, though she and Benjamin Pech certainly had the complex legwork under control. (Each substituted for previously announced artists in this duet.)

“Apollo” also provided clearly defined movement values--but no urgency, no life. Aubin, Ghislaine Fallou, Francoise Legree and Jude divided the choreography into tasks and dispatched them carefully without any feeling for the energy flowing through and uniting them.

Jude, now 43, danced with Nureyev on those final “And Friends” tours while Nureyev was also artistic director of the Paris Opera Ballet. Jude undoubtedly saw one appalling “Apollo” after another from the wings before the Balanchine estate withdrew the ballet in the name of quality control. Sadly, the best and worst of that experience are now mingled in his interpretation: Nureyev’s superb aristocratic placement and his low-wattage passivity in particular. You can be touched if you think of the performance as a tribute to Jude’s late mentor--but as Balanchine dancing, it isn’t even on the map.


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