Review: The Paris Opera Ballet’s Hollywood Bowl debut is a balletic, awe-inspiring feat

A group of dancers perform before an orchestra.
Antonin Monié, center, and Gustavo Dudamel, rear, conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic in Paris Opera Ballet’s performance of “Faunes,” at the Hollywood Bowl on Wednesday.
(Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times)

The Paris Opera Ballet remains, as it has been for more than three centuries, one of the world’s most important ballet companies. The history of ballet would not be what it is without it.

The company is, for France, a national treasure. Its home is in one of the world’s most beautiful opera houses in arguably the world’s most beautiful capital city. And Wednesday night, Parisian balletic beauty overawed the Hollywood Bowl, where the company made its first appearance in Southern California since 2001.

No step by the mostly French dancers lacked elegance. No phrase of the exquisite 18th and 19th century, mostly French music was anything but elegant in the performances by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, conducted by Gustavo Dudamel. The same goes for the elegant soloists: pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet and L.A. Phil principal cellist Robert deMaine. The lighting made everything look wondrous. The Bowl shell illumined in a compelling midnight blue during a sunset for the evening’s opening dance was a sight to behold.


The Parisians do have their fashion quirks — which made room for so-called baggy ethno yoga pants open in front or rigid, lime-green, open-back tutus. But every dance looked fabulous. It all felt very, very French. It further felt on this temperately fine evening like an advertisement for an idealized L.A. Moreover, the program, a mixed bill of short dances, offered without apology contentment instead of strife, amorous sensuality and irresistible virtuosity. When brought into a sharing space like the Bowl, it’s a rare and blessed thing to preserve.

That is as long as it doesn’t get too precious, too self-conscious, too exclusive. This program, repeated Thursday, is followed Friday and Saturday by an an L.A. Phil program devoted to contemporary Latin classical pieces along with an appearance by Ricky Martin led by Dudamel. Sunday will be Bollywood night at the Bowl.

Paris Opera Ballet comes to L.A. through the good graces of Dudamel, who is the new music director of Paris Opera and who takes its dance company seriously. He will, for example, next season in Paris conduct performances of Wayne McGregor’s “The Dante Project,” to the Thomas Adès score commissioned by the L.A. Phil. We can, in fact, expect to be seeing the Paris Opera Ballet with some regularity in L.A.

The loss of loved ones to the pandemic has given Gustavo Dudamel a fresh outlook on the L.A. Phil, his new post in Paris, and his life with his wife and son.

Oct. 25, 2021

But there are ironies to the French company’s Bowl appearance. Three years ago, Dudamel led excerpts of Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet” Suite with sensational gender-fluid and Bowl-centric choreography by Benjamin Millepied and his L.A. Dance Project. Millepied, it just so happens, was the head of Paris Opera Ballet for two short years, 2014 to 2016, and his attempts at modernization proved too controversial for the company.

No dance of his was on Wednesday’s program, which included famed choreography from the company’s past, including Mikhail Fokine’s “La Mort du Cygne” (danced to “The Swan” from Saint-Saëns’ “Carnival of the Animals”) and Rudolf Nureyev’s Act II pas de deux from “Swan Lake.” Some popular scores, such as Sharon Eyal’s “Faunes” danced to Debussy’s “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun” were old favorites with updated choreography. But little actually felt contemporary in this lollipops program of swans and fauns that, musically at least, might have been one of those old-timey Hollywood Bowl “Rhapsody Under the Stars.”

The setting was traditional, with the dancers onstage in front of the orchestra. The video screens provided close-ups. That worked well for the solos and pas de deux, but colors were washed out on the long shots of the ensemble dances that ended each half of the program.


Still, it was an evening of seductive dancing and no more so than in Angelin Preljocaj’s pas de deux from “Le Parc,” set to the slow movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 with Thibaudet as soloist. Preljocaj is perhaps the most exceptional of the choreographers who have worked with the company of late, and for this quiet, lovely Mozartean pas de deux, Laura Hecquet and Germain Louvet were softly tender as the night. They slipped languorously along each other, kissed, swung in passion and fell into loving embrace.

A woman hangs onto a man's neck with her feet in the air while they kiss
Laura Hecquet and Germain Louvet from Paris Opera Ballet in “Le Parc” with Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl on Wednesday.
(Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times)

Louvet was also the powerful solo dancer, bare-chested and in the yoga pants, in Alastair Marriott’s “Clair de Lune,” looking like a creature who had just emerged from the sea, exhilarated to be on land and drawn by the moon to the night sky.

In the classic works, Valentine Colasante and Marc Moreau demonstrated the pleasure of virtuosic dancing in Victor Gsovsky’s made-to-please 1949 “Grand Pas Classique,” created for a postwar Paris ready to get back to life. Sae Eun Park and Paul Marque may not have brought back memories of Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn in the “Swan Lake” pas de deux, but their grace felt timeless. Ludmila Pagliero and Florian Magnenet were the impressively cucumber cool soloists in Hans van Manen’s abstract “Trois Gnossiennes.” Dorothée Gilbert was the swan of yore expected and needed for Fokine’s “La Mort du Cygne.”

For the first of the two ensemble modern pieces, Eyal’s “Faunes,” a virile Antonin Monié fronted seven slinky swans against a brilliant, orange-lit Bowl. William Forsythe’s “The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude” ended the program with Colasante, Marine Ganio and Hannah O’Neill floating on stage like water lilies on point in their green tutus. They also exalted less classically but with no less exactitude to vertiginous thrill of the men, Pablo Legasa and Paul Marque.

That exalt, propelled by Dudamel leading the last movement of Schubert’s Ninth Symphony, proved a savvy ending, a meeting of old and new that maybe promised more than it delivered, but keeping the promise alive is what matters most.


Dudamel and Paris Opera Ballet

Where: Hollywood Bowl, 2301 N. Highland Ave.
When: 8 p.m. Thursday
Tickets: $20-$152
Info: (323) 850-2000,