The Étoile Gala started as a project lead by Paris Opéra Ballet étoile Benjamin Pech in 2005, and this is their 4th gala. The aim was to follow the academism of classical ballet while also bringing in versatile works of contemporary and neo-classical choreography, with the programmes chosen by the dancers themselves.

This time, seven étoiles from Paris Opéra Ballet were expected to join but there were multiple cancellations due to injury and health reasons. And there were some changes of the programme, but the concept of the gala had not changed. This time, the programme focused on the two giants Jerome Robbins and Roland Petit, as well as works by John Neumeier and George Balanchine, and a world première by Jiri Bubenicek.

One of the highlights of the gala was In the Night by Robbins, accompanied by famed pianist Myuji Kaneko. The melancholic and passionate first couple played by Isabelle Ciaravola and Benjamin Pech were wonderful in showing their maturity and displaying their inner emotions, especially Ciaravola’s beautifully arched feet told the drama. The second couple, Dorothee Gilbert and Mathieu Ganio, were refined and glamorous in a mazurka theme. The third couple featured Laura Hecquet with Herve Moreau as young lovers in the midst of a quarrel, with tricky lifts but ending with the man kneeling in front of his lady. The air was filled with romantic elegance, and the only thing missing were the stars in the sky.

The revelation of the evening were two artists from Hamburg Ballet, Silvia Azzoni and Alexandre Riabko. Seeing them in Neumeier’s Third Symphony of Gustav Mahler was almost a celestial experience. The embodiment of the music into choreography was amazing, the couple were forming beautiful shapes in the air so fluently. Their mutual trust and communication shown in the movements were clear, profound and truly touching. Azzoni and Riabko also performed Roland Petit’s L’Arlesienne; it is very rare for them to dance a non-Neumeier work. Riabko was totally possessed into madness, his eyes only seeing the illusion of a woman, thus leaping fast and diving into his death. His phrasing seemed spontaneous like the beating of his heart and was so captivating, it was the climax of the whole evening.

Herve Moreau performed Claire de Lune, a new solo choreographed for him by Jiri Bubenicek and set to Debussy’s music. Bubenicek’s vocabulary was unique with enhanced movements of the arms, and Moreau created a magical moonstruck atmosphere melting into the melody, adding a feeling of romantic yearning with flowing expression by his long, eloquent limbs.

This gala also marked the return of Dorothee Gilbert from maternity leave, and she has dramatically transformed into a lyrical, refined ballerina. She and Audric Bezard, in Ben Stevenson’s Three Preludes, were well-polished, their communication – taking place with a ballet barre in between them – was breathtaking. Bezard also partnered Laura Hecquet in Balanchine’s Diamonds, a regal and brilliantly cut interpretation.

The newest Paris Opéra Ballet étoile, Amandine Albisson, danced Tatiana in Onegin, the role that earned her the prestigious title. However, as she stepped in as a last minute replacement for an injured dancer, the chemistry between Freidemann Vogel was lacking and he was struggling with the partnering. Albisson showed more potential in Swan Lake where she displayed her lyricism and poetical expressions using her long soft arms, lovely phrasing in rhyme with the music. Her partner Mathieu Ganio was the ideal prince, hopelessly romantic, elegant in every movement and displaying great partnering skills.

Isabelle Ciaravola showed her stunning presence as an actress in Manon, in the first act pas de deux where Manon and Des Grieux meet. Her innocence, delicately phrased with her beautiful feet and supple upper body, was such a delight and the premonition of her fate hidden under inside was visible, I could imagine how her story will go on after this short scene had ended. Ciaravola has just retired from Paris Opéra Ballet and there might not be many chances left to see her, but she is a jewel in the ballet world, a brightly shining étoile and her performances were unforgettable.

The gala was successful in showing many faces of Paris Opéra Ballet étoiles as well as stars from other companies, and with its intimate atmosphere and hand-made feeling, won the hearts of Japanese audience. I hope this venture will go on into their next decade, although the generation of dancers will change in the years.