For this fall season, the Paris Opera Ballet presents a triple bill that explores the hidden corners of the Palais Garnier, with pieces by Saburo Teshigawara, Trisha Brown and Jiří Kylián. All ‘investigators of the fringes of the unknown,’ the three choreographers set in place theatrical devices that mesmerize the audience with enigmatic dreams. By placing at centre stage what is usually out of sight, they address issues of truth and illusion, and the blurred line between the two. If the beauty of the pieces lies in simplicity, the profundity of the questions raised lies in their intimacy.

Sweet Lies © Agathe Poupeney
Sweet Lies
© Agathe Poupeney

The evening opener, Teshigawara’s Darkness is Hiding Black Horses, is a cryptic piece for three dancers. Expressly composed for this season, and relying on Teshigawara's single creative effort – his choreography, music, scenography, costumes and lighting design – the work plays with strong surrealist images; the choreographer works with the most ineffable of the theatrical devices, smoke. Teshigawara confronts the visible and invisible with forests of vapors that literally rise out of the floor; the only material more elusive than movement. A journey suspended between two poetic images – that of the lonely dancer moving in an imaginary wood and of the man whose soul evaporates out through his neck – the middle of the dance is as dark and mysterious as its title. Not even the connection between movement material and the title throws any light on the riddle, as the dancers alternate between hunched positions, electric shock movements and dervish twirling in black and white costumes, mid-way between rags and spider webs, enhancing the fluidity of the movement while in the background resonates a cryptic soundscape of panting horses, wet pebbles and angelic pitches. It is an elusive neo-Dadaist dream inspired by Teshigawara's automatic drawing practice.

The second work is also of black and white simplicity: Trisha Brown’s Glacial Decoy (1979). Accompanied by a continuous stream of six hundred and twenty images by Robert Rauschenberg, appearing four at the time on a projection screen in the back, the piece is executed in silence. The only audible sounds are those of the changing slides and the breath of the dancers. Elusive as their chiffon white costumes, the dancers barely come beyond the curtains, only to disappear again as another dancer continues their dance sequence on the other side of the curtain. The effect is that of an uncoiled strip of film frames. At each click, the unbroken dance, taking place behind the curtains and performed by an infinite number of dancers, goes forward. First of a trilogy and part of the Paris Opera repertoire, the piece features Brown’s most characteristic elements, such as the accumulation of dancers and every day movements. The molecular perspective, taken by Rauschenberg’s fragments of life in stills and by Brown’s fragments of movements, joyfully clashes with the playful execution of the dancers.

Choreographed for the Paris Opera in 1999, Kylián’s Doux Mensonges (Sweet Lies in English) closes the evening. Addressing the question of what is show and reality, the piece evokes a nightmarish atmosphere. Two couples dance to Carlo Gesualdo and Claudio Monteverdi’s madrigals, sung by a choir who appear half-way through a trap door. An enormous piece of cloth is suspended as an ethereal cloud over the stage, adding drama to the duets but also creating a mesmerizing design of shadows on the walls and floor. As with the choir, the dancers continuously appear and disappear, playing a devilish game of duets in trap doors, that move and become vertical. The illusion of the proscenium box is dismantled as the back wall is transformed into a projection surface, onto which are thrown images being filmed live under the stage. With the intention of exploring the history and mysteries of the Palais Garnier, the dancers and the choir balance between two worlds: the dangerous and creaking underworld of sex, violence and growling dogs, and the visible world of the stage with its intricate partnering work upon a tapestry of Gregorian voices.

The programme is a rich combination of theoretical and poetical reflections, that can easily go unnoticed to the untrained eye, but for which the extensive programme notes come to the rescue. Still, the beauty of the images proposed is more than satisfying, as the melting of scenography, theatrical devices, and movements produce different kind of beauties and, most importantly, theatre illusions that provoke reflection. Dance, music and images cannot be taken home, but a new perspective can. This mixed bill definitively proves that the Opera is not only the temple of ballet dance but of dance in general.

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