I did attend and it was definitely a dream come true. After the first time I saw the renown video from 1992 with Isabelle Guérin and Laurent Hilaire, I was completely in love. In my first post on this board where I introduced myself I even stated it, that my biggest wish was to attend this ballet in Paris. Last year they announced the program for season 2009-2010 and my exciting grew when I saw La Bayadère included in the list. I waited untill March this year where I could buy my ticket and in a couple of hours everything was set: seat at catégorie 1, my train ticket and a hotel. I would spend a long weekend in the beautiful city of Paris and I would finish my trip with this ballet.
In May it was finally time. I would be at the performance on May 17th. I was all alone in Paris and I definitely had the time of my life. This trip consisted mainly of highlights and the best was still bound to happen. The evening of Monday the 17th I made my way to Palais Garnier. I made my way to the left of the building where the temporary entrance was (they were renovating the building), but a security officer told me that I had to take the main entrance with the words: "c'est la grande spectacle." Well he couldn't have said it better! Indeed it felt amazing to enter this beautiful building through the main entrance, and inside it was a complete shock to me: such splendour, luxury and beautiful details. I was even impressed by the other spectators; they were elegantly dressed up and I saw a lot of ladies in complete evening gowns. Such a contrast to the Netherlands, where most of the people going to a happening dress up like they just came back from the local bar.
I entered the auditorium and was escorted by a chic employee to my seat. I sure was in for a treat! I had a terrific seat and the auditorium was breathtaking! I was still in a state of excitement so I didn't pay any attention what the lady who escorted me to my seat gave to me (a paper). At home I didn't check the internet who the cast would be. Ofcourse I hoped to see my favorite ballerina, Agnès Letestu. I've seen plenty of footage of her and for me she has that certain charisma, style, classical elegance which reminds me of the ballerinas from the early days. Althoug I didn't really care who would perform this evening, I suddenly remembered that small paper. I checked the program book I just purchased and found it in between the pages. It was the list with the cast and when I opened it, I could almost cry: Agnès Letestu with José Martinez. Althoug the show wasn't even started, it couldn't get any better...
The show started and I had the chills all over my body. Such beautiful stage setting and costumes. José Martinez was introduced, a couple of variations further and suddenly you could hear a slight change in music; through the door of the temple on stage you could see the shadow of someone who was bound to give an entrance. She stepped through the doors, light falling like a waterfall on the presence. There she was; Agnès Letestu as heroine Nikiya. It sure was a delight to see her dance. Although she is in the final years of her career (I believe the female dancers must retire at POB when they are 40), she still showed excellent control combined with elegance and subtle acting. She is such a technical gifted ballerina with beautiful lines. She indeed has a great flexibility, but knows how to dose it. Her movements are well thought and her extensions looks natural. I do had the feeling I was looking at a hurt Nikiya and the last variation (the one which is followed with the dance with the basquet) was the epitome of despair; it was convincing how Letestu showed her grief and it was truly heartbreaking.
Somehow I do had the feeling José Martinez was showing his age. As the partner of Letestu, the lifts weren't really convincing and I had the feeling he was quite struggling with them. Although he is an accomplished technical dancer, I have to say his acting was a little 'bland'. When I watched him, it was more that I was looking at a dancer dancing Solor's part, instead of seeing the 'real' Solor. His part lacked emotion, depth and Letestu was emotionally overpowering him on stage. Audric Bezard danced with Letestu in the pas de deux with the esclave and you could notice the difference between him and Martinez; this young dancer had power and freshness in his dancing.
Emilie Cozette was Gamzatti and she brought her role with verve. I really liked her dancing; she did lack some refinement, but she was definitely going for it and didn't held herself back. Through her movements and raw uncompromising style of dancing, Emilie Cozette portraited an excellent Gamzatti; desperate, trying to win Solor's heart, emotional and full of passion. Technically she was extraordinary and she flawlessly performed the variation and coda in the second act. The fight at the final of act I didn't convince me though. You can have two great actresses but there have to be a connection between these two which was unfortunately lacking.
Act III, the Kingdom of Shades was ofcourse the act I was looking for. The showcase of the corps the ballet, which in my opinion is one of the best in the world. Nureyev asked a lot from his dancers; not only from the soloists, but also of the corps the ballet. The entrance of the shades was beautiful, but I couldn't help to have some mixed feelings afterwards. It had more to do with the stage and lighting. I expected to be the stage of Opéra Garnier a lot bigger. It wasn't bad, but with so much dancers on one stage it has the tendency to feel too 'compact'. I think I agree with Silvermash here, and although I've never been to Opéra Bastille, I understand what Silvermash says. Next to that was the harsh lighting. You could see everything on stage during the entrance of the shades and it lacked intimacy and mystery. The Three Shades (Ludmila Pagliero, Mélanie Hurel and Marie-Solène Boulet) were good; excellent coöperation and fluidity. Ludmila Pagliero danced the first variation and she was struggling a bit with it. Ofcourse it's a difficult variation with the combination of balance and strenght, but I think the music was a tad too slow. Kevin Rhodes was the conductor and he could have paced the tempo a bit more up. This Nureyev production definitely requires a slow tempo (you can see/hear that clearly during the entrance of the shades), but there were moments that it was too slow and demanded a bit too much of the dancers. One of the examples was the first shade variation, but this was also noticable during the Gamzatti variation and the pas de deux with the veil.
In this third act Agnès Letestu was beautiful. The first pas de deux, where Nikiya comes to Solor was even too much to handle; the beautiful violin solo in combination with the breathtaking adagio was my highlight of the evening. Agnès Letestu really shines when it comes to the more adagio parts. I held my breath during the pas de deux with the veil, because the pirouettes at the end are always a part where the fluidity of the dance is being tested. Unfortunately Letestu was struggling with it a bit, but composed herself instantly. José Martinez still didn't impress me as Solor, but technically he was good and his variation was flawless.
After some hours the performance was at its final stage, the coda started and it was time for the curtain calls. It was a beautiful evening, everything I hoped for. I fully agree a 100% with Silvermash about Letestu and Martinez; their dancing wasn't on top form and I didn't feel much emotion on stage, particulary from Martinez. Letestu was impeccable, so was Cozette, but the cooperation between all the main characters weren't on the same level. Other than that it truly was a spectacle and even with these minor 'observations', Paris Opéra Ballet gave me a magical evening.
Curtain Call - Agnès Letestu with José Martinez
Curtain Call - Trois Ombres (Ludmila Pagliero, Mélanie Hurel, Marie-Solène Boulet)
Curtain Call - Le Rajah (Stéphane Phavorin), l'Idole dorée (Mathias Heymann), le Fakir (Allister Madin) and le Grand Brahmane (Yann Saïz)
Curtain Call - Gamzatti (Emilie Cozette)
Curtain Call - Everyone
Curtain Call - Conductor Kevin Rhodes
My photos from Palais Garnier