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Anna Prohaska (Phani/Fatime), François Lis (Huascar/ Don Alvaro)
28 Jul 2016

A dance to life in Munich’s Indes galantes

Can one justly “review” a streamed performance? Probably not. But however different or diminished such a performance, one can—and must—bear witness to such an event when it represents a landmark in the evolution of an art form.

A dance to life in Munich’s Indes galantes

A review by Roger Downey

Above: Anna Prohaska (Phani/Fatime), François Lis (Huascar/ Don Alvaro)

Photos courtesy of Bayerische Staatsoper

 

Such to my mind was the world premiere of Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s staging of Rameau’s Les indes galantes for this summer’s opera festival at the Bavarian State Opera in Munich.

M. Cherkaoui, a Belgian of Moroccan descent, has been dancing since he was 13; he won his first major prize as a performer when he was 21 and has received awards for his choreography—the Kouros in 2009, two Oliviers (in ’11 and 14) with almost monotonous regularity. He is a handsome, personable, articulate media magnet, whose work, immediately accessible seamlessly blends classical steps, modern dance intensity, and street moves.

He is also an insanely talented choreographer, probably the most gifted and distinctive to emerge since the American Mark Morris burst onto the international dance scene on the stage of Belgium’s Theatre de la Monnaie a quarter century ago. With his first operatic staging, he has established himself a master of this most difficult of dramatic arts, and done so with a work from the French opera-ballet repertory, arguably the most challenging form for a stage director or choreographer in all the lyric theater repertory.

The society that gave birth to the French operatic repertory is as dead-and-gone as Akhnaten’s Egypt. The grandeurs and absurdities of Parisian grand opéra swept away the huge repertory of tragèdie lyrique and comèdie ballet and all but ground to dust the performing tradition upon which the depended. The “comeback” of this repertory over the last 40 years is even more astonishing in light of the plain fact, widely recognized though rarely acknowledged, that many revivals of works of the period 1660–1750 productions have succeeded on purely musico-dramatic grounds, with their huge choreographic element either unsupportive of or actively discordant with the overall experience.

csm_9C2A0713_c934f6be76.pngJohn Moore (Adario), Lisette Oropesa (Hébé/Zima), Tänzer der Compagnie Eastman, Antwerpen

There are good reasons that so many of these stagings found themselves so artistically conflicted. The most powerful choreographic trends of the period, particularly in the Francophone nations of Europe, were indifferent to or actively hostile toward the old values of grace and musicality in dance: rough, spasmodic, angular, abstract movement was all but compulsory for a dance-maker to be considered serious and important.

Anybody who has come to love the dance-operas of Lully, Charpentier, and Rameau can also recall the embarrassment, anger, and boredom occasioned by stagings in which dance and music and drama were, if not in open war, at most grudging and awkward collaborators.

And the same lovers of this repertory can recall moments when suddenly the warfare ceased: when all the elements melted together and if only for a little while, released the intoxicating perfume of this art at its most elevated.

It is fitting that M. Cherkaoui hails from the anti-beauty heartland of modern dance. His work in Les indes galantes embraces every dance fashion and trend of the last 40 years and harmonizes them because he’s not thinking about them but about the ever-passing moment of the music. His movement exalts the human figure, celebrates human interaction, energizes the stage picture from back wall to apron, wing to wing, flies to floor.

M. Cherkaoui’s approach to librettist Louis Fuzilier’s string of loosly-connected illustrations of true love in exotic climes is to melt them together, retaining the amorous spirit but making the individual tales of pasha and slave-girl, Inca prince and temple-maiden etc. fragments floating on a continuous spate of images.

The setting is a drably furnished école élémentaire: uniformed students in their battered desks, informative maps and charts on the wall, hard-working teachers and staff going about the pedestrian essentials of creating new citizens for France.

And that is the only moment is the show that might be called pedestrian. Rameau’s music blows through this space, suggesting and supporting a flickering series of visions of a world in flux, peoples displaced, cultures in conflict. The overall effect is to portray a universal struggle for stability, safety, repose. And at every moment the tone is set by Rameau. The movement seems only the inevitable consequence: the touchstone of great choreography in any age.

csm_Les_Indes_galantes_A._Quintans_C._Auvity_A._Prohaska_T._Nazmi_Compagnie_Eastman_c__W._Hoesl___-_Kopie_81125697df.pngAna Quintans (L’Amour/Zaire), Cyril Auvity (Valère), Anna Prohaska (Phani/Fatime), Tareq Nazmi (Osman/Ali), Tänzer der Compagnie Eastman, Antwerpen

The use of contemporary popular dance forms is not new in this repertory: José Montalvo’s 2004 staging of Rameau’s Les paladins for the Châtelet was non-stop hip-hop, visually dazzling but utterly failing to provide anything but dazzle.

The difference from the Munich Indes galantes could not be more striking. Cherkaoui has found a movement synthesis which moves: the dazzle is just a delightful extra. What seems at first a high-handed way with the dramaturgy of the work proves to be the best way I have ever encountered in this repertory to break through to its enduring essence.

I believe that soon this exemplary staging—all hail the Bavarian State Opera for its courage and dedication in mounting it—will soon be seen as a milestone in the revival of French baroque theater on a par with the 1987 Atys of Jean-Marie Villégier and William Christie. One of the commonest tropes of Baroque dramaturgy is the ever-troubled alliance between the arts of music and dance (the first act of the Molière-Lully Bourgeois gentilhomme is the locus classicus). M. Cherkaoui appears like a god from the flies to join their hands once more after too long a divorce.

Roger Downey


Cast and production details:

Musikalische Leitung
Ivor Bolton
Inszenierung und Choreographie Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui
Bühne Anna Viebrock
Kostüme Greta Goiris
Licht Michael Bauer
Dramaturgie Antonio Cuenca , Miron Hakenbeck
Chor Detlef Bratschke


Hébé Lisette Oropesa
Bellone Goran Jurić
L'Amour Ana Quintans
Osman Tareq Nazmi
Emilie Elsa Benoit
Valère Cyril Auvity
Huascar François Lis
Phani Anna Prohaska
Don Carlos Mathias Vidal
Tacmas Cyril Auvity
Ali Tareq Nazmi
Zaire Ana Quintans
Fatime Anna Prohaska
Damon Mathias Vidal
Don Alvaro François Lis
Zima Lisette Oropesa
Adario John Moore
Tänzerinnen Jennifer White , Niku Navala Chaudhari,Acacia Schachte,Ema Yuasa, Nicola Leahey
Tänzer Elias Lazaridis , Kazutomi “Tsuki” Kozuki,Shintaro Oue,Patrick Williams "Twoface" Seebacher,Denis Kooné,James Vu Anh Pham, Jason Kittelberger

Tänzer der Compagnie Eastman, Antwerpen

Balthasar-Neumann-Chor, Freiburg

Münchner Festspielorchester

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