To everything, turn, turn, turn…
There is a season, turn, turn, turn…
And a time to every purpose under heaven…
That iconic song from the 1960’s band ‘The Byrds’ was in no way part of Le Chant de la Terre, the latest production by the Paris Opera Ballet, but it helps sum up what was to me, the experience of a whole life unfolding between sunrise and sunset, the seasons slipping by one by one, and the whole world rotating once around the sun.
Le Chant de la Terre was essentially three different types of performances - soulful dance, epic orchestral music and soaring, live operatic song – combined into one production. American dancer John Neumeier, is the creative force behind its creation, as the choreographer and the designer for the lighting, set and costumes.
The music paused in places from time to time but the movement never stopped in this one-act ballet. There was no set story or narrative but as I mentioned before, it suggested the passage of time through the shifting seasons, both annually and metaphorically. All of life’s major milestones – youth, friendship, love, grief, loneliness, community, endurance - were condensed into a series of songs and moments, each as fleeting and short-lived as a golden sunrise. And at a breathless 90 minutes in length, it didn’t even break for intermission.
At the top of the show, the lights came up gradually, illuminating Man, the principal male dancer, sprawled carefree and child-like on a green, inclined platform, while a lone female dancer dressed in white, entered silently. Her slow, measured walks highlighted her perfectly articulate feet and hinted at the meticulous footwork to come later on from the entire company. As the music and songs layered themselves in, the life in a day began its grand journey.
Spring was easily identified by the lush greens and blues in Neumeier’s lighting design, the soft pastel colours of the costumes and the light, youthful extensions and petit allegro of the ensemble. Classic spring moments included tumbling and rolling down a grassy hill and laying lazily on one’s back, watching the clouds – a small ensemble of ladies in ethereal white, flowing dresses – drift across the sky.
The lights became more golden as summer jetéd in with big movements that exploded with playful energy, like the male ensemble racing each other through the open field. It then slowed down as friends shared a cool drink on a warm day; the audible clink of the prop cups on stage added a nice theatrical element to this scene and saved the moment from becoming too ‘mimey’ for dance. Summer love took the form of beautiful, fluid partner work in the center, while other lovers lingered and watched on from the hill.
But as real summer always ends too soon, so did this one and inevitably, Fall ushered itself in. The rich, earthy toned costumes in rusty reds, browns and greens, filled the stage as the skirts billowed with each turn and ronde de jambe. The music picked up its pace in this scene, as did a feeling of tension as the days grew shorter and time marched onward towards Winter. The Winter lights took on a soft, haze-y quality that was both haunting and beautiful. Death was hinted at when Man was carried by a small group of male dancers dressed in sombre, charcoal costumes and his final pas de deux with the lady in white was performed with a sense of grief, loss and longing.
The overall production of Le Chant de la Terre was very solid and enjoyable, with only two areas I would point out as very small shortcomings. The baritone and tenor singers, Oddur Jönsson and Nikolai Schukoff respectively, were very impressive and wonderful additions to this ballet. My only comment is, powerful though they were, they needed to be louder overall in order to match the power and volume of the orchestra. There were also some pauses of silence between some of the musical selections, which were filled by the constant movement of the dancers, but in some places, these silences went on just a little too long.
I initially wanted to use the idea of Perpetual Motion to describe this ballet, but the law of conservation of energy is much more accurate: “Energy can neither be created, nor destroyed, but it can change form”. This is an interesting concept to apply to this ballet. The energy of the overall piece exists within each dancer and it changed with each leap, bound and scene. They didn’t stop moving for a single moment, not even when the last note of the orchestra faded out, the lights dimmed and the curtain descended.
That final image of the dancers silhouetted against the white backdrop, dancing onward in silence and semi-darkness, was the embodiment of the earth standing still for no one, of energy continuously changing forms and of the perpetual forward motion of time.
To everything, turn, turn, turn...always...
For other Ballet posts, check out:
The Swedish Royal Ballet: Juliette et Romeo from January 2015
Paris Opéra Ballet: Lander/Forsythe from September 2014
Danse Classique in Paris from September 2014