Once again I am enamoured and bitterly jealous about these glorious French dancers and choreographers. I am late in jumping on the Bel bandwagon. I had not heard of Jérôme Bel until I was studying in America, where I watched his classic piece, ‘Jérôme Bel’ and then ‘The Show Must Go On’ and yes – I was utterly entranced and blown away by his genius manner of approaching movement, dance theory, semantics and just how nauseatingly CLEVER he is and how BEAUTIFUL his work is. To top it off, his sense of humour and constantly subtle use of humour is always too brilliant.
The specific type of quality of his work always shocks me, it is shocking in its simplicity. Especially because he has been working like this for ages and I am a little newt at the bottom of the dance pond, at the bottom of Africa looking up and around and falling in love with every clever choreographer I come across. This would almost be embarrassing, but I don’t mind because the work is beautiful. I love it when dance is beautiful and clever and simple and obvious and subtle and clever. (Who doesn’t?) It is so hard to do choreography well but it really is just the best sort of Art when it is done well.
The piece I’m trying to write about today, is done well. Very well. The solo was made in 2004, conceived by Jérôme Bel and performed by Véronique Doisneau (the ballerina about to retire from the Paris National Opera) who is so confident and tiny on that big opera stage. Basically, Doisneau walks out and talks specifically and (almost) sadly about herself and her career, interspersed with moments of dance. But the performance is not as simple and there is so much going on throughout the slow-paced, seemingly intimate piece. She does not give much of herself away, just enough to make you completely besotted with the dancer.
This piece reminded me of all the reasons I hate ballet, the hierarchy, the immobility, the stiff and pompous demanding of specific bodies. And it also reminded me why I love ballet and why I practiced it for 12 years, it’s romance, history and mystery. And it’s really very pretty.
What I found interesting, is that she admits to never having been a ‘Star’ in the Paris Opera but after this piece that Bel made for her, she of course, becomes a Star in a different, but possibly grander way. I love the way she hums the music to some of the pieces, famous snatches of music that must be second nature to her. One of my favourite parts, is when she speaks about what it is like to be one of the 32 dancers who have to remain perfectly still in that famous scene of Swan Lake while the Stars do their solos.
She then performs part of this corps de ballet scene, keeping perfectly still and shows us all the poses that the audience usually does not focus on when watching Swan Lake. It’s painful to watch. And probably more painful to perform. Afterwards there is a small moment as the music continues until she gestures for it to stop, but her pathos is too subtle to be melodramatic and such a personal veneer of reflection on her career becomes sincere and lovely. Then she cheekily demonstrates the three different ways she likes to bow, while the audiences continues to applaud.
I love her. Hooray for Jérôme Bel and Véronique Doisneau and the French and for Dance!
Here is Part 1, only ten minutes. The rest is on YouTube and you should watch it… It really is beautiful.