Corrections or additions?
This article by Nicole Plett was prepared for the April 10, 2002
edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Dance of France in Jersey
In the traditional world of import and export, everyone
knows you can’t carry coals to Newcastle. As it turns out, the old
adage also holds true in the arts. The Lyon Opera Ballet, an
contemporary French dance company with a special relationship to many
of America’s leading choreographers, is on a 14-city U.S. tour
works by a spectrum of interesting choreographers — none of them
French choreographer Maguy Marin’s radical vision of
(or "Cendrillon" in French), a story ballet of the classic
fairy tale, is once again at the focal point of the tour. The 1985
work, performed to Prokofiev’s slightly ominous ballet score, was
featured at the company’s 1987 American debut and proved a huge
with audiences and critics. It immediately led to return invitations
and a permanent place for the 30-member company on America’s dance
map. After performing "Cendrillon" from Russia to Japan, Lyon
artistic director Yorgos Loukos gave the work a seven-year hiatus.
But now "Cinderella" returns to NJPAC’s Prudential Hall on
Thursday and Friday, April 11 and 12.
On Tuesday, April 16, the company brings an All-Ravel evening to
Theater. It made its New Jersey debut in 1999 at McCarter Theater
with a performance of a brash contemporary vision of Bizet’s
by Swedish choreographer Mats Ek.
The Ravel program features Meryl Tankard’s 1998 "Bolero,"
a theatrical tribute to the city of Lyon set to Ravel’s classic of
the same name. Tankard began her career as a dancer for the Australian
Ballet and spent 10 years with Pina Bausch before founding her own
company. Her "Bolero" uses projected photographs of various
sites of historic Lyon, with dancers’ moving bodies seen in silhouette
behind a scrim.
Also featured is the U.S. premiere of Tero Saarinen’s
a quintet set to Ravel’s "Gaspard de la nuit." The Finnish
choreographer created the work for Lyon in 1998, using movement to
explore the duality of the music, at once passionate and potentially
horrifying. Completing the program is Czech choreographer Jiri
"Un Ballo," set to the minuet from Ravel’s "Tombeau du
Couperin" and his "Pavane pour une infante defunte."
created the work for his own Nederlands Dans Theater in 1991.
Ironically, it is because Lyon Opera Ballet is such an ally of
contemporary dance that so much of its most important repertory —
including major commissions by such innovative American choreographers
as Tricia Brown, Lucinda Childs, Bill T. Jones — has not been
"Most American presenters don’t want a French company to bring
works by American choreographers to America," says artistic
Yorgos Loukos, in a phone interview during the company’s stop in
Loukos, who took the reins of Lyon Opera Ballet in 1990, says it’s
true that France and America are perceived as having a special kinship
in dance. "It’s because of Lyon Opera Ballet that French dance
has a special relationship with the U.S.," he says, "and it’s
because I’m an American freak. I personally like American modern dance
The Greek-born Loukos grew up near an American military base outside
Athens, crazy for American culture. The son of an engineer and a Greek
folk dance enthusiast, he went to Paris in his teens to study
at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and there he took his first dance class.
A year later he began his professional career in dance with Roland
"American modern dance may be my taste, but my taste was also
made in France," says Loukos, who has lived in France for 30
His special interest has led to invitations to American choreographers
to work with both Lyon Opera Ballet and at the International Dance
Festival in Cannes, which he has directed since 1992. He has
new dances from Lucinda Childs, Ralph Lemon, and Karol Armitage as
part of "Dancing Zappa," all to music of Frank Zappa. In 1994
he created "An American Evening" with commissions by Susan
Marshall, Bill T. Jones, and Stephen Petronio. "We’re the only
European company with so many American choreographers in its
"There is a mutual attraction between France and America in the
arts — an intriguing attraction with mystery and charm between
these two countries as far as art is concerned and particularly in
dance," he says.
"The ballet tradition grew up in France," he continues.
the war, major American companies started influencing France."
In the 1970s and ’80s, a new French dance movement, "La jeune
dance francaise," was directly influenced by American artists
such as Merce Cunningham (an artist arguably more widely seen abroad
than at home). Many French dancers now come to New York to study;
some American choreographers have found work in France and stayed
Maguy Marin’s innovative version of "Cinderella" is told by
dancers disguised as dollhouse figures. All wear porcelain masks and
their bodies are padded and stitched to look like nothing more than
stuffed muslin. Yet Marin manages to project deep human feelings onto
her dancers, just as a child projects real feelings onto their dolls.
Cheerful sounds of gurgling babies are spliced into Prokofiev’s
score whose ominous undertones speak of thwarted love and yearning.
Nurturing new talent is one of Loukos’ gifts. Maguy
Marin, a former dancer with the Strasbourg Opera and Maurice Bejart’s
Ballets, started with Loukos in 1979 and is one of his many success
stories. He also presented Angelin Preljocaj starting in 1988, and
some of Spanish choreographer Nacho Duarto’s earliest works.
Loukos’ classically-trained company also thrives on its interactions
with contemporary talent. "There is no conflict when Trisha Brown
comes to Lyon to teach her work," he says. "They’re delighted
to learn something new." He also believes "the antagonistic
or polemical relationship between classical ballet and modern
is destined to whither and disappear.
In the context of American Repertory Ballet’s recent "Dancing
Through the Ceiling" programs, commissions designed to redress
some of the imbalance between men and women in American choreography,
it’s instructive to note that Loukos’ commissions are divided fairly
equally between innovative women and men. He sees the development
of choreographic talent as the responsibility of every artistic
Loukos recalls an occasion at the Prix de Lausanne ballet competition
some years ago when he found himself on a panel of judges with Twyla
Tharp. "We looked at these works and I said that in three
the Paris Opera came out with only a single choreographer —
Considered the father of classical ballet, Marius Petipa created much
of the enduring canon of ballets in the late 19th century. He died
in 1910 and the Paris Opera has not managed to replace him.
Loukos attributes the failure to nurture new choreographic talent
— whether of men or women — to "a narrow mindedness of
vision and lack of generosity from artistic directors." Visiting
choreographers often develop their commissioned dances in workshop
with the Lyon dancers. "We have 17 nationalities in a company
of 30 dancers. This is what makes the company rich and interesting.
And the more they experience the more they feel they want to try
"Everyone doesn’t want to become a choreographer, but we have
a smaller theater where we present smaller works," he explains.
For these showcase performances, he commissions five- or six-minute
works from interested company members, and if the artist shows
larger commissions follow. The company has a reputation for nurturing
fledgling talent and sending out into the world.
In the 1990s, Lyon hosted a three-year residency by
the then-embattled choreographer Bill T. Jones, whose dance about
illness, death, and survival, "Still/Here," precipitated a
national debate on the relationship of artmakers to real life. Loukos
says the presence of such a politically engaged, and in his words
"militant personality," had a profound impact on company
who were hitherto more preoccupied with their turnout than with social
or political issues.
"The dancers then confronted new realities," he says. The
residency resulted in several Jones’ works in the company repertory
including his major "25 Images per Second," created for the
centennial of the Lumiere Brothers’ invention of the motion picture.
The work has never been performed in the U.S.
On top of everything, Loukos acknowledges that his company’s name
doesn’t give American dancegoers a clear indication of what his
company is all about. "There is a big confusion both with the
name `Lyon Opera’ and with `Lyon Ballet,’" says Loukos, who says
he is faced with "a real interesting problem as far as terminology
"We are called the Lyon Opera Ballet because the opera house was
founded in 1750 and the ballet company has been there since 1757.
We’ve maintained the name. But the term `ballet’ by no means excludes
the kind of contemporary approach you may find in William Forsythe’s
"Modernity," Loukos reminds us, quoting now the American
Forsythe, "is a state of mind."
— Nicole Plett
Prudential Hall, Newark, 888-GO-NJPAC. "Cinderella," an
rethinking of the classic fairy tale. $14 to $54. Thursday, April
11, 7:30 p.m. and Friday, April 12, 8 p.m.
Place, 609-258-2787. The 30-member contemporary French company
an all-Ravel evening featuring Meryl Tankard’s "Bolero" of
1998, set to the Ravel’s classic of the same name, Tero Saarinen’s
"Gaspard" set to "Gaspard de la nuit," and Jiri
"Un Ballo." $35 & $38. Tuesday, April 16, 8 p.m.
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