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

seen here.

"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


says Loukos.

"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

is concerned."

"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

Frankfurt Ballet."

"Modernity," Loukos reminds us, quoting now the American


Forsythe, "is a state of mind."

— Nicole Plett

Lyon Opera Ballet, New Jersey Performing Arts

Center ,

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.

Lyon Opera Ballet, McCarter Theater, 91 University

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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