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Malandain Ballet Biarritz - Irma Hoffren and Mickaël Conte in Mozart à 2. © Olivier Houeix

Francendanses  at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées
Review by François Fargue

Le Corsaire (pas de deux)
Ballet Capitole de Toulouse

Mozart à 2
Malandain Ballet Biarritz

Trois Gnossiennes
Paris Opera

At the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, producer Vony Sarfati presented Francendanses, an evening of duos and one solo with dancers from five of the main ballet companies in France. Daughter of Albert Sarfati, who created Sarfati Productions, Vony has had to cancel several shows in recent months due to Covid and expressed her worries in the press. This carte blanche to five French companies was somehow a way for her to make sure the show still goes on. The wondrous bare foot of la Guillem takes up most of the programme cover: a promise of excellence that was duly fulfilled throughout a truly fabulous evening. It began with Van Manen’s Trois Gnossiennes (score by Erik Satie) performed by Paris Opera étoiles Ludmila Pagliero and Hugo Marchand, who had already danced this highly sensitive and subtle duo in a similarly formatted evening at the Palais Garnier at the beginning of October. Pagliero is that superb mix of fragility and strength found in the rarest ballerinas and is, in this solo, enhanced at every step by Marchand, who stands out as the arch Apollonian dancer of the Paris Opera.

There followed Period Piece by Jan Martens performed by Kristina Bentz from Ballet de l’Opéra de Lyon. It is choreographed to Gorecki’s erratic score that bluntly switches from one mood to another. Meant as a metaphor for life’s own fitful course, the dancer is, as we are, made to grapple with every new turn of events as best as she can. Bentz does it heroically - at first with impeccable déboulés before showing a more vulnerable side as she appears lost and muddling along in a scanty sequined dress against a backdrop of mesmerising sunset orange. Alone on that stage amidst the fracas of Gorecki’s music, Bentz manages with dramatic clout to capture each mood and the audience throughout.

Once you’ve seen Ivan Vasiliev and Natalia Osipova in Vassily Vainonen’s Flames of Paris, the high-flying pas de deux and solos from this ballet seem a tough, even impossible act to follow. Yet the young Riku Ota and Marini da Silva Vianna from Ballet de l’Opéra National de Bordeaux picked up the challenge

with unsparing energy and technical brilliance, which caused a mighty sensation in the pyrotechnics department. Another sensation came at the end of the evening from Ballet du Capitole de Toulouse’s Natalia de Froberville and Ramiro Gómez Samón in director-cum-choreographer Kader Belarbi’s Corsaire, in which, incidentally, the boy does not boast a bare chest and the girl wears red Arabian pants as opposed to a traditional tutu. Ramiro’s square face and fairly short size is reminiscent of Nijinsky’s physique we see in photographs, and his strong, ravenous dancing is impressive. He slinks onto the stage with the threatening grace of a tiger before launching into superb jumps and turns. De Froberville, a long and beautiful ballerina, is all femininity verging on simpering grace as she skittishly slips out of Gómez Samón’s predatory embrace. Some may find it a little exaggerated, but it is all playfully done and their very differences are what make that pas de deux such a delightful treat.

Their differences were even further explored in an extract from Belarbi’s Toulouse Lautrec, his upcoming new creation, to be premiered in Toulouse on 4 November. Gómez Samón is wonderfully made-up and clothed to look like the dwarfish painter and Natalia de Froberville shows again her sensuous femininity as French cancan dancer Jane Avril, who was an amorous fixture in the painter’s life. This duo would be their first ‘beauty and the beast’ meeting, performed with great dramatic presence by both dancers.

Out of all those impressive and varied performances, the highlight perhaps of the whole evening was Thierry Malandain’s Mozart à 2, an older piece (1997) of solos and duos that epitomises his both fluid and physical dance. Malandain always delivers very sensitive but incarnate dancing with a touch of humour thrown in. He has the ability to flesh out space in his own special way. His dancers excel at such grounded and playful sensuality, notably Arnaud Mahouy who opens this piece about the ups and downs of love with hypnotic moves.