“Il faut qu’une porte …” gala of contemporary ballet
courtesy of the Ballet de l’Opéra National de Paris and the Vienna State Ballet with choreography by Nacho Duato, Jiri Kylian, John Neumeier, Angelin Preljocaj.
Jiri Kylian’s contribution to the Gala lifts its narrative from the image depicted in the eighteenth century painting, “Le Verrou” (The Bolt) by Jean-Honore Fragonard. The image, of a male figure securing (or unlocking?) the imposing wooden door to a bedroom characterised by the era it depicts. His right arm is outstretched and his upper body pressed against the imposing, dark wooden threshold whilst embraced by his female counterpart, echoing his silhouette. This tableau is a frequent reference within Kylian’s choreography and is developed through a series of momentary encounters or collisions between the couple which emulate the softer shades of their complex story. The set frames the duo from a distance at first and then steadily travels forwards, bringing the audience closer to the scene in the same way that Fragonard positions the viewer closely to the bodies in the image. The stage and set design reiterate the flat planes that characterise the painting and have been meticulously constructed so as to imitate the setting in “Le Verrou”. “Il faut qu’une Porte” delves into the ambiguity of the subject matter of The Bolt in its dramatic portrayal of the antagonistic relationship between the couple. The movement is inherently balletic and playfully tender (a disappointing response for a painting which is filled with such dynamic contrast). Whilst the action sustains a constant flow, whether a subtle glance or a denser balletic phrase, its texture fails to reflect the disparity between the soft pastel colours and the depth and danger of the crimson red curtain which envelops the scene. With such literal enactment of the image in the set and costume one would expect some of the drama that underlies this image to seep through into the movement vocabulary for greater effect.
The carefully choreographed moments of contact are filled with tactical touch and spirited momentum which takes a welcome departure from the otherwise voyeuristic nature of the pas de deux, which becomes repetitive and false as the work progresses. Legris and Dupont perform for one another taking swirling and circular pathways through the dark colours and connotations of the space in an energetic and committed manner. Their elevated steps are bird like and executed with beautiful and distinct discipline as they repeat their pathway from stage right to left passing the chair, the door and the imposing bed; re-living a memory. To an extent this choreographic choice provides the viewer with detail of the lustful emotions and visceral connection between the pair in this scene, although a more virile and less mimetic performance would have endorsed this notion more successfully. The genre of the work lives up to expectation and whilst this was not the most passionate interpretation of “Le Verrou” I would have imagined, the close of the curtain and the fading image of the wistful, charismatic transference of an apple between the duo leaves me satisfied that Kylian’s story is one of curiosity.