Notes and Editorial Reviews
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MAGIFIQUE: TCHAIKOVSKY SUITES CHOREOGRAPHED BY THIERRY MALANDAIN
A film by Sonia Paramo
ARTHAUS MUSIK 101585 (DVD: 80:00
Text and Translation) Live: Biarritz 2009
Making of Magifique
If you simply start watching this video performance you may feel, as I did, either totally disoriented, or dislike it intensely. Thierry Malandain fills space exceptionally well and gets his dancers to move in a very fluid series of motions that creates excellent continuity, but his choreography to the
suite has nothing to do with that ballet, but is merely an abstract expression of dance movement. Of course I’m familiar with several abstract choreographies set to instrumental classical music, and I enjoy them very much, but this one means nothing to me. The dancers emerge from a black rectangle set with its corner facing the audience into a shiny black dance floor with lights, barres, and mirrors enhancing and reflecting their movements, many of which appear to be more like a gymnastic floor exercise or theatrical show dancing (think Bob Fosse) than ballet.
But if you watch the
Making of Magifique
film, you not only understand what Malandain is attempting but you also enter the spirit of it. His goal is to revel in the fun of pure dance. His dancers wear skintight, flesh-colored costumes because he wants you to see bodies, but not necessarily characters. Brief interviews with several of the 16 dancers involved in this project reveal two things: one, that they thoroughly enjoyed this experience despite the brutally hard work they put into it, and two, that none of them
understood what the final effect would be until they left the rehearsal room and went onto the stage with full lighting and costumes.
For Malandain has created a virtual kaleidoscope of motion. Both male and female dancers duplicate each others’ motions; sometimes a second woman fulfills the role of a male dancer with another woman, sometimes it’s two men. A lot of the choreography
athletic, and related to gymnastics or show dancing, but most of it is actually pure ballet. Some of it is simply fun, or funny, as in the “Dance of the Swans,” which turns into a foot-and-tush-ballet for four male dancers, or those moments in the
when the corps simply marches across the stage whooping and hollering like children. Indeed, part of the joy of
is just that, the joy of watching 16 perfect dancers—none of whom solo for very long, all of whom take turns in the spotlight, and all of whom, as a group, are damn near the equal of the greatest female and male dance stars of 40 years ago. Maya Plisetskaya? Margot Fonteyn? I see dancers in this group every bit their equal. Rudolf Nureyev? Mikhail Baryshnikov? Same thing … and I saw Baryshnikov in person, in his prime. It’s certainly no discredit to those older stars, but rather a tremendous boost for this Biarritz corps, that these 16 dancers can literally do anything that Malandain asks of them.
The interludes between scenes consist of ominous, low drones with music from the upcoming ballet playing softly in the background while black-clad figures representing the
mice and black swans cavort about.
Once one leaves
some of the choreography comes closer to the storyline; but again, after a brief pas de deux between one female and one male dancer, you have a duplication of roles, enhanced by their mirrored reflection behind and around them. It’s hard for me to convey in writing just how
these dancers are. Not only does not one of them break their lines, but their constant interchanging of parts is consistent in execution and excellence. Malandain does not seem to go in much for putting his dancers on pointe, or having an endless string of jetées, but it doesn’t matter. The whirling, swirling whole is what impresses you and keeps your interest up.
Again, when one turns from
the level of humor is turned up. This is when the dancers run across the stage whooping and hollering, and it is fun to watch. Male dancers have fun doing some clever but silly things during the “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy,” and female dancers flip hands over their heads in the “Chinese Dance.” And of course we have both female
male flowers in the famous Waltz, staggered by gender, all doing traditional flower-type dancing at one point, Busby Berkeley-styled dancing-in-the-round at another, then lying on the floor and kicking their feet up over their heads. It is all a wonderful mélange of motion that Malandain keeps up through the final Adagio, which like the one in
starts out as a
pas de deux
but ends up as a
pas de huit.
And in the end, the dancers all spin their way back into the black box.
My sole complaint is the simply awful directing of Sonia Paramo. She simply cannot resist moving the cameras around like ping-pong balls, often giving the viewer the wrong angle of the dance, then indulging in many pointless close-ups that cut out nearly 60 percent of what the other dancers are doing. It became very clear to me, only a little ways into
that Paramo is used to making
and not filming dance. If I were Malandain, I would have fired her after seeing the first day’s rushes, but I don’t think he had a say in it.
In addition to the element of fun, much of the choreography is also sensual, mostly because of the unisex attitudes of both the dancers and Malandain’s concept, but he understands that one should not offend an audience by turning sensuality into pornography. It’s much more interesting, not to say enticing, to leave it where it is. By the way, the title is correctly spelled. Malandain explains that when he was a young boy, he used to say words like “magifique” instead of “magnifique,” and so thought it would be fun to leave it spelled that way: “With the first ‘i’ shaped like a magic wand.” Malandain also admits that many audience members leave the theater saying, “Why did he bother to use Tchaikovsky’s music for
” but most of them get it. You can always go see a conventional
if you like. What Malandain gives you is the pure essence of dance, and also the pure essence of enjoyment. I highly recommend this DVD to all ballet lovers.
FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
Malandain Ballet Biarritz
Music by Piotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky
Thierry Malandain, choreographer
Jorge Gallardo, set and costume designer
Véronique Murat, costume designer
Alain Cazaux, set designer
Recorded at the Gare du Midi, Biarritz, 2010
- The Making of Magifique. Including interviews with Thierry Malandain and the dancers as well as rehearsal footage.
Picture format: NTSC 16:9
Sound format: PCM Stereo
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Subtitles: French, English, German
Running time: 80 mins (ballet) + 25 mins (bonus)
No. of DVDs: 1 (DVD 9)
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