Pacific Northwest Ballet Live rehearsal – Benjamin Millepied – Appassionata
The live-streaming image opens on the pianist, Allan Dameron in a light burgundy shirt, and almost inaudible whispers between invisible people. Poised, ready, so masterful already, Allan poses his hands on the splendid keyboard for the opening chords, on some hidden cue.
A girl on stage starts moving. You are seeing music in motion. Beethoven’s chords take shape in front of your eyes, in the form of slender boys and girls. It is all about mastery: mastery of the many fluid motions of the body, mastery in the way Beethoven’s inspiration dictated notes one day, in the way the pianists hands sound those chords in the moment, the way they fall on the stage, and the way they are embodied by the dancers.
And so it starts, a quiet whirlwind of bodies. Charming, lithe and inspired figures who seem to be forming and unforming couples. For the whole performance, I have a feeling that there is a story told that I do not quite understand. But my striving to find meaning is secondary to the sheer pleasure of observing their game. I secretly revel in the observation of their varied rehearsal attire: a superfluous tulle skirt on one, the shape of the tights on another’s small behind, the funky headband on that tall boy’s head, the fluid blue skirt swirling on another girl. I am under the impression that I am watching a trendy, cool danced rendition of Friends, the TV show. Couples get together and mingle; they fight, go their own way and get back together. They artfully caress each other only to run away for incomprehensible reasons, which only belong to their world. I am not one to belong in any clique so I am experienced in watching these kinds of interactions from afar with the same slightly baffled curiosity.
The second part makes much more sense. I am moved by the Pas-de-deux and the absolutely regal, poised, serene scene; moved by the dialogue of tenderness between the two. I always liked this well-known Beethoven piece because of its odd structure, symmetrical yet asymmetrical in the first phrase, the unexpected redundancy at the ending, as a series of repeating periods that add weight and aplomb. Here you have the powerful vibrations of simple piano chords and the unfussy encounter of two dancers on stage. No mystery drama – I especially enjoy the way the girl envelopes the boy and draws him to her with life-like tender movements. She draws him with determination, boldly, but also delicately, without smothering him and then knows how to let him go. I take notes for use in my own personal love life. And I can’t help thinking of Benjamin Millepied and his recent love story. I can’t help fantasizing about the inspiration for this scene of tenderness, and it touches me to see a young creator finding inspiration in love. Not that it has not been done before, but this is romantic love at its utmost: we are talking Paris, its old Opera Garnier, the golden, scintillating city of lights, the classic ballerinas portrayed by Degas (although this is modern dance: bare-footed girls with long untied hair), we are talking about real romance between inordinately beautiful, young, talented and ambitious people. And we are watching bodies drenched in superior music, the human body molded by dance to its most exquisite esthetic perfection. We are watching the gratuitous offering of art and joyful passion. There is no “danger” here, no flashy, sensational circus trick, but real eye contact and the joy of dancing. And when she locks her arm across his collarbone and pulls him to her, we believe it. I believe it.
And at the end, the couple walks out together in the twilight somewhere along the Seine.
The third part brings back other tempestuous couplings, and this part particularly showcases the pianist’s virtuosity, because Beethoven didn’t spare his interpreter any stormy shower of notes, any forceful windy gusts up and down the keyboard. The couples scatter around like leaves in a tornado. How Allan can sustain so much energy through so many exacting layers of turbulent musical phrases is hard to understand. He remains masterful, virile, sure-footed, as you watch the darkened skies and the confused couples forming and un-forming again. And if like me you are not sure about the specific synopsis, you admire the young bodies and their swift spirited moves. Sparkling sprinkles of notes fall down like golden showers. They respond. You sigh.
And then it’s over. During the ballet, messages appeared at the bottom of my computer screen, such as Tweets: “The music is gorgeous!” or “I love those dancers!” or a yellow finger mark pointing to Fun facts: “Millepied is pronounced Mee-le-piay” and means “a thousand feet”; or “Benjamin is known for choreographing the popular movie: Black Swan” and again “Millepied is married with Nathalie Portman with whom he has a child.” And now is the time when Benjamin himself comes to the stage. “Very good,” he says to the pianist, “we didn’t have as good in Paris.” And now that this is established, he turns to the dancers: “Very good, very good. Although we have a few things to correct.”
Boys and girls, still out of breath, circle him and wait for his verdict, his approval, his comments. And he doesn’t let them down. Each dancer gets a word, and the girls receive his personal embrace, because how could he explain and demonstrate what he wants (how to throw them to the side, how to draw a diagonal) without encircling their still warm waists and reenacting the couple game we have just watched. So we get to enjoy their impassioned meetings of the minds and bodies by proxy.
He and Jérome Tisserand, one of the male dancers, have worked together at the Opera in Paris in the past and it warms the cockles of my heart like with a stage spotlight to hear them break into French: “Super cool! Je suis super-content de te voir danser. C’est très très bien. On a fait des choses comme ça à l’Opéra, hein ? Vraiment, c’est très bien. Ca me fait plaisir de te voir. »
Ca m’a fait super-plaisir de les voir. De les entendre aussi. So was I, super-happy to see and to be part of their world tonight.