Paris Opera Ballet’s Orpheus & Eurydice

Last weekend I saw something I’d never seen before: tears at the ballet. I was at Lincoln Center to see the Paris Opera Ballet perform Orpheus & Eurydice, an adaptation of the Greek story of the man who goes all the way to the netherworld to retrieve his lost love. There is one condition, however, that he not look back at Eurydice before they are above in the land of the living. Of course, this being a Greek tragedy, Orpheus can’t help himself, and has to watch his beloved disappear back into death forever, and he in turn gives up his life to the first people who will take it.

The moment for the crying came at the end of the three act performance at that fatal moment, at least from the woman next to me, but the whole ballet was emotionally stunning. The ballet was choreographed by Pina Bausch, who passed away in 2009, but a documentary on her evocative dance choreography called Pina, which I highly recommend, came out last year to an incredibly enthusiastic reception, so the interest in her work is high.

It was first performed by the Paris Opera Ballet in 2005, but was originally choreographed and staged by Bausch in 1975 (this performance was also the first time for the Paris Opera Ballet to come to NYC in 15 years). However, it hardly looks its age and felt energetic and fresh from as soon as the curtain opened on the haunting first scene, where a suspended woman draped in a shroud was upstage from a frozen bride perched high above the writhing dancers, while a strange dead tree was horizontal to their left. The whole production was beautifully presented, and I think that some moments of it will be unsettling me for a while. The main characters were played by both dancers and opera singers, who mirrored their emotional movements, while a choir and pounding orchestra performed from the pit.

The ending and the beginning were the most powerful, both emphasizing the themes of grief and death that punctuated every scene. Even if you did not know the story, or didn’t care about ballet, the sense of longing between the trembling Eurydice at the end and cowering Orpheus would grab you. And the music by Christoph Willibald Gluck… it doesn’t let you go.

Anyway, I could type for ages on this and never adequately convey the gorgeous grief of Orpheus & Eurydice, so maybe this will help:

And if you ever get the chance, please go and see this! And I really must get out to the ballet more. I had no idea what I was missing.

 

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