The crown jewel of the Kennedy Center's Festival of French dance, "France Danse," was the arrival of the Paris Opera Ballet Wednesday night. With a mixed bag of dances culled from the company's sophisticated and revered repertory, newly appointed artistic director Patrick Dupond and his marvelously talented company charmed a warm response from the audience.
The company has always been known as a risk taker, presenting the works of avant-garde choreographers, composers and set designers alongside those of venerable dance makers. Its exclusive engagement at the Opera House is no exception.
Paris Opera Ballet is presenting a program of three star-studded dances (two works by Serge Lifar, "Icare" and "Suite en Blanc," and "Le Rondez-vous" by Roland Petit) through tomorrow and will follow Wednesday through March 28 with the full-length ballet "La Bayadere" reconstructed by the company's late artistic director, Rudolph Nureyev.
"Icare" with a fine set by Pablo Picasso was first shown in 1935, and while some of the choreography is a little threadworn, Mr. Dupond's performance of Icarus was spellbinding. At first, Lifar's symmetrical choreography with its chorus of male and female quartets felt dated and the percussion score was loud. In fact, the score and set would have overpowered a less talented company. But both Mr. Dupond and Francis Malovik as Daedalus keep us focused, primarily on their leaps, lunges, jumps and fully extended legs.
Roland Petit's highly theatrical "Le Rondez-vous" provided an outlet for the fine dancing of Kader Belarbi as the young man who has an appointment with destiny, Fabien Roques as his hunchbacked sidekick and Marie-Claude Pietragalla as Mr. Belarbi's beautiful and deadly fate. The dance constructed in brief episodes has a grainy, documentary feel with the set of enlarged black and white photos of Paris street scenes.
"Suite en Blanc" by Serge Lifar to the grand and stately music by Edouard Lalo closed the program. Using the classical lexicon, Mr. Lifar's dance is a veritable technical display as one classical form after another is partnered with the score.
"Suite en Blanc" is a vehicle for stars and the company has more than its share of wonderful dancers. Most notable were Elizabeth Platel, Isabelle Guerin, Charles Jude, Claude De Vulpian and Manuel Legris. Paris Opera Ballet dancers don't merely move from step to step, they lunge into them and attack each movement with gusto. In each of the dance's eight sections, there is something to delight the eye and the closing ensemble is enough to make one giddy.
For performance information, call the Kennedy Center at (202) 467-4600.