IMPRESSIONS: "Cri de Cœur," a Creation for the Paris Opera Ballet, at The Palais Garnier
Cri de Cœur
A creation for the Paris Opera Ballet
Palais Garnier, Paris
September 20 - October 13, 2022
Choreography and Text: Alan Lucien Øyen
Associate Choreographer: Daniel Proietto
The Palais Garnier is a magical place, even stripped to its bare bones as it was for the world premier of Cri de Cœur by Norwegian choreographer, video artist and director Alan Lucien Øyen. Created for and with the corps of the Paris Opera Ballet and intended to premiere in 2020, this work, a tour de force of the human heart, seamlessly blends dance, theatre, cinema and recorded music in a form that challenges expectations.
After two years of isolation, company members snake and swerve through the space, their power and vitality unleashed. Each dancer dazzles, radiant in their authenticity as they merge fierce classical technique with the agitated rhythms of today. When the full cast floods the stage in a chaos of duets, their limbs reach, strike, and pour outward with tenderness, grief and frustration that is abruptly diverted by a doubt, a longing or despair. The variation in the textures, shapes and rhythms of these bodies is stunning.
Principal dancer Marion Barbeau (who recently starred in Cédric Klapisch’s film En Corps) plays the central character, Marion Barbeau. All of the dancers are called by their real names. The line between artifice and reality blurs.
We learn that Barbeau’s character (not Barbeau herself) is dying from cancer. She is here to perform her death. She is accompanied by no-one, by someone, by her regret, and her memory, all personified. With intended irony, she is also accompanied in her loneliness by a mother she talks with, but who is never physically present, and by the 33-member cast.
Cri de Cœur is crafted in collage format and performed in two acts. The first half is monopolized by shifting rectangular frames that create windows into private spaces, mirrors, the wall of a waiting room, or dioramas of exotic destinations. The second act feels more coherent as characters become familiar and we create sense from the flood of images, movement and words.
Øyen is tapping into the deep awareness of disease — individual, social and environmental — that is present here in the European psyche, and has been since well before Covid-19. Through the poetic interlacing of word and dance, Øyen reminds us that love and friendship require time and compassion. Most importantly, he reminds us how incredible it is to be alive.
Øyen proposes new possibilities for ballet. For example, he has reinvented the bourrée. In place of wafting swans and willis, six dancers in white unitards patter barefoot in parallel plié casting dark shadows onto white walls like exotic question marks. One dancer bourrées rapidly in a low parallel squat reminding me of an insect on a mission. In another section, Barbeau and Axel Ibot (who I believe personifies death) are transformed into a single creature as they scuttle through space joined front-to-back at the hips in an impossibly low and wide plié à la seconde.
Øyen ignores the verticality of traditional ballet, exploring every possible direction in space. The best example of this is Marion’s first solo, where she gently folds and falls with fluid développés, looping arabesques and deep, rippling side bends. A liquid form, in liquid space — like an octopus floating.
A lithe and utterly convincing lizard appears, performed by Laurène Levy, who slithers and snatches imaginary flies in her delicate fingers. She swallows with a sensuous gulp, and reminds Marion that cold-blooded creatures do not get depressed or addicted to pills. “We feast on each other,” she says. “We feast on fear.” We learn later that Marion has become an addict.
No-one, played by Antonin Monié, takes up residence in Marion’s apartment. Video images of the live action are projected throughout the work. These close-up images enhance the sense of intimacy as Marion and No-One listen for each other through a closed door. On the phone, Marion tells her mother that No-one is in her apartment, is fascinated by her, loves her. “No-one,” she says, “will come to my grave. No-one will remember me.”
Simon Le Borgne (who tells Marion she can decide if he is playing the role of her ex-lover or her father) and Monié perform a striking duet where each positions the other’s body like a statue. This would be unremarkable except each one is pre-determining the role they will play in the relationship. For example, one dancer places the other’s arm outstretched and then slips their own shoulders beneath it, or positions their nose into pinching fingers that await. Performed with speed, precision and a subtle dynamic pop that brings the other dancer sharply to life, the revelation of this small truth packs a punch. Marion too has pre-scripted her deep loneliness as the star of her own life.
As this work begins and ends, Marion is attended by Takeru Coste, who plays the role of the Memory Keeper. At the beginning, he is simply watching. In the first stage of her death, when Marion enters a quiet forest, we find him dancing the death of each leaf. Rolling over the outer edge of one foot, his body distorts and crumples gently to the ground - homage to both The Dying Swan and the passing of countless leaves.
In the last stage of her death, Marion entwines herself around Coste. They circle through space in a low, deep second position plié. Legs flick, arms undulate and torsos un-peel from their shared centre. I am grateful for this opportunity to savour Marion’s luscious fluidity one last time before her final departure. The couple retreat to the very back of the stage, which in the Palais Garnier seems miles away. Immersed in a deep red light, Memory cradles Marion in his arms, forming a tiny Pieta in the distance. Memory, in the position of the mother, stabs her in the heart, though it is unclear why.
Out of the darkness, the corps bourrées, flat-footed, each dancing in individual patterns as they fill the stage. They shoot from one place to another as if erasing the story and cleansing the space. It is not a celebration, more like a forgetting. Their shadows are cast downward, hovering around their own feet.
Cri de Cœur reminds us that in this Age of Disease, as Øyen names it, “grass will grow above” everything you know, and everything you hold onto. Yet this groundbreaking work is not oppressive. The darkness sets in stark relief the precious and emanating light of life.