Daphnis And Chloe

The new season of the National Opera opened this autumn with a ballet made up of four choreographic pieces united under the title of the most elaborate one, Daphnis and Chloe, a production staged by Gelu Barbu, a Romanian choreographer from the Diaspora. Gelu Barbu belongs to a very valuable generation of classical dancers formed in the 1950s. He defected and started living abroad where he continued to dance on important European scenes and also to create ballet shows. He finally settled down in Las Palmas, the Canary Islands, where he's most appreciated and loved as he contributed substantially to the development of the choreographic art of this country by setting up a ballet school and a company bearing his name. He reestablished contact with his country of origin after 1989, as soon as the historical circumstances made it possible: he participated with his company in the 1991 "George Enescu" Festival, and in 1992 he celebrated 45 years of artistic career on the stage of the Bucharest Opera by a recital which all his colleagues were invited to take part in, either on stage or in the audience. Then, in 1994, he took the National Opera Ballet on a tour to Las Palmas and this year came back to Bucharest to stage the opening show of the 1997-1998 season.When I first met Gelu Barbu at the "George Enescu" Festival in 1991, I enjoyed the quality of the performance that consisted, as in the case of the recent premiere, of several choreographic pieces: I Love Beckett, a work very rich in ideas, Screen-Narration, a modern-neoclassical jewel on music by Anatol Vieru, and Iguaya, a ballet inspired by the folklore of the natives of the Canary Islands, which was also used in the premiere at the Romanian National Opera to open the ballet night. But something has vanished in the meanwhile. Iguaya, on music by composer Juan José Falcón Sanabria, this "ritual of looking for a mate", as the choreographer defines it, started promisingly as atmosphere and kind of free movement, but was not dramatically cohesive. Instead of a crescendo that would prepare the audience, culminating in a climax of tension and subsequent release, in the Bucharest version we had a series of moments of accumulating tension, each with its own climax, followed by ever more moments of preparing certain tensions that could not then have the same effect. And if the morphology of the movement was free, especially with those dancers that had a particular plasticity, the syntax, that is the design of the group scenes, was always reduced to the same parallel lines facing each other. The piece was put in its best light by the women dancers who adjusted very well to the style required by the choreographer and who had Wendy Artiles in their midst at the premiere, a dancer who excels in this style. She had Alin Gheorghiu and Ciprian Câmpianu by her side, the latter's plasticity coming out very clearly, even in a supporting role.Rooted in the same archaic, pre-Hispanic history, the second ballet of the evening, Taharaste, on the minimalist music of the Canarian composer Guillermo Garcia Alcalde, had, in the middle of the stage, a huge statue of fecundity. But there was no relationship established between it and the dancers, as they danced in rows parallel with the footlights, the men in the foreground and naked, wearing only a cache-sex, the women wearing long dresses in the background, as a moving backdrop for the former. Of course the dancers' bodies are beautiful. The problem though is the reason behind putting these bodies up on stage: is it to whip up the senses or to make most use of the extraordinary capacity of artistic expression of this wonderful creative instrument the human body is. Taharaste falls short of making the most of its dancers' power of expression. The third Spanish moment was another work by Guillermo Garcia Alcalde, The Poem of the Atlantic, a classic duet, uninspired both in its choreographic composition and in the interpretation offered by the two Spanish soloists, Wendy Artiles and Miguel Montanez.If the music of the first three ballets was playback, the performance ended with an elaborate piece, Daphnis and Chloe, on music by Maurice Ravel, played live by the Opera orchestra conducted by Cornel Trăilescu. Every time I see this ballet, at very long intervals of time and staged by different people, such as Amato Checiulescu, Francisc Valkay and now Gelu Barbu, I reread the pastoral novel attributed to Longos, not necessarily to remember the events, which are not all that relevant after all, but to refresh the memory on the feeling of candor that this ancient work, so beautifully translated by Petru Creţia, gives off. Unfortunately, although Ravel's impressionist music would allow it, I couldn't discover, at any point, that shiver of newly-discovered love that puzzles and tortures Daphnis and Chloe, the two ignorant children. Their love can find fulfillment only in a kind of epilogue of the novel, for only the process of its discovery is important in this text. Whereas all its ballet versions begin with the ending, the protagonists knowing what love is and loving each other from the very first scene. Although the soloists are two very talented dancers, because of the way in which the whole ballet is conceived, they turn out to be different characters from what one might expect them to be: in his undulating and provocative plasticity, Cristian Crăciun seems to be more of a faun than the innocent shepherd Daphnis, while Simona Şomăcescu is closer to the movements of an odalisque than to those of the naïve shepherdess Chloe. The only one who manages to give his role an appropriate contour, of great power and interesting plasticity, is Mihai Babuşca as Braxis, Chloe's kidnapper. The greatest gain of this cooperation with Gelu Barbu was that of the group of girls that danced in Iguaya, as they became familiar with a kind of plasticity that is new to the Opera's company. This is always a most welcome way of avoiding limitation and routine.

by Liana Tugearu