The Exceptional Value

It's been a long time since, at the Romanian Opera, I have assisted at a première with an allure of great show as it is now Mihaela Atanasiu's Peer Gynt. An authentic première, not the remake of a show put out of the program for a while, not the resumption, either, in another stage vision of a title already performed here. I say "an authentic première" and not "an absolute première" because still, Mihaela Atanasiu staged this ballet initially on the stage of the Belgrade Opera in 1983. A grand show-not in the quantitative meaning of the term which would designate "a super-production" (like in the seventh art) but in its qualitative meaning that defines the value out of ordinary. For at all its levels, from conception to interpretation, this ballet reaches high peaks not only among the Romanian works of the same genre, but even in a world hierarchy. An "author performance" – because Mihaela Atanasiu signs both the choreography and, implicitly, the direction, and the libretto, and the choice of the tunes for the musical collage, made by Lucian Ionescu to serve as musical support to the dance, I suppose belongs to her as well. (Shocking, the alternance of Grieg – the piano concerto and the stage music for Ibsen's dramatic poem – with John Williams, Isao Tomita and Karlheinz Stockhausen – is as justified as it can be through the frequent, radical and sudden "change of setting" of the action through the ceaseless vacillation of the hero between real and fantastic.) Of course, the touches of intelligence, taste and fantasy of the scenographer Viorica Petrovici contribute as well to the shaping of the powerful stage expression. (Viorica Petrovici does as well the graphics of a beautiful and modern programme, poster-like – a rarity at the Romanian Opera! – that encompasses an explicit and substantial presentation written, as well, by Mihaela Atanasiu. Courageous, the attempt of the artist to change into a ballet show a play so ample and intricate as Peer Gynt succeeded first of all because of the fact that the author didn't aim at the translation of Ibsen's text into choreographic language, but aimed at its interpretation – very free in letter, unexpectedly strict in spirit, with a playwright's ability, she eliminates scenes and characters, compresses some of the happenings and dilates some others, changes the order of some elements but without altering the fundamental meanings of the poem, only highlighting them, in a way somewhat different. It is a remarkable approach that gives an admirable subject of comparative analysis, impossible to cover in a simple chronicle. The first scene of her ballet, for instance, inspired completely from four lines of the second scene in the second act and of a few other lines of the fourth scene of the third act in Ibsen's play – constitute a true record from this point of view representing a model for the way in which Mihaela Atanasiu transfigures, elevating them, the characters of the drama. Naturally there can be formulated some reserves on some details of the interpretation of the text or only of visualization of this interpretation. As far as I'm concerned, I find it insufficiently convincing the end of the first scene of the second act where the invocation of Aasa puts an end to the robbery of Peer Gynt by his so-called friends; it seemed to me, then, rather simplistic, the suggestion of the repeated ascensions and falls of the hero through the climbing of a staircase; as also in the last scene, the idea of multiplying Peer Gynt and that of replacing the Button-melter with Death – even if this way there come to life another two Ibsenian characters with similar functions: Upside-down (The voice from the Dark) and the Unknown traveler and even if that Death appears, in an original manner, under the form of an imposing man in white frock… Truly, the symbol of the Button-melter dominates, in its turn, permanently the scene, a huge indented golden disc that shouldn't be, in any way, confounded with the sign of the sun… Beyond these details though, the solidity and ingenuity of conception impose themselves with the effect of a powerful attraction upon the spectator. This power is determined, at last, by the quality of the choreographic drawing: using, in contemporary spirit, the basic academic structures, Mihaela Atanasiu creates a dance in which grace and virtuosity, the spectacular and originality of expression meet. Moreover, she proposes to the interpreters roles precisely individualized, that offer them the possibility of turning from performers into dramatic characters. (The soloists of the Romanian Opera have never met – some, in a long tine; some, younger, never – parts of such a value.) Ştefan Bănică – an artist that I praised not just once for the quality of his performances in numerous ballets of the Romanian and universal repertoire – surpasses himself playing the extremely rich and difficult main part with an enviable vigor and perfection. There respond to this Beatrice Matei (making a charming Aase, in her hypostasis of young mother and breathtaking in that of an old woman, the ballerina revealing herself not only as excellent technically, but also as a talented tragedian), Carmen Angheluş (showing, in the Lady in green, a truly diabolical energy – that also emphasizes the specific traits of the character and the spectacular of the dance through which the former is exteriorized), Daniela Constantinoiu (Anitra – a seductive role, that the ballerina plays with much mobility and sensitivity), Cristina Osiceanu (her Ingrid, danced with precision and refinement prefigures a promising career for the soloist) and Mihaela Ţigănuş (Solveig – a lyrical part that, in being conceived, the choreographer was less generous in endowing with those elements that offer attractiveness to the dance, but which – especially in the great solo in the second act – the dancer performed with much sensitivity and grace). In their turn, Florin Brînduşa (in double role: giving off an overwhelming malefic force, in the King of the mountains – for it seems to me a little out of place to call him the Old man from Dover, as long as here the character is not in the least old! –, and a troubling aura of the implacable in Death), Adrian Gheorghiu (in a new composition role – Begriffenfeld, the manager of the asylum – in which he speculates again with subtlety the expressive possibilities of the Dance), Gabriel Opincaru (the Fiancé – a comical part, very enjoyable, whose humor the performer develops with ability and taste), and in smaller parts, Cristina Niţă, Mihaela Bătăilă, Mirela Simniceanu, Doina Bunoiu, Nicolae Deneş, Mihai Spiridonescu, Teodor Tonescu and Mihai Fotescu demonstrates technical and expressive resources, that haven't been – in all the cases – used enough so far, in the shows of the Romanian Opera House. Even the corps de ballet proves to be capable to meet the so much desired and awaited request of rigor and impetus. As it can be noticed, even if – from what I know – Mihaela Atanasiu has worked before, from the ballet dancers of the Romanian Opera, only with Adrian Gheorghiu (the performer of the main part in Master Manole, staged a few years ago at the Operetta House), the choreographer managed to repeat the success that brought to the Belgrade Opera all the seven prizes of the Ljubljana Biannual, starting with the Big Prize for choreography and ending with that for the best supporting part.

by Luminiţa Vartolomei