"Would we do 'Swan Lake?' Never. Big classical productions are not for us." Francoise Adret, the artistic director of the Lyon Opera Ballet, gives a dismissive wave of her hand. In spite of its staid name, her company, which will dance at the Los Angeles Festival from Tuesday to Sept. 19, is hellbent, it would seem, on being "with it."
The young, modest-sized troupe of 28 dancers has a small (12 ballets) but eclectic repertory that includes works by Jiri Kylian, William Forsythe, Antony Tudor and Jennifer Muller, among others, a sampling of which will be seen here in two programs.
One is the full-length, and decidedly unorthodox, "Cendrillon" (Cinderella) by the much-heralded Maguy Marin. The other is a mixed-bill of dances by four more of Europe's "hot" choreographers, including Mathilde Monnier and Jean Francois Duroure, who, along with Marin, will also present their own companies at the Festival.
"Between Tudor and Muller, there is a whole world," smiles Adret, lighting a cigarette. "I want to find a way between classical ballet and contemporary dance for us.
"We will never have a resident choreographer. Absolutely not. If we did, the dancers would work always in the same way, with the same movement. I want to open it out."
If the recent influx of French dance into this country could be called an invasion, then Adret would undoubtedly be its commander-in-chief and Lyon her command headquarters. The 60-year-old former dancer, choreographer and dance inspector for France's minister of culture took over the company's reins two years ago at the invitation of the directors of the Lyon Opera, a forward-looking company that boasts productions by Ken Russell and Robert Wilson, among others.
Adret, who founded and directed the Ballet National de Panama, asked Roland Petit's former ballet master, Yorgous Loukos, to be her associate director. And together, in only two years, they have brought international attention to their company and to France's "Second City."
Although Lyon has a population of only 500,000, it is becoming a very important city culturally. There is an annual dance festival and lots of theater. And on France's "bullet train," it's only two hours from Paris--close enough to travel to for an evening's performance.
The ballet company performs only about 30 times a year in the small, 1,200-seat opera house, where it is accompanied by the Lyon Opera Orchestra. Although it is state-supported and affiliated with the Opera, it maintains its own identity and its dancers are not used in opera productions.
Still--"The Lyon Opera Ballet has 'Opera' in its title," Jean Pierre Brossman, co-director of the Opera, points out. "If they were just a dance company, they wouldn't have gotten the money for 'Cendrillon.' It was very expensive."
"Cendrillon" was, in fact, Brossman and co-director Louis Erlo's idea, although Adret chose the choreographer. If Adret had refused to do the ballet, there would have been a conflict, Brossman admits.
"They (Brossman and Erlo) are very much involved in decisions for the ballet. They are involved financially," Adret agrees. "It's a guarantee. We have the money, we have the opera house. It's comfortable." She pauses then laughs. "But not too much."
Whatever the artistic tensions this arrangement may bring, it has paid off thus far. The production of "Cendrillon" alone, two years ago, was enough to catapult the company overnight from obscurity to fame.
Using the Prokofiev score--with a blend of sound effects recorded by composer Jean Schwarz--Marin has radically altered the telling of the children's story, setting it in a three-story doll's house and dressing all of the dancers in dolls' masks and body-distorting costumes.
Like much of the French dance arriving at our shores this year, this production tends more towards the theatrical than the "dancey," so don't expect a neo-Romantic pas de deux for Cinderella and her prince. This fractured fairy tale's young heroine rides in a pink convertible to the ball, where she proceeds to jitterbug and jump rope. And Marin's Fairy Godmother has abandoned her traditional gossamer gown in favor of a blinking body stocking and a neon wand.
The mixed program offers a wider range of styles, showing off, literally, more of the dancers. William Forsythe's "Step Text," premiered by the Frankfurt Ballet, where he is artistic director, is a quartet set to J. S. Bach.
Nils Christe's "Luminescence," set to Poulenc, was commissioned for the company. Nacho Duato's "Jardi Tancat" (Enclosed Garden), set to secular Catalan poetry and music by Maria del Mar Bonet, was created for Nederlands Dans Theater.
Mathilde Monnier and Jean-Francois Duroure's "Mama Sunday Monday or Always," a takeoff on '50s Hollywood "cloak and dagger" movies, is set to Kurt Weill, Eartha Kitt and Bernard Hermann, and was created for the company.
If all this sounds confusing, just imagine how it must be for the dancers. And next year, they'll be joined by the opera and by Marin's own company for a huge production of "The Seven Deadly Sins."
"It's difficult for the dancers to adjust to various styles but it's more interesting for them," Adret says. "I try to choose the best and most interesting choreographers."
"If we could invite the best in the world, that would be our choice," Brossman agrees.