Dorothée Gilbert and Adrien Couvez. Photo: Agathe Poupeney/Opéra National de Paris
If the video of Ukrainian ballet star Sergei Polunin dancing to Hozier’s Take Me To Church has been on your YouTube account’s most-played list for six months, as it has been on mine, Wayne McGregor’s L’Anatomie de La Sensation, pour Francis Bacon, now in production at the Opéra National de Paris, Bastille, will be right up your street.
In this contemporary ballet, gifted dancers from the Ballet de l’Opéra National de Paris use their bodies to express McGregor’s response to the tortured works of painter Francis Bacon. The British choreographer’s first full-length ballet, L’Anatomie premiered at the Paris Opera in 2011, following in the footsteps of an earlier short work, Genus, first performed there in 2007 and inspired by another major cultural figure, Charles Darwin.
McGregor’s career has been especially busy and varied over the past 10 years, during which he was the movement director for the film Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and collaborated with Cambridge University on a neuroscientific study on body-brain interaction. His next project, Woolf Works, based on the writing of Virginia Woolf, was commissioned by The Royal Ballet in London.
When McGregor’s work is being discussed, the words “language” and “vocabulary of movement” often come up. They certainly apply to L’Anatomie de La Sensation, which has its own grammar of motifs. Common threads run through individual movements, and leaps and steps are passed from dancer to dancer. The troupe is like one huge organ whose members are bound together by shared energy, moving their hips in a loose way that better recalls samba than classical ballet. Distinct personalities can be erased in an instant as two dancers suddenly become twin shadows, leaping in unison then lapsing back into separate parts.
The show does not have a traditional narrative, but individual sections respond to Bacon’s works, whose contorted human faces and bodies have fascinated McGregor since his adolescence. The score was composed by Mark-Anthony Turnage, who was inspired by Bacon’s “Blood on the Pavement” (1988) to create a 70-minute jazz composition called Blood on the Floor. The music spans a range of emotions and does not restrict itself to typically “jazzy” instruments: electric guitar and dissonant metallic clangs combine with violins in a varied and captivating homage to the artist. Some of the most joyful moments of the production come when the whole troupe is on stage, clad in mesh and gyrating to improvised jazz in a nod to Bacon’s lifelong love of the genre.
The ballet has its darker moments, too. Turnage lists addiction and the alienation of urban life among his themes, and a short section of pair work by Alice Renavand and Josua Hoffalt, beguiling but unsettling, is performed in silence, capturing the bleakness and uncertainty of paintings like “Head VI” (1949), in which a human head disappears into blurry darkness. Watching L’Anatomie, however, is far from being a bleak experience in itself thanks to the relentless energy of the dancers and the intricacy of the choreography.
Opéra National de Paris: Place de la Bastille, 75012 Paris. Métro: Bastille. Tel.: 0 892 89 90 90 or + 33 (0)1 71 25 24 23 (from abroad). Remaining performances: July 8, 10, 11 and 16 at 7:30pm. July 14 at 2:30pm (free with reservations). Tickets: €5-€60. www.operadeparis.fr
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