For music lovers of all stripes, there’s no place like the Hollywood Bowl. From Frank Sinatra, Nina Simone, and the Beatles to Vladimir Horowitz, Igor Stravinsky, and yes, even Liberace, the Bowl has featured the planet’s biggest musical names in its 100-year history. And while world-class dance troupes — including the Martha Graham Dance Company, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and The Joffrey Ballet — have leapt, pirouetted, and bourréed across the Bowl’s iconic stage, the Paris Opera Ballet (POB) is only now making its long-awaited debut in the Cahuenga Pass.
Indeed, on July 20 and 21, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, led by its Music and Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel, will accompany members of the Paris Opera Ballet in a program of solos, duets, and ensembles (tickets here). The auspicious performances also owe, in no small part, to the fact that in August of last year, Dudamel took over as music director of the Paris Opera. So why not invite a few friends to dance under the stars in a venue celebrating its centennial?
For Aurélie Dupont, the engagement will prove to be, well, a swan song of sorts. Turning 50 next January, the ballerina spent nearly 40 years with POB, first in the school and then rising through the ranks from member of the corps to étoile (in 1998) to, finally (in 2016), director of dance. And while the Los Angeles engagement will be her last with the company (she leaves at the end of July), Dupont is nevertheless excited about working with Dudamel and the LA Phil on their home turf.
“Gustavo invited us to dance and perform with him. He’s nice and a brilliant artist,” she enthused. “He’s also very funny, and he loves dance. We had decided to do ballet extracts, and the music will be amazing. It will have Debussy, Mozart, Erik Satie, Schubert. It’s a nice match between dance and music.”
The eight classical and contemporary works include Victor Gsovsky’s 1949 duet Grand Pas Classique; Angelin Preljocaj’s Le Parc (1994); Mikhail Fokine’s indelible solo made for Anna Pavlova, La Mort du cygne (1907), which will be accompanied by LA Phil principal cello Robert deMaine; and Faunes, a Sharon Eyal-choreographed work that only recently premiered and is set to Debussy’s 1894 symphonic poem Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune.
POB, which was founded in 1661, has a vast repertory of classical, romantic, and modern works, and though it’s not presenting any of its signature story ballets, Dupont explained that she will be bringing about 30 performers to Southern California. “That is a small amount,” she acknowledged with a laugh, “because there are 154 in the company, but I wanted to bring all the superstars that we have. And there are 20 people working on my team with the tickets, the visas, the costumer, the lights. For us, it’s like a small tour in a very big place.”
Another work on the bill is Hans van Manen’s Trois Gnossiennes. Choreographed in 1982, the duet makes use of Erik Satie’s 1890 piano music of the same name and will feature soloist Jean-Yves Thibaudet accompanying étoiles Ludmila Pagliero and Hugo Marchand, who first performed the dance together in 2017.
“We enjoy playing with the music,” explained Pagliero, “and the great thing in this piece is that we have a live pianist. It’s more like a trio, and it’s going to be a nice experience to listen to him [Thibaudet]. The way the pianist is going to play, it gives us, in a way, this interpretation, because there is no story in this pas de deux.”
Pagliero added that for her a good partner means being open to the music “and to feel the person beside me, to listen to the other person, to be aware with the skin, with the eyes, with the breath.”
While POB last performed in Southern California in 2001 at Orange County’s Segerstrom Center for the Arts, bringing its critically acclaimed La Bayadère, the troupe’s Bowl appearance could signal the start of many such concerts in the City of Angels. Renae Williams Niles, chief content and engagement officer at the LA Phil, said that Dudamel’s Paris Opera appointment was obviously a big factor.
“Gustavo has such a true love and appreciation of all forms of dance and ballet that this made perfect sense. I don’t think I’m the only one [who] hopes that this is the beginning, a start. And what a beautiful way to illustrate the marriage of dance and music, and on such a grand stage. You can always hope and make plans, and in this case, it seemed all the pieces came together really well.
“I’m familiar with their work and what Paris Opera Ballet dancers are capable of doing,” added Williams Niles.” I’m looking forward to seeing the dancers’ faces and that feeling that will sweep over them in their first performance.”
So, too, is Dupont. But with an audience capacity of nearly 18,000, dancing at the Hollywood Bowl is not without its challenges. “We’ve been in France touring in outside theaters,” the ballerina recalled, “but never with so many seats. I think everybody will be very impressed by the place — even me — but I think I will also be totally stressed.
“First, the dancers don’t know the stage,” she added, “so we come with our own floor. And I’ve heard there are not so many dance parts there, [which means] we don’t have wings, a place where dancers can hide, breathe, and drink water. We had to work on that, and hopefully there will be some [areas we can use].”
With the Bowl nestled in the Hollywood Hills, rain and high temperatures are unlikely to pose a problem. “I haven’t seen the temperature in L.A.,” noted Dupont, “but I hear it’s quite OK now. What might be difficult for the dancers is so many seats. They will feel really small, but because they dance so big, everything will be great.”
When asked if she was aware of how many famous people have graced the stage of the Hollywood Bowl over the years, Dupont immediately replied, “Don’t tell me, or I’m going to stress. But I’m proud of seeing them on this beautiful stage, and I know I’m going to be moved.”