Dance: Pina Bausch Theatre de la Ville / Ballet School, Paris

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The Independent Culture
Dancers just beginning their careers and others approaching the end of theirs were featured on Paris stages last weekend. The Opera's ballet school gave four showings of an ambitious double bill, while veterans of Wuppertal Dance Theatre appeared in Pina Bausch's latest creation, which opened her annual Paris season.

French dance students graduate younger than ours, joining the Paris Opera Ballet as apprentices while their London equivalents are only moving into the upper school. As usual, however, this year's Paris vintage looked accomplished both technically and in stagecraft.

Reviving one of Serge Lifar's old works cannot be easy: Le Chevalier et la Damoiselle, created in 1941, is well crafted but to modern taste mannered. Yet these youngsters gave conviction to its medieval legend of a princess transformed each night into a doe, until love and its inevitable pains release her from the spell. The chief interest (Lifar having made the leading role for himself) lies in the series of cleverly stylised and varied duels the knight errant must fight against her three guardians before winning her.

From this historic recreation to Balanchine's exuberant Western Symphony is quite a jump, which the young cast made successfully. Men in cowboy gear and girls in tutus swirled through cumulatively exciting ensembles; Lawrence Laffon brought shy wit to her spoof adagio; and Jean-Sebastian Colau's bounding solos here and in the Lifar showed high potential.

Bausch has some young recruits in her company; they provide glamour, fun and romance in her now Danzon. They show youthful spirits in solos and duets, in an ingenious game where the men switch a frock instantaneously from one girl to another, and in distant glimpses of innocent naked figures romping in the woods or the waves.

But Bausch sets all this in an exploration of life from cradle to grave, including a strange, compelling solo for herself (back on stage at 55) as a lonely figure undulating only her upper body, isolated against projections of huge swimming fish, and perhaps waving goodbye to personal performance.

Others of her old-timers move through the piece. Nazareth Panadero is the woman with bandaged legs, touchingly grateful to a younger partner who enables her still to get through her ballet exercises. Jan Minarek, wearing only a nappy, crawls on hands and knees through the action as a monstrously malevolent baby.

Dominique Mercy has two solos, desperate with rage at failing flesh, besides patiently dressing himself up as a cute Bambi or a creaky old lady demonstrating her curtsy for the Queen Mother. And these ignominies do not detract from the tragic solemnity of his final intervention, scattering soil on imaginary graves before Mechtild Grossmann turns from her earlier hilarious commentaries to end the piece with the aged Goethe's accepting remark: "Now we can go."

Bausch is bringing one of her early works, Gluck's Iphigenia in Tauris, to this year's Edinburgh Festival, and it is time that British audiences caught up with the way she has extended dance to cover an immense range of human emotion and experience.