Dance: Roland Petit, Palais Garnier, Paris. William Forsythe, Chatelet, Paris

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The Independent Culture
Somehow the French look after national treasures better than we do, yet manage to jump ahead of us with the latest trends. In Paris, the Frankfurt Ballet's annual residency at the Chatelet showed William Forsythe's latest revolutionary creation, while the Ballet de l'Opera honours two grand old men who have dominated the scene for half a century. A programme by Roland Petit is to be followed immediately by a new production of Maurice Bejart's Ninth Symphony (to Beethoven, with a prologue from Nietzsche).

Petit's productivity over the years is amazing. Forming his first company at only 20, he is still making ballets in his seventies, with no diminution of freshness. Le Loup, revived on this latest programme, is typical of his early style: a poetically dramatic plot by Anouilh, vividly colourful designs by Carzou, and an atmospheric score by Henri Dutilleux - Petit always had an eye for apt and celebrated collaborators.

The ballet is Beauty and the Beast turned tragedy: a bride is tricked into believing her new husband has been changed into a wolf, while he runs off with a glamorous gypsy. Her terror on finding the wolf is real changes to sacrificial love when he proves more kind and faithful than the man. Anyone remembering the original cast in the 1950s, with Petit himself in the title role, will scarcely expect such a searing performance, but the dancers are good, the production bigger in scale, and the ballet still a touching metaphor of tenderness destroyed by cruelty.

For a complete contrast, Rhythms de valses, created only two years ago, has the light-hearted gaiety that was always another of Petit's characteristics, combined with a subtlety of nuance beyond his earlier self. Three couples simply dance to four of the younger Strauss's best known waltzes, played on stage in chamber music versions by Berg, Schoenberg and Webern. This is still the authentic waltz, but with a slight difference, which Petit picks up in a choreography that slips easily from ballroom to exhibition via classical ballet.

Ballet gets more drastically adapted in Forsythe's Six Counter Points, which he calls a ballet in six parts, so its contrasted sections (which might easily be self-contained) must be related. In retrospect, you can see a pattern from chaos to order. Music plays a part in this process, starting at episode three where a fragmented Beethoven quartet gradually brings three dancers into unison after they have begun almost as spasmodically as the earlier duet and solo sections.

Schubert later brings an almost too dizzying togetherness of not-quite- virtuoso display in a disconcertingly exuberant finale, but before that an "approximate sonata" by Forsythe's most frequent collaborator, Thom Willems, has supported an exploration of sparse yet thrillingly elegant movement for a team of six dancers. These Counter Points induce a wish to see the whole sequence over again straight away, with the benefit of knowing what comes next. Frustrating - but much more rewarding than the many choreographers who leave only a sense of time misspent.

For details of the Paris Opera Ballet at the Palais Garnier and the Opera Bastille phone: 0033 1 44 73 1399; its web site is: http:// www.opera- de-paris.fr

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