Back to La Source: Opera National de Paris breathes new life into a forgotten hit


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The Independent Culture

In these straitened times a new full-length classical ballet is a rarity, so the Opera National de Paris deserves praise for breathing new life into a forgotten hit from the 19th-century. With music by Delibes and Minkus, and costumes by Christian Lacroix, La Source – the spring – is a version of the Rusalka legend set in what is now Chechnya. When it premiered in 1866, its exotic locale was part of its appeal.

The choreographer, Jean-Guillaume Bart, has complemented Lacroix's lovingly detailed Caucasus costumes with the sort of formation dances now sponsored by Chechnya's Kremlin-backed tyrant Ramzan Kadyrov, which gives the whole thing a queasy topicality. But what impresses most is the way his narrative choreography emerges bandbox-fresh, without departing in any way from the classical style. The score's re-orchestration by Marc-Olivier Dupin might almost be by Tchaikovsky, so closely does it mirror his gestures.

But the chief pleasure lies where it should, in the dance itself. In Mathias Heymann the Paris Opera has a dancer with the effortless charisma and exquisite line of the young Nureyev, while the immaculately disciplined corps de ballet puts its Royal Opera House counterpart firmly in the shade.

Will this work transfer to London? Since its scenery consists largely of velvet drapes and a forest of tasselled ropes, it wouldn't cost much to bring it over. Come on, Covent Garden – bite the bullet.