Muriel Zusperreguy and Alessio Carbone in 'Body and Soul' © Julien Benhamou - ONP

Crystal Pite’s “Body and Soul” in Paris

The new creation by the Canadian choreographer marks Muriel Zusperreguy’s final performance as a First soloist at the Paris Opera Ballet

by Alessandro Bizzotto

Muriel Zusperreguy has always been one of my favorite ballerinas, not just at the Paris Opera but worldwide. Her keen musicality, her exquisite footwork and her radiant beauty have always been mesmerizing in my eyes. All my friends and colleagues know it.

That’s why I was both sad and happy at the same time when I entered the Palais Garnier to attend what I knew would be her last performance as a First soloist of the Paris Opera Ballet – the final show of Crystal Pite’s “Body and Soul”, last November 23rd.

A full-length ballet created for the French company a very few seasons after the success of “The Seasons’ Canon”, the very first creation Pite made for the Paris Opera, “Body and Soul” makes the dancers’ bodies struggle in pas de deux and group scenes as if they were carried by antithetical and contradictory impulses.

Muriel Zusperreguy and Alessio Carbone in ‘Body and Soul’ © Julien Benhamou

In Act One a female voice speaking French (that electronic amplification makes tough to understand for those who are not good French speakers like me) often describes the movements – pas de deux after pas de deux, steps are repeated and situations happen again in different ways.

There is not much to provide the audience with a true, sincere shiver of emotion. Principal dancer Ludmila Pagliero and Soloist Lydie Vareilhes beautifully dance their duet, but the first quiver of passion comes with the pas de deux danced by First soloist Marion Barbeau and Soloist Simon Le Borgne, a melancholic and tense duo.

Muriel Zusperreguy dances the final part of the first act with First soloist Alessio Carbone, who’s also giving his farewell performance tonight, and, as it is predictable, she is immensely delicate and impressive.

Act Two makes the audience see the backstage of the Palais Garnier – production designer Jay Gower Taylor removes scenery and wings and decorates the stage just with several lights.

Many moves here remind of Forsythe’s style and his extreme dynamism. The highlight is the scene during which Zusperreguy moves across the stage while all the other dancers stand still and look at her, take her hand, touch her body, yet she keeps moving as if she is looking for something. It definitely makes me think of her retracing her own career.

Pagliero and First soloist François Alu dance the final pas de deux with buoyant vitality.

The Paris Opera Ballet in ‘Body and Soul’ © Julien Benhamou

The third and final act is shorter and alienating. It is set in what looks like an underground world, all the dancers wear tight dark suits with pincers – they are insects swarming in an unknown microcosm. But when the act is almost over and you start watching your phone to check what time it is, hoping Act Three won’t last much longer, Teddy Geiger’s song “Body and Soul” fills the auditorium of the Opéra Garnier and the insects start following its rhythm led by a shaman wearing a kind of long fleece mantle and golden trousers.

Part of the audience looks pleasantly surprised, yet I agree with those who, after a performance of just 70 minutes, find this finale bizarre and slightly absurd.

At the cocktail after the performance, Muriel looks relaxed and smiley, surrounded by many dancers of the company gathered around her. Surprisingly, the first thing she tells me is, «Today seemed like the longest day in my life! Waiting for tonight’s performance…». Yet she radiates positivity, cheerful energy and an innate elegance as always.

I prefer not to ask her if she already has any ideas about what to do now. But she gives me a clue. «I’ll be in your city soon: I’ll come to Milan to restage Nureyev’s “Swan Lake” at La Scala with Florence Clerc».