For the Robbins/Balanchine/Cherkaoui, Jalet
ballet evening, Maxime Pascal conducts the Paris Opera Orchestra in a
repertoire comprised entirely of music by Ravel. A close collaborator of the
Ballets Russes for whom he wrote Daphnis et Chloé, and for whom La
Valse was initially intended, Maurice Ravel has remained a major source of
inspiration for choreographers around the world since the beginning of the 20th century. We asked Pascal, the musical director
of the ensemble Le Balcon, to discuss the interplay between the French
composer and dance and the particularities that apply to the ballet orchestra.
Can you present the pieces by Maurice Ravel that make up this evening of dance?
In what way are these scores choreographic—aside the obvious fact that most have dance as a subject?
From the String Quartet to his final
productions, Ravel’s art evokes the movement of sounds and their wave-like
progression through space. More particularly, his music evokes the notion of a
loop-like motion inherent to the mechanical movement of production line which
in his day, were becoming the industrial norm in the United States. This
repetition of gestures leads to the idea of a whirlwind, often present in his
works. But for Ravel, this musical maelstrom is inspired more than anything
else by dance. Among his many sources of inspiration—Russian and Spanish
composers, American music, science, the discovery of acoustics—the primary
influence remains dance, even when he is not composing a ballet. With him
everything—or almost everything—is choreographic by nature.
Has your understanding of Ravel’s music evolved thanks to these choreographic interpretations?
Enormously! Generally speaking, it’s the
conductor who chooses the phrasing and tempo at which the opera or symphony
orchestra plays. And yet at the orchestra’s first rehearsal with the dancers,
those parameters have already been set by the choreographer or the Ballet
Master. It is they who are the real conductors. I try to feel what they
themselves felt when they first came into contact with the music and how they
made it theirs. Although I may well have a very specific and personal view as
to how to interpret a given composer, I try to pass on the choreographer’s vision
to the orchestra. It is always very interesting to have a score interpreted by
other artists as it allows us to review our own interpretation.
Isn’t it frustrating for a conductor not to have total control over the orchestra?
What counts above all is the dancers'
movements I have to be on their
wavelength. In my view, the most important is not gratuitous synchronisation
between the dancers and the musicians but rather, that everyone converges
towards a common narration in the same tempo. When everyone can coexist in this
great communal movement, expressiveness is born. The control of the orchestra
is linked to the choreography. Of course, I allow myself to maintain control or
rescind it. But I always bear in mind the need to stick to the story unfolding
on stage. Even so, it is the conductor’s responsibility to communicate to the
dancers the energy and strength they need that comes from the music.
Does this alliance between the stage and the orchestra pit differ for ballet and opera?
It is often said that the singers follow the conductor and vice versa. But it’s not true. The conductor must ensure that the orchestra plays what the singers feel. They need to breathe together. The same applies to the dancers. The magic only works when you manage to breathe and leap with them. This requires a common artistic awareness which we reach by watching and discussing, thus allowing us to grasp what each participant needs.
So, are you really getting to know the Opera’s dancers with whom you’ve already worked?
I worked with the Orchestra and Ballet on two occasions during the 2015/2016 season, for the season’s opening Gala and for the Millepied /Robbins/Balanchine evening. I also accompanied the Ballet on their recent tour to Japan, without the Orchestra this time. It’s a fairly new experience for me to work with dancers. Thanks to them, I’m learning a great deal. As I said before, these collaborative efforts have enabled me to perceive the time and space of the music differently, to watch it take form and acquire a visual dimension. And that is particularly exciting.