Auguste Vestris


The Canary Down Imperative - Jérémie Bélingard appointed Etoile

March 2007

Over the past two decades, sinking under the blows of monetarism, privatisation and 'liberalism', the great vessel of French heavy industry has nose-dived, and all that is left of her manufactures is canary down - the so-called luxury and cosmetics industry. Cast up on the shore, the Opera's hull too has cracked and now gapes open to myriad private investors - who prefer to be called Benefactors - and has even been used, recently, as a discotheque. Shareholder value beckons; the étoiles step out as the painted face of French trade-marks, whether in furs, jewellery, haute couture or gentleman's scents. Touting his Rolex and pouting, we find Bill Forsythe himself, self-styled 'Darwin de la Danse', spouting a slogan as pretentious as it is unscientific, for the 2007/2008 Opera Season Calendar.

In an environment so driven by greed and private interest, the pressure upon Management to appoint to étoilat only persons deemed physically attractive enough to merchandise HMS Sinking Ship's trademark, may be greater than one would imagine.

And so at the Eastertide, are hens wont to lay bejewelled Eggs.

Bedecked with sparkling stones, a new and very glamorous Fabergé Egg was hatched - and out leapt M. Jérémie Bélingard.

This past March 28th, as the curtain fell on "Don Quixote" and midnight struck, he became our latest Etoile.

Would I were a Christian - this year, I should give up eggs for Lent!

Clumsy witticisms aside, few reading this page will have heard of M. Bélingard, 'et pour cause': through no fault of his own, and having suffered an unending and most unfortunate spate of injuries over the past few years, Bélingard has danced but rarely, and then, almost invariably in the briefest of modern works - and often in the briefest of attire, as the gentleman's personal beauties are quite remarkable, as both invited choreographers and the advertising industry have not failed to note.

Although one would most certainly describe M. Bélingard's dancing as energetic and engaged, the strongly erotic tone pervading much of his work tends to confuse the elevated message peculiar to this art form.

But let that be.

To foreign artists, the Paris Opera Ballet is concert-pitch to the world, the world's Great A, and the criteria to étoilat are these:

- a brilliant technique, i.e. mastery of the full classical vocabulary, honed and sustained in a constant manner over time,

- utter mastery of classical mime gesture, stagecraft, and a presence sufficiently commanding to hold a Two or Three Act classical work on the boards,

- a deep respect for the corps de ballet, empathetic teamwork,

- keen intelligence, originality, and emotional depth, such as to give from the heart to the public, ideas and affects theretofore unknown,

- a cultivated knowledge of music and art history, so as to lift the ballet into the more universal sphere of ideas.

Does that ring a bell? Thibault?

But over the past four or so years, the oddest of appointments have been made, including several Phantom Etoiles - individuals who virtually never perform, or if they do, not in the classics. All to the effect that Fabergé or no, the title's international lustre is now greatly dimmed. Has this all been deliberate? Might there exist some sort of plan to "dumb-down" the classical dance?

Well, owing to the youth and beauty of most of its practitioners, the art form (and its admirers!) tends, time and again, to cave in to its inherent weakness: the cult of Osiris. Has it come to the end of its tether? Shall we literally throw in the towel, and flaunt - whatever? Does 'opening one's soul to the public' now mean spilling the gut?

And is the raison d'être of the dance merely to whet the flagging appetites of those who are Past It?

One does wonder.

And so, should Management crumple before the Canary Down Imperative?

To this, the author of these lines does entertain an opinion, but would not, at the present time, propose that as an answer. Therefore, let the floor be thrown open to the better-informed and advised.