UCSB Arts & Lectures presents France’s Lyon Opera Ballet performance April 1-2.

UCSB Arts & Lectures presents France’s Lyon Opera Ballet performance April 1-2. (Stofleth)

UCSB Arts & Lectures presents the only West Coast appearance of France’s Lyon Opera Ballet, celebrating Beethoven’s 250th birthday with “Trois Grandes Fugues,” showcasing three interpretations of his masterpiece “Grosse Fuge” by three major international women choreographers, 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 1 and Thursday, April 2 at The Granada Theatre.

Audience members will celebrate Beethoven’s 250th birthday with three interpretations of “Grosse Fuge” by three female choreographers — France’s rebellious Maguy Marin, America’s meticulous Lucinda Childs, and Belgium’s hypnotic Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, the choreographer behind the critically acclaimed restaging of “West Side Story” on Broadway.

The 35-member company is known for its ambitious and diverse repertory, showcasing a broad range of choreographers, from Merce Cunningham to William Forsythe. With this “simple yet audacious idea” (The New York Times), the company highlights interpretations of choreography, movement and musicality, performed by an extraordinary cast of dancers.


Childs: “Grande Fugue”
De Keersmaeker: “Die Große Fugue”
Marin: “Grosse Fugue”

In this encounter between three choreographers, each proposes her own reading of Beethoven’s “Grosse Fuge.” Marin’s “Grosse Fugue” and De Keersmaeker’s “Die Grosse Fuge” were first brought together on the same program in 2006, and the contrast between the two pieces is striking.

At the request of Lyon Opera Ballet’s former artistic director Yorgos Loukos, the American choreographer Childs took her turn at choreographing Grande Fugue, a work that lends itself well to all the interpretations.

Marin has made her presence felt through her strong images and meaningful dramatic art since her earliest work in 1976. She has had a long relationship with the Lyon Opera Ballet, for which she created one of her masterpieces, “Cinderella.”

Marin’s “Grosse Fugue,” choreographed in 2001, entered the company’s repertory five years later and has been revived regularly, as a cornerstone of the complex relationship between classical music and contemporary dance.

According to Marin, the piece is a study, born of the “desire to try and create a dance piece in the style of and based on the ‘Great Fugue’” and to “compose a dance profoundly connected to this music.”

The result is an outpouring by four women dancers dressed in blood red, echoing “the state of enthusiasm and despair” of Beethoven’s late work. The performers leap, collapse, straighten and contort themselves, as if the vibrations of the quartet’s strings were passing through them, in a whirlwind of life that is a gripping race against death.

It is, in the words of its creator, “A study for you, for me, about us.”

From her first opus, “Fase” (1982) on the repetitive rhythms of Steve Reich, the Flemish artist De Keersmaeker has created choreography that is an intimate echo of the music of the composers at the source of her inspiration.

For “Die Grosse Fuge,” created in 1992, she imagined an original structure that develops several gestural phrases drawn in space with the same contrapuntal precision present in Beethoven’s quartet. One distinctive feature: the performers are primarily men, in accordance with the wishes of De Keersmaeker, who said, upon its creation: “I wanted to write a masculine vocabulary, non-classical and sexual.”

Childs’ version, created specifically for the Lyon Opera Ballet, is for 12 dancers divided into six couples, with the score transcribed for string orchestra. Dominique Drillot, a long-time partner of the choreographer, created the production design, lighting and costumes, providing his support to this adventure.

Created in 1969 by Lyon Opera Director Louis Erlo, the present Lyon Opera Ballet was established in 1984 when Erlo invited Françoise Adret to create a new ballet company committed to contemporary choreographers.

When Adret retired in December 1991, Loukos, who had been the company’s associate artistic director since 1984, was appointed artistic director. Earlier this month, Julie Guibert was announced as Loukos’ successor.

In 1987, the company made its United States debut with a two-week season at City Center in New York, where it presented Maguy Marin’s “Cendrillon,” a magical transformation of the Cinderella story, which became an instant success.

The company returned to New York later that spring to present the ballet for another two weeks. As France’s most well-traveled ballet troupe, the company has subsequently made dozens of cross-country tours of the U.S.

Committed to showcasing contemporary choreography, Lyon Opera Ballet has acquired and commissioned ballets by a range of international dance makers including William Forsythe, Jirí Kylían, Nils Christe, Nacho Duato, Mathilde Monnier and Jean-François Duroure, Louis Falco, Christopher Bruce, Ohad Naharin and Angelin Preljocaj.

The company’s repertoire features works by such American choreographers as Trisha Brown, Ralph Lemon, Karole Armitage, Lucinda Childs, Susan Marshall, Stephen Petronio and Bill T. Jones.

In 1995, Lyon Opera Ballet was named Opéra National de Lyon, elevating the Lyon company to the same level as the 328-year-old Opéra National de Paris, the only other national opera house in France. That same year, the company performed as part of the United Nation’s 50th Anniversary Celebration in San Francisco.

Over nearly 20 years, the company has built a repertoire of 70 works, bringing in choreographers who develop languages and invent environments and settings. The Lyon Opera Ballet is special in that although a classical formation, it is oriented toward contemporary dance; given the wide range of dance styles proposed, the artists acquire many different techniques.

Childs discovered her passion for dance and theater when she was quite young. After studying with Merce Cunningham, she joined an artists’ collective based at the Judson Dance Theater in Manhattan. In 1963, she choreographed her first work, “Pastime.”

She became a leading figure in the U.S. postmodern dance movement, opening her own company in 1973 and developing a signature minimalistic style based on natural movement. In 1976, she choreographed and danced in “Einstein on the Beach” (Philip Glass and Bob Wilson). “Dance” (1979, Brooklyn Academy of Music) was her first major group ballet.

That was followed by collaborations with other artists: “Available Light” (1983), with sets designed by Frank Gehry and music by John Adams; and “Mayday” (1989) with Sol LeWitt.  She created “Premier Orage” for the Paris Opera Ballet and “Perfect Stranger” (1990) for the Lyon Opera Ballet.

In 1980, after studying dance at Mudra School in Brussels and Tisch School of the Arts in New York, De Keersmaeker (b. 1960) created “Asch,” her first choreographic work. Two years later came the premiere of “Fase, Four Movements to the Music of Steve Reich.”

She established the dance company Rosas in Brussels in 1983, while creating the work “Rosas danst Rosas.” Since then, her choreography has been grounded in a rigorous and prolific exploration of the relationship between dance and music.

She has created with Rosas a wide-ranging body of work engaging the musical structures and scores of several periods, from early music to contemporary and popular idioms.

Her choreographic practice also draws formal principles from geometry, numerical patterns, the natural world and social structures to offer a unique perspective on the body’s articulation in space and time.

In 1995, De Keersmaeker established the school Performing Arts Research and Training Studios (P.A.R.T.S.) in Brussels in association with De Munt/La Monnaie.

Born in Toulouse, dancer/choreographer Marin studied classical ballet at the Toulouse dance academy. She then joined the Strasbourg Dance Company and later Mudra, Maurice Béjart’s multi-disciplinary school in Brussels. In 1978, with Daniel Ambash, she founded the Ballet-Théâtre de l’Arche, which was to become the Compagnie Maguy Marin in 1984.

The Centre Chorégraphique National de Créteil et du Val-de-Marne followed in 1985: its unremitting artistic work spread worldwide. In 1987, Marin’s encounter with musician-composer Denis Mariotte was the start of a decisive partnership, which broadened the scope of experimentation.

Then in 1998, a new place to settle in, with a new Centre Chorégraphique National, in Rillieux-la-Pape: a place as an “us, in time and space” reinforced her ability to foster “those diagonal forces which resist oblivion” (H. Arendt).

The year 2011 saw a remodeling of the framework in which the company’s reflection and achievements unfold. After the intensity of the Rillieux-la-Pape years, there emerged a need for a new phase in Toulouse from 2012.

In January 2015, Marin and the company found the region of Lyon and established the ambitious project Ramdam: An Art Center, an association offering artists residencies, training and public openings. This active and sustainable project is currently supported by the Rhône Alpes Region, the state and the city of Sainte-Foy-lès-Lyon.

Lyon Opera Ballet is presented by UCSB Arts & Lectures in association with the UCSB Department of Theater and Dance through the generosity of the Albert & Elaine Borchard Foundation.

Corporate sponsor: Mission Wealth Management. Dance series sponsors Annette and Dr. Richard Caleel, Margo Cohen-Feinberg and Bob Feinberg, Irma and Morrie Jurkowitz, Barbara Stupay, and Sheila Wald. Special thanks to KEYT, Noozhawk and Santa Barbara Independent.

Tickets are $35-$65 for the general public; $19 for all students with a current student ID. (Granada facility fee will be added to each ticket price.) For tickets or more information, call UCSB Arts & Lectures, 805-893-3535 or buy online at www.ArtsAndLectures.UCSB.edu. Tickets also available through The Granada Theatre, 805-899-2222 or granadasb.org.  

UCSB Arts & Lectures acknowledges its community partners the Natalie Orfalea Foundation & Lou Buglioli, and corporate season sponsor SAGE Publishing for support of the 2019-20 season.