Superlatives are more often than not a cause for suspicion. And when one finds the adjective “world’s greatest” in a press release (as opposed to, say, the window of a coffee shop), one might find oneself searching for counterexamples or, more likely, wondering exactly how greatness in art is measured. In the case of the Paris Opera Ballet, the term can claim some objective verity when placed against the concrete gauge of time. This 150-plus-member company is the first, the original, conceived by King Louis XIV more than a hundred years before our nation severed itself from the British monarchy. Since then the institution has stood as the hallmark of the form, stationed in Paris, the epicenter of European high art.
When the Paris Opera Ballet first visited the new world in 1948 (and then in all subsequent tours) it hit only the coasts. This week of performances at the Harris, accompanied by the Grant Park Orchestra, is the first time the company will appear in the Midwest. It’s a kind of living history on tour, like getting to see a wing of the Louvre in the Loop. Particularly so in the case of the first three nights—all performances of “Giselle,” created for the company in 1841. The fantastical, arboreal love story originated the Romantic “ballet blanc” aesthetic of a large corps of dancers in white tutus—what most of us think of when we hear the term “classical ballet.” It’s been a big year for “Giselle” on tour; American Ballet Theatre brought it here in March, the Kirov Ballet last September.
Friday through Sunday, the program moves into the twentieth century, with neoclassical works by Serge Lifar, Maurice Bejart, Roland Petit and, breaking the Gallic streak, “Orpheus and Eurydice” by Pina Bausch. The Paris Opera Ballet is the only company outside Bausch’s Tanztheater Wuppertal with rights to perform the dance opera, set to music by Gluck. (Sharon Hoyer)
At the Harris Theater, 205 East Randolph, (312)334-7777. June 26-July 1.