But the movement in “Pit” — which also shows the influences of Martha Graham’s technique in its low, deep pliés in second position, and sharp contractions of the torso — is never given enough space or focus to register.
Smith and Schraiber clearly had a thousand ideas for “Pit,” and seem to have included them all. Dancers never stop rushing into groups and pairs, performing mini solos, separating out, walking or crawling round the platform, moving their chairs, sitting on their chairs, being subjugated or overcoming subjugation, throwing themselves into one another’s arms, emoting expressively to impassioned musical moments. (Awa Joannais bears the brunt of that.) Interestingly, the relationship dramas are almost entirely heterosexual.
It’s hard to keep track of what’s going on. “Did the man in the white coat chuck the pheasants on the floor? Or did they fall from above?” I wrote to a fellow critic after the show. “They fall from above after the violinist shoots in their direction,” was the response, with another clarification: “It’s a different person who carries all the shoes and drops them to the floor.”
Aside from the gun and the pheasants and the shoes, one of which is eaten, there is also earth thrown onto semi-naked bodies; an explicit sexual act; a sphinx-like woman in a figure-hugging red dress who abandons some magisterial posing to rush upstage while baring her bottom; and a stage-height door that opens at the back to let in shafts of light and suggestions of a heavenly sphere.
These surreal vignettes are Pina Bausch-lite, telling us that we are in the dark and muddled entrails of the unconscious, excavating the pit, or core, of the self. But more problematic than the dramatic metaphorical clutter is Smith and Schraiber’s inability to meet the complexity and power of the Sibelius score, with its lush mixture of lyricism, Romanticism and folk rhythms.
The 19 admirably committed dancers are largely the same group who this season have performed in Bausch’s “Kontakthof” and Alan Lucien Oyen’s “Cri de Coeur,” constituting a kind of contemporary company within the Paris Opera Ballet. None of these works are easy to perform, particularly for ballet dancers deeply unused to baring the self. Bravo to them.
Through March 30 at the Palais Garnier, Paris; operadeparis.fr.