I was backpacking in Europe in the early 1980s when I saw the poster. The young American choreographer, John Neumeier was staging a ballet to the music of Gustav Mahler at the Hamburg Opera. Dancing to Mahler? Unimaginable. Even laughable? I brought a ticket.
That astounding evening was clear evidence of Neumeier's easy genius for melding music and dance and helped me appreciate the new directions being explored with ballet. More than two decades later, he is still at it with Mahler's sprawling Third Symphony on the bill at the Paris Opera in March.
It would be hard to imagine such a project in America. The Paris Opera has an orchestra large enough and skilled enough for the Mahler and the pit at the Opera Bastille is (just) big enough. They have their own chorus and even a children's choir for the "Bimb, Bamb" section. The ballet company is world renowned, of course, and has the breath of dance talent to make this, the largest of Mahler's symphonies, come to life.
While the opera side has fluctuated in recent years, the ballet remains unscathed. Under the highly-regarded Brigitte Lefvre. In charge since 1994 and a product of their own school, it has never been better or more respected. The Mahler runs from March 13 to April 11 and is followed by major works of John Cranko and Roland Petit to complete the season.
There is more information at www.operadeparis.fr.