White Bird kicks off its fifth season at Portland State University with the West Coast debut of France's Ballet Biarritz and its acclaimed reinterpretation of the groundbreaking Les Ballets Russes. Russian Ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev's landmark company was revolutionary in how classical dance was viewed and performed in the West, and his interaction with the visual arts (sets by Braque, costumes by Picasso and Chanal) broke old barriers within various artistic disciplines. Ballet Biarritz's artistic director, Thierry Malandain, continues to push and experiment with ballet, presenting his own contemporary look at Diaghilev's works, re-examining Pulcinella, L'Après-Midi d'un Faune and Le Spectre de la Rose, along with a new staging of Ravel's Boléro.

WW corresponded with Malandain this week. Here are some highlights of that conversation:

WW: Why the re-examination of Diaghilev's works? Why not simply remount them?

Thierry Malandain: For a choreographer, the works of Diaghilev are a source of inspiration. I appreciate particularly the history of dance, it nourishes and gives meaning to my work, but I remain above all a creator. In this program, the point was to shine light on all the pieces from different points of view. For each work, the reason for approaching it is different--the interest can be in the music, the subject or both.

In your reinterpretations, you abstract many of the original concepts. For instance, in L'Après-Midi d'un Faune you use tissue. How do you come up with these images?

In general, when I reinterpret a work, I like to pepper my concept with allusions to the original. It is my way of paying homage to the author while playing with new interpretations. The staging of Leon Bakst places the dancer playing the faun on a rock from which he dominates the situation. For me, it has become a superimposed box of Kleenex. The Kleenex can also be seen as a replacement of the veil of the nymph. In Le Spectre de la Rose, a young girl, after returning from a dance, voluptuously inhales the scent of a rose and falls asleep. The romantic version of Michel Fokine is well known, so I wanted to communicate the spirit of the rose through other symbols. There are the symbols of love, of desire, of the blood spilled by the young girl's pricked finger--it's an erotic reverie with the Specter escaping in a rush of rose-colored bubbles.

In your rendering of Boléro, you say that it "owes nothing to the original story." Is the goal here to demonstrate the essence of the music or to provide a separate narrative?

I have long wished to choreograph Boléro. I told myself that one day, if an idea went through my head, I would hold onto it. It took years for this idea to arrive, but it has imposed itself very clearly: I wanted to distance myself from the lascivious and sensual connotations of the work. I prefer the metaphor of liberty and the conquering of captivity. The 12 dancers must work against the obsessive power of the music in a closed and restricted space. To reinterpret these works is, above all, a personal pleasure, but it is also a way of prolonging their existence in another form. Happily, it sometimes gives the public the desire to rediscover the original versions.

Ballet Biarritz

White Bird at Lincoln Performance Hall, 1620 SW Park Ave., 725-3307. 8 pm Thursday-Saturday, Oct. 21-23. $14-$25.