Ballet de Marseille-Ballets de Monte-Carlo-Ballet Nice Mediterranee/December 2013

Dancing Times

As is usual in the south of France, the new dance season did not get underway until November, this year with the biennial Cannes Dance Festival. This year’s programme was made up of several small, experimental groups, mostly local ones, but also included the companies of Marie Chouinard from Canada, Anna Teresa de Keersmaker from Belgium and that of the Spanish choreographer, Blanca Li. Frederic Flamand’s direction of the festival, since 2011, has brought his own very individual taste to dominance and his replacement for the next festival with Brigitte Lefevre, who leaves the Paris Opera Ballet this year, is welcomed.


Frederic Flamand has now also left his post as director of the Ballet National de Marseille but his production of Orphée et Eurydice, to the Gluck score, and involving the local orchestra and on-stage singers, was performed recently in Marseille. Dancers doubled the singers in the main roles, and Flamand acknowledges the assistance of a company dancer for the choreography. His own background is in art and architecture and his productions usually draw their strength from the visual elements, and here he has collaborated with a multi-media artist, and fellow Belgian, Hans op de Beek, who has provided huge video images to fill the stage. In the programme notes there is much about ‘time, space and human relations’ but the resulting work is more lightweight, dominated by the relentless jogging of jazzy, loose limbed dance with little relation to the Orpheus tragedy. The ‘Furies’ movement, usually the most exciting of the four scenes, faded out after an initial spurt of energy and the ‘Dance of the Blessed Spirits’, one of Gluck’s most beautiful musical passages, kept the dancers, costumed in badly fitting grey suits, busy pushing screens around. The climatic fourth and final movement, with Orpheus’s struggle not to look at Eurydice lacked any sense of drama, the dancers continuing a repetitious ensemble dance and the singers apparently left without stage directions.   


In Monte-Carlo, Jean-Christophe Maillot celebrates 20 years as director of the Ballets de Monte-Carlo, and from this season he has also taken over the directorship of the Academie Princesse Grace and the Monaco Dance Forum. In December, all of these gave series of performances to celebrate the anniversary and Maillot created a new ballet, Casse Noisette Compagnie. In the programme notes he speaks of own childhood as the son of a painter and of growing up surrounded by magical images. He compares himself to Clara in The Nutcracker and to meeting a magician in the form of Princess Caroline of Monaco who gave him the opportunity to create his own ballet company for which he has produced more than thirty ballets. This present season is proving to be an exceptional one for the company with performances in Moscow, Beijing, Shanghai, New York, Paris and London as well as their usual tours. Maillot has been honoured and feted around the world, he has also mounted his works for several international ballet companies, so expectations for Casse Noisette Compagnie were high. As with his 2011 production Lac, he has collaborated with a dramaturge to create a new scenario, producing a ballet of 20 scenes, all described in detail in the programme. Without detailed study of these notes, it is doubtful if many could follow the action on stage. Clara is the daughter of a couple who direct a ballet company and she dreams of becoming a dancer. The early scenes include an Etudes –like classroom scene and the dancers then rehearse a ballet resembling Serenade, with a projection of Balanchine on the back wall. There is a lot of ‘business’, dancers fooling around, characters from other ballets appearing, before the arrival of ‘Drosselmeyer’, who is a fairy, danced by the company ballerina, Berenice Coppietiers, costumed as a 1920’s vamp. Fortunately, she brings with her the Nutcracker, in the form of the Belgian dancer, Jeroen Verbruggen, a dancer whose multi-faceted talent is enough to convince one that something more important is happening. Dressed in a ragged, colourful costume, his legs and arms covered with tattoos, his choreography is inventive and brilliantly executed. The less interesting battle of the soldiers and mice, is between two sets of quarreling dancers costumed in gold and silver tights and this leads to the transformation scene with everyone exiting under a gentle snowfall.


Act 2 opens promisingly with an attractive backcloth of bare trees and a snowy landscape. The fairy Drosselmeyer now appears in glistening white carriage, dressed in slinky, sequined tights and she introduces a series of excerpts from Maillot’s earlier ballets, Cinderella, Belle, ( a version of The Sleeping Beauty) and  Songe, (A Midsummer Night’s Dream). Danced to the Nutcracker score, and not to their rightful music, these ballets look curiously out of place and most hardly recognisable. Clara, who has been almost forgotten until now, performs as Cinderella, her friend Franz, becoming Prince Charming, and Maillot’s famous ‘longest kiss in ballet’, is realistically included. With the music to the Grand Pas de Deux, one of the composer’s most romantic and sumptuous, Clara and Franz dance a repetitious and uninteresting duet, mostly twisting, falling and dragging each other around the stage. For the final scene, the performance comes to life with the whole company filling the stage dressed as circus characters for a lively, rumbustious finale and when confetti and streamers shower down upon the stage and the auditorium, the audience, which had remained bemused and silent throughout the performance was roused to enthusiastic applause. Perhaps this inconsequential work should be left to the faithful home crowd.


In Nice, the Ballet Nice Mediterrannée has undergone a big turnover of dancers for the current season, as is the case with the companies in Marseille and in Monte-Carlo. This had made this year’s Christmas programme of Sylvia Suite and Les Deux Pigeons especially challenging for the newly re-formed company. Directeur Eric Vu An has mounted both ballets after the original versions and the sets and costumes are copied from those of the Paris Opera Ballet. The very short divertissement, Sylvia Suite, based on Louis Mérante’s 1876 version, seemed almost a parody of a period piece while the company appeared more comfortable in the one-act version of Les Deux Pigeons based on Albert Aveline’s 1919 ballet with Paula Acosta Carlo a charming Gourouli and Alessio Passaquindici an attractive Pepio.




Christina Gallea Roy, December 2013