BALLET NICE MEDITERRANEE- Triple Bill – October 2012

Voluntaries – The Moor’s Pavane- Gnawa

Théatre National de Nice – October 2012

Dancing Times

Last year Eric Vu-An, director of Ballet Nice Mediterranée since 2009, surprised in challenging his comparatively new company with a programme of works by two monstres sacrés of 20th-century dance, Serge Lifar and Georges Balanchine. This season he is testing the company still further with a programme of contemporary choreographers working in strikingly contrasting styles and coming from three very different eras of dance history. The doyen of the trio, Mexican-born, José Limon, was inspired to dance on seeing a performance by the German expressionist dancer, Harald Kreutzberg and commenced studying dance and later performing with the American teachers and choreographers of the 1920’s, Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman, before starting his own company in 1946. Glen Tetley, one of the most prolific and foremost choreographers of the latter part of the 20th century was also influenced by his early training with the German teacher Hanya Holm, but went on to study with Martha Graham and at the School of American Ballet. The youngest, and the only living member of the trio, the Spanish-born Nacho Duarto comes from the schools of Rambert and Mudra in Europe as well as the Alvin Ailey School in New York. These three diverse creators form a continuous line in the development of contemporary dance from its Central European roots to the global explosion we experience today.

Tetley’s Voluntaries, which opened the programme, was created for the Stuttgart Ballet almost immediately after the tragic death of their director, John Cranko in 1973. Danced to Poulenc’s powerful Concerto for Organ it is an outpouring of anger and anguish, proving to be an almost traumatic, and therapeutic, experience for the original cast, including Marcia Haydée, Brigit Keil and Richard Cragun, expressing grief at their loss. It is inevitable that other dancers will lack their passion and may also struggle with the very real technical challenges of the ballet. Voluntaries is a classical ballet – Tetley’s work stretched from the classical for companies such as American Ballet Theatre to the very modern for Ballet Rambert – and demands a high level of control and stamina. However, it is not a “step” ballet, and each movement commences in the centre, rippling outwards through the back, making the whole body expressive. Of the dancers of BNM, only Aldriana Vargas first seen in the opening pas de deux, fully succeeding in this, but Paola Acosta Carli and Claude Gamba were impressive, dancing both elegantly and strongly. Pas de deux’s, pas de trois and ensemble scenes flow seamlessly in front of Rouben Ter-Arutunian’s vast backdrop, speckled with colour. For the dancers, in all-revealing white unitards it is a major test and if one would have wished for more strength and even anger from the mens’ ensemble dances and more fluidity during the many sequences of travelling lifts in the ballet, the whole cast made a strong impression.

Created in 1949, The Moor’s Pavane is José Limon’s most famous and acclaimed work. Coming back to this ballet after many years, it was a delight to re-discover a masterpiece in construction, both choreographically and in telling the quite complicated story of Othello being tricked by Iago into believing that his wife, Desdemona, has been unfaithful. It was also interesting to note that Limon did not hesitate to use different techniques in his choreography, mixing the formal court dance of the pavane, with steps from classical ballet as well as his own highly developed modern dance technique. Each character is clearly developed and the ever increasing drama is expressed through their very individual choreography. Limon was a powerful Moor himself, a statuesque figure and a convincing interpreter. Eric Vu-An who has already performed the role in Marseille, is physically well suited as Othello and he performed in Nice with strength and commitment. He was well supported by César Rubio Sancho as Iago, Céline Marcinno as Desdemona and Paula Acosta Carli as Emilia, Iago’s wife. The work, danced to music by Henry Purcell, was meticulously mounted for the Nice company by Jennifer Scanlon, a former Limon company member and ‘official constructor’ of the Limon’s choreography. My only quibble was with the very dull and subdued lighting, also attributed to Jennifer Scanlon, which to my mind, threatened to diminish the impact of the ballet.

With Gnawa, I would have hoped that Nacho Duarto, as ‘today’s’ choreographer could have brought an equally inventive and challenging offering, enriched with aspects of ethnic dance and other contemporary dance forms. However, I found it very similar to a dozen other choreographers working today, where relentless movement, clichéd patterns, lines and circles resemble a show dance for a musical rather than a serious dance work. However, the audience loved it!

© Christina Gallea Roy, October 2012