CANNES DANCE FESTIVAL – November-December 2009


Systeme Castafiore – STAND ALONE ZONE

Danses Concertantes – TRIPLE BILL

Ballet de l’Opéra de Lyon – GISELLE


This year’s Cannes Dance Festival was dedicated to Rosella Hightower, the much loved American-born ballerina, teacher, and director, from 1961, of the Centre International de Danse in Cannes, who sadly died just a year ago. During the 1960’s and 1970’s the dance centre was a Mecca, not only for students from all around the world, but, especially in the summer months, for professional dancers who were able to take advantage of a daily class given by some of the best teachers in Europe, and still spend part of the day on the Riviera beach. It was also a valuable meeting place for dancers, teachers, directors and choreographers. A nostalgic, commemorative performance was given during the festival by students of the present-day school together with former students, now dancing with companies around Europe.

Another local group is Systeme Castafiore, based in Grasse, which create multi-media performances, involving dancers, but excelling in producing extraordinary video projected images which form part of the action. Director, Karl Biscuit, is a composer, performer and responsible for the production in collaboration with the Brazilian choreographer, Marcia Barcellos. Premiered at the festival, Stand Alone Zone creates an otherworldly space, a post-apocalyptic underworld of labyrinths and tunnels, ruined buildings, abandoned rooms and spaces inhabited by humans and monsters. The costumes, lighting and soundtrack are all well conceived, and the dancing, of which one would have wished more, was excellent. An unexpected treat was to see Monique Loudieres, former ballerina of the Paris Opera Ballet and more recently director of the Hightower school, returning to the stage with the company.

Eagerly awaited was the visit of Benjamin Millepied with his company Danses Concertantes. French-born Millepied has made his career with New York City Ballet and besides his multiple activities, is still a principal dancer there. This season alone, he has choreographed a new ballet for American Ballet Theatre, revived a ballet for the Paris Opera Ballet, re-worked a solo for Mikhail Baryshnikov, commenced work, as choreographer and actor, on a dance film (‘The Black Swan’) as well as creating a new ballet for his touring company. In Cannes, the company, made up of dancers from ABT, performed a Triple Bill, all of Millepied’s choreography. The opening ballet Closer, to music by Philip Glass, is a pas de deux, danced in white ‘undies’- a must-have costume this season- and the fluid choreography was well danced by Maria Riccetto and Blaine Hoven. Choreographing a pure dance work to piano music by Chopin inevitably risks comparison with Jerome Robbins’ supremely successful Dancers at a Gathering, and Millepied cannot compete with the master, and his mentor when he arrived at NYCB. In Without the American dancers took a while to warm up, remaining cool and uncommunicative at first, but as the work progressed with an extended series of pas de deux, some expression and excitement did emerge. After the lean, supple, athletic style we have become accustomed to in Europe, their soft, lyrical way of dancing seems curiously dated. The pas de deux are inventive, with many unusual lifts and promenades, but repetition sets in and there are clumsy moments, not helped by unbecoming costumes for the girls and very subdued and unflattering lighting. The final work, Anima was premiered at the festival and this was surprisingly different. The whole company, costumed in billowing full-length black dresses, danced in a fury of swooping and swirling movement, leaping and lunging, to a deafening recording of music by J S Bach and Julien Tarride. At last there was some impressive energy, and if it remained somewhat pointless, the dancers seemed to revel in the challenge and won a rousing reception.      

For followers of  more contemporary dance styles, there was a mixed bag of performances, including the Ballet de Lorraine from Nancy, performing two works by the Portuguese choreographer Paulo Ribeiro, smaller experimental companies based in France and Italy, the Belgian Group Charleroi /Danses, and a Japanese group, Dumb Type, presenting a multi-media performance. In response to France’s fascination with Hip-Hop, the Company Pockemon Crew premiered their version of L’Aprềs-midi d’un faun, and more hip-hop was featured in a musical presently touring France, Zoopsie Comedi costumed by Christian Lacroix. 

However, the revelation of the festival was a production of Mats Ek’s modern version of Giselle, created in 1982 for the Cullberg Ballet and performed in Cannes by the Ballet de l’Opéra de Lyon, a company directed by Yorgos Loukos, who is also responsible for the Cannes Dance Festival. This work, internationally acclaimed, still looks as fresh as at the time of the premiere and has been meticulously re-staged for the Lyon Company by Ana Laguna, Mats Ek’s muse and original Giselle. A South African-born dancer, Caelyn Knight was touchingly naïve in the title role, earthily peasant-like in contrast to the aristocratic Albrecht played by Denis Terrasse. The Chinese dancer, Jiang Yang was a superlative Hilarion and all the male dancers in the first act impressive. The second act, an asylum where Giselle has become an inmate, is perhaps less successful than the first, demanding a change of choreographic style or perhaps it needs the dominating presence of an Ana Laguna, described by the New York Times critic in 1982 as ‘a cannonball force’. However, all the women excel in this scene and are both pitiful and terrifying. It is a pity that Ek has not revised the work’s anti-climatic ending, but the ballet provided a wonderfully successful finale to this year’s festival.

©copyright Christina Gallea Roy December 2009