DON QUIXOTE – December 2010 and LA BELLE – January 2011

DON QUIXOTE- Ballet Nice Mediterranée- December 2010

LA BELLE – Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo- January 2011

Recent performances in Nice and Monte-Carlo have raised the question, yet again, what to do with our heritage of 19th century ballets, and in particular, the treasured classical works of Marius Petipa. Do we preserve them like museum pieces, carefully re-mounting and performing them in versions as close as possible to the original, or do we re-write the story, re-arrange the music and re-invent the choreography with the intention of transporting them into the 21st century? At the opera house in Nice, former danseur étoile of the Paris Opéra Ballet, Eric Vu An, now directs the newly formed Ballet Nice Mediterranée following a hiatus of several years without a full-sized ballet company. The new ensemble, together for just over a year, ambitiously presented a resolutely traditional Don Quixote based on the Petipa/Gorsky version which Vu An originally mounted in 1995, in Bordeaux, during his tenure as director of the resident ballet company. It was a pleasure to see the hallmark of a year’s training in the style of the Paris Opéra Ballet, and the youthful company danced with finesse and precision. The first act played in a realistic, 19th century-style setting, and had a suitably light touch with Julia Bailet a cheeky and attractive Kitri. With the scene changes to the Taverne Scene and the second act Vision Scene, the story-line and the action becomes muddled, and Don Quixote’s involvement very tenuous. For this ballet to be more than just a suite of divertissements, stronger characterisations and more interplay between the dancers is essential. Act 3 is packed with ensemble dances as well as the famous pas de deux, which Julia Bailet and her partner, Jean-Sebastien Colau, tackled tentatively and not without visible strain. This needs to be tossed off with enjoyment and both dancers have a strong enough technique to do this. Possibly the company just need more performances, but working within the restraints of the opera house ‘stagione’ system, they will not get more ballet performances until April, and then with a new programme. In all, Eric vu An’s production is to be admired and it is a promising re-birth to a much-needed classical company in the region.

In Monte-Carlo Jean-Christophe Maillot has been director and principal choreographer since 1993 and a number of his soloists and principals have spent most of their careers with him. It is a company with a distinct style, a happy mixture of classical and contemporary dance, and the 2001 production of La Belle, has been one of his greatest successes. The ballet he has created is a complete re-writing of The Sleeping Beauty – apparently following Perrault’s original story from 1697 -, which is a much darker and more serious story than we are used to. Carabosse is not just a bad fairy, but is also the prince’s mother, an overpowering and evil character, intent on ruining her son’s future happiness and on destroying Beauty (Belle). Act 1 is titled ‘The Universe of the Prince’ and is set in a fairy tale world of colourful characters, imaginatively costumed by Philippe Guillotel. The Prince is visited by the Lilac Fairy (the excellent April Ball) and tussles with his father as well as the terrifying figure of the mother/Carabosse. The Lilac Fairy gives the prince a crystal ball, in which he sees a vision of his future and of Belle. In fact there are balls, balloons and bubbles everywhere, symbols of fertility in the rounded bellies of the characters, and of mystery. In Act 2, ‘The Universe of Beauty’, Belle arrives, on cue, with the music for the Rose Adagio, but she is encased in a huge, translucent ball. The would-be suitors are not the usual well-mannered princes, but seven athletic young men who break up the ball and rip off  her clothing. This involves some impressive dancing from the male dancers, leading to Beauty’s solo, full of Maillot’s lyrical and controlled choreography, superbly performed by Bernice Coppetiers, but she is still in danger of gang rape, the men encouraged by Carabosse in yet another disguise, and is saved just in time by the Lilac Fairy, who rescues her and gently puts her to sleep. Having cut up and re-used the ballet score up to now, the final scene is danced to Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture. Belle’s awakening inevitably leads to a series of love pas de deux, the first initiated by what is claimed to be the longest kiss in ballet (two minutes and thirteen seconds), during which the couple manage to continue entwining. If the ballet lacks a comprehensible or believable story-line, and I can’t imagine anyone could follow this without serious study of the programme notes, the production looks beautiful, with many stunning images created by Ernest Pignon Ernest’s set design. Asier Uriagereka is a likeable prince and George Oliveira a suitably terrifying Carabosse and the company, as always, impress with their cohesion and their commitment. Interestingly, for these Christmas seasons, both theatres were sold out and audiences responded to these two very different versions of Petipa ‘classics’ with equal enthusiasm.