Tabac Rouge- Compagnie du Hanneton/ Grand Théatre de Provence/ 9.April 2014

Les Nuits- Ballet Preljocaj/ Palais des Festivals de Cannes/ 21 February 2014

 Ballet Nice Méditeranée / Opéra de Nice/ 13 April 2014

 Ballet du Grand Théatre de Genève/ Grimaldi Forum Monte-Carlo/16 April 2014


This has been a bumper spring dance season in the South of France with all the local companies presenting new programmes and several visiting companies. Among these are a number of performances which do not fall into any special category, performed by trained dancers they are an imaginative mixture of dance, mime, puppets and above all, magic and illusion. Two exceptional performances were given by the Philippe Genty Company in N’oublie me pas (Forget me not) at the Théatre de Grasse and Aurélia Thierrée in Murmurs des Murs  devised, designed, directed and choreographed by her mother, Victoria Chaplin-Thierrée in Nice.   

Aurélia’s brother, James Thierrée, was also on tour in France following his season at Sadler’s Wells and appeared in Aix-en-Provence with his newest production, Tabac Rouge. This is a curious and multi-layered work, one of great theatricality, of mystery, drama and humour. Thierrée’s previous works have relied heavily on his own multiple talents as an actor, a dancer, a circus artist, acrobat, juggler, violinist – the list seems endless. Created in 2013, the huge central role in Tabac Rouge was created by Denis Lavant, a popular actor on stage and film, however Thierrée has now taken over and I suspect the production gains from this. The audience enters to find an open stage, cluttered with all the equipment one usually wishes to hide – stage lights, bars, ropes and pulleys as well as an extraordinary collection of shabby furniture and elaborate old machinery. Thierrée designed the stage set, presumably the lighting, as well as arranging the sound track, and as with Murmurs, Victoria designed the costumes. During the first scenes, Thierrée is in dirty grey working clothes, with an ashen white face and tousled white-grey hair. Everything is messy and dusty, as are the six women and two men dancers who collaborate in what he has called a ‘choré-drama’, including dancers in his production for the first time. These  are kept busy pushing and pulling scenery and furniture back and forth at great speed which adds to the general confusion on stage. Thierrée is quoted as originally seeing his role as the director of a rehearsal, but this changes to become one of a king, a tyrant, seated crumpled and twisted in a filthy, torn arm chair or seated majestically at an oversize table cluttered with ornaments and papers. He is waited on by an elegant, but dust-covered butler and entertained by a girl contortionist resembling a court jester, while smoking a large ornate pipe and spewing forth clouds of smoke. Bombarding the audience with images and ideas, this “millefeuille of multiple possibilities” is left up to the audience to make sense of. During the second part of the performance his character changes to a more recognisable Thierrée and one of the strongest scenes is a straight forward dance one, in which he leads the dancers, in an almost acrobatic style of  choreography, both loose-limbed and robotic. This exciting, highly energetic scene builds up an ever-increasing tension on stage, well backed up musically and excellently danced. There are some longeurs in the evening but there is an extraordinary final scene when the ‘king’ rips to pieces the huge metal, mirror-covered screen which has been constantly pushed around the stage, climbed and clambered over. This is then hoisted high above the stage bringing about multiple images of the action below while sparkling and reflecting in the stage lights as it spins and revolves. It is a breathtaking image, threatening a crazed end-of-the world scenario.

Performances by several ballet companies in the region were of less interest. Ballet Preljocaj, based in Aix-en-Provence, performed in Cannes with Preljocaj’s latest production Les Nuits, after the Arabian Nights. The choreographer was inspired by the erotic element of these stories and apparently also by the plight of women such as Scheherazade, “an example of a woman caught between submission and domination”. Unfortunately, the resulting ballet is more a Bollywood-type extended orgy of simulated sex of every variety, performed to a soundtrack of electronic music and Arabian ‘pop’.

 Ballet Nice Mediterranée performed a programme of ballets by Jiri Kylian, Ben Stevenson and Alvin Ailey which had a distinctly 1970’s look about it, even to the flared trousers in Ailey’s Night Creatures.  Kylian’s Sinfonietta from 1978 is danced to Janacek’s score inspired by Czech folk music and in front of Walter Nobbe’s evocative backdrop of the wide, rolling plains of Central Europe. The choreography is above all fluid, full of groups meeting and parting, demanding a homogeneity and interaction between the dancers which can only be achieved with time. I felt that the Nice dancers were still working hard to get through the choreography, despite their commitment. The only ballet of the season where a pointe shoe could be seen, Ben Stevenson’s Three Preludes to Rachmaninov was created for the Harkness Youth Ballet is 1969 and continues to be performed by ballet companies all over the world. It is a lightweight pas de deux, an amorous duet which takes place in a ballet studio and inconsequential as it is, it is obviously an audience-pleaser. As is Alvin Ailey’s Night Creature, danced to Duke Ellington’s ‘sassy’ score with the dancers strutting, leaping, and wiggling through a variety of dance idioms, by which Ailey’s mastery in using groups of dancers, and not taking himself too seriously shines through.   

The Monaco Dance Forum has become a much smaller event than in its earlier years, and the Ballet of the Grand Theatre of Geneva was one just two companies invited this year. The programme consisted of ballets by Ken Ossola and Andonis Foniadakis. These are typical of today’s younger choreographers in Europe, Ossola began his career with Nederlands Dans Theater, Foniadakis with Béjart, and after working with several European companies, both are now free-lance choreographers. Ossola’s Lux to Fauré’s Requiem and Foniadakis’s Glory to an electronically mauled version of Handel’s Gloria displayed an attractively athletic company which responded generously to the considerable physical demands made upon them. However, a perpetuum mobile of aerobic movement does not create dance, nor do clouds of smoke and flashing lights make a performance.