JAMES THIERREE at Theatre de Nice & PHILIPPE GENTY in Cannes – May 2007

Dancing Times

With three good-sized companies based in the Provence-Cote d’Azur region, dance lovers should be assured of a generous offering of interesting performances with companies competing amicably for audiences and local recognition. However, during the present season the Ballet National de Marseille, The Ballet Preljocaj and the Ballets de Monte-Carlo have all been noticeable by their absence. All three companies enjoy generous local funding and have acquired large and attractive purpose built headquarters.

The Ballet National de Marseille give just 13 performances in Marseille this season, nine of which are repeat performances of director, Frederic Flamand’s ‘architectural’ trilogy created since his appointment in Marseille. The Company is touring extensively, all over France, as well as to Spain, Austria, Poland, Switzerland and will make a first visit to the USA, performing at the Lincoln Center in New York in July. However, a planned new production based on the life of billionaire Howard Hughes had some workshop performances in April and while the company gives just around fifty performances this year, they pursue a policy of open classes and rehearsals both for the Company and the affiliated school in Marseille.

The Ballets Preljocaj have a packed programme of performances at their new headquarters in Aix-en-Provence- but, with visiting companies. These include the Ballets de 1’Europe and the Ballets National de Marseille (from just twenty kilometres away) and the Company of Maguy Marin among the numerous French contemporary groups. The Ballets Preljocaj perform in Aix-en-Provence just twelve times this season although invitations abound for open rehearsals, open classes, workshops, even aperitives and discussions.

The company also tour extensively throughout France and this season go further afield to Warsaw, Budapest, Zagreb and even to New Zealand. The only new work of the season, Eldorado, a collaboration with the German composer, Karlheinz Stockhausen, will be given during the Summer Festival season.

Following the successful ‘home’ season given by the Ballets de Monte- Carlo for their 20th anniversary season it is perhaps to be expected that this season would be different. In fact, it couldn’t be more so. Company director, Jean-Christophe Maillot, has ventured into film direction, a new version of the Cinderella story with the company dancers involved as actors as well as dancers. Maillot has also directed an opera for the first time, responding to an invitation to mount Faust for the National Theatre of Wiesbaden. No doubt these extra-muros activities have meant cut-backs in Monte-Carlo, and the traditional spring season has been replaced by a series of workshop performances by company members. The planned new full-length production planned for the Summer is now to be replaced by further performances of last season’s production of The Dream.

But it is the absence of classical ballet, once such an integral part of the dance season in these parts when the local companies were directed by luminaries such as Rosella Hightower, Roland Petit, Lycette Darsonal and Pierre Lacotte, that makes such a difference. The Ballet of the Opera of Kiev, giving a single performance of The Nutcracker in Nice, has been the only classical event this year and there are no others in sight. The proliferation of Junior Companies continues and Monique Loudière, ex-ballerina from the Paris Opéra and now director of the “Ecole Supérieure de Danse de Cannes Rosella Hightower”, organised an International Meeting of Junior Ballets, where the Cannes Jeunes Ballets hosted Junior Companies

from Biarritz and from Tuscany in Cannes. As was the case at the Monaco Dance Forum in December 2006, the standards presented by these companies of graduate students do not auger well for future classical dancers but the youthful performers attack contemporary works, often by well-known choreographers, competently and with relish. Obviously, with the demise of most of France’s classically-based companies, most of their future careers will be, by necessity, in contemporary companies, if they choose to stay in France.

As if by compensation, local audiences were treated to two excellent and entertaining performances, the Compagnie James Thierrée at the Théatre de Nice and Compagnie Philippe Genty at the Palais des Festivals in Cannes. Although neither can be classed as dance companies, their performances could only be presented by performers who are trained dancers. James Thierrée can be remembered as a child skipping and somersaulting through his parents’ charming performance Le Cirque Imaginaire and growing up within these surroundings has left him with a multitude of talents; circus acrobatics, juggling, dancing, even playing the violin and pantomime, where he eerily resembles his grandfather, the great Charles Chaplin. His company enjoyed a highly successful season at the Peacock Theatre in London in 2005 and his new programme Aurevoir Parapluie will come to Sadler’s Wells in late October. Described as a version of the Orpheus legend with an optimistic ending and accompanied by long, philosophical programme notes, the new work is, however, a conjuror’s box of magical effects full of imagination, fantasy and many-sided talent. Although the five performers are all excellent, the visual element of the performance overrides everything, both the costumes (designed by Thierrée’s mother, Victoria Chaplin-Thierrée) and the stage design which constantly changes and transforms so effectively it appears to be choreographed. Still only twenty-seven years old, Thierrée is full of a dynamic energy and the company is obviously enjoying a particularly successful year which includes seasons in Paris, London and New York.

The Compagnie Philippe Genty was once awarded the prize for the best dance company at the Edinburgh Festival, but the performers are obviously actors, puppeteers, illusionists as well as dancers. Touring internationally for almost thirty years, Genty has developed a unique style of performance, full of magical effects, beautifully presented and above all, beautifully lit. The current production, La Fin des Terres, (Land’s End) was performed in London in January as part of the London Mime Festival and critics agreed that the work has some longeurs. Perhaps a more sophisticated and polished a performance than that of Thierrée, it is not only a dream landscape, but an other-worldly space where absurd, surrealistic and even grotesque images are challenging and unsettling. Huge plastic balloons swallow people up, others appear out of an abandoned suitcase, a huge stick insect courts a young woman – as so often these days the skimpy printed programme offers a long poem of philosophical content which does little to offer any clarification- probably it doesn’t matter. With the summer festival season in sight, balletomanes will once again be spoiled for choice, not only by the amount of dance on offer but by the diversity of the wonderful open-air sites where these events take place. Once again there is plenty of contemporary dance on offer, including a visit by Nederlands Dans Theatre to Montpellier, but the National Ballet of Cuba, performing Giselle in Vaison-La-Romaine appears to be the only classical company to make the journey to the South of France.