MARSEILLE(Michael Clark & Ballets de Marseille) AVIGNON (Josef Nadj) BALLETS DE NICE- Summer 2006


Dancing Times

As the heat wave arrived in Southern France at the beginning of the Summer Festival season, it was a relief to find that most dance performances were to take place in the many parks and gardens to be found in the region. Once the sun has set on a baking Provencal day, the cicadas cease their persistent chatter, performances can start as darkness falls around 10 pm allowing the cooler evening air to bring some relief.

The dance festivals in Uzes and Montpellier were already underway in June, Montpellier presenting 44 different companies, the major ones being the Royal Ballet of Flanders, Bathsheva Dance Company and Rosas. This year’s Marseille Festival included a generous quota of dance, possibly due to the use of the attractive Park Henri Fabre which is also home to the impressive premises of the National Ballet of Marseille and the Ecole National Supérieure de Danse. The outdoor stage was built adjoining the premises, a major benefit to the dancers and technicians, and small scale performances as well as numerous classes, conferences and workshops were held in the company’s studio-theatre during the month long Festival. The Royal Ballet of Flanders was the first company to visit, presenting their Perfect Gems programme, made up of ballets by Jerome Robbins, William Forsythe and David Dawson. It took Iggy Pop to silence the cicadas in the huge plane trees surrounding the stage, but the raucous sound could not disguise the fact that Michael Clark was having trouble to live up to the much published image of ‘enfant terrible of British ballet’. Judging from the reserved but polite applause, audiences were stretched to find anything daring or original in Stravinsky Project Part 1, either in the short opening work, or the version of Apollo which followed. The company of seven dancers performed before a set of white revolving doors in costumes which did little to add interest to the limited and repetitive choreography made up of almost static Laban-based movements interspersed with outbursts of classical class room enchainements. More curiously, Michael Clark in a short white overall and with bare legs and feet, made a number of brief non-dancing entrances and exits between what appeared to be some other activity backstage. The comparison with the beautifully trained dancers of a small group from different companies in Rotterdam which performed earlier the same evening was all the more cruel to Clark’s group which comprised some very varied physiques and standards. The Dutch dancers performed five pas de deux, entitled Back to Basics, originally commissioned by the Holland Dance Festival in 2005. If Kylian’s long domination of the Dutch dance scene can account for certain similarities among the four different choreographers, Ed Wubbe, director of Scapino Ballet, created a strikingly original duet superbly performed by Natalia Horenca and Tadayoshi Kokeguchi which won them an ovation.

Metapolis 11, the third and final part of Director, Frederic Flamand’s trilogy concerning the relationship between architecture and dance, was the Ballet National de Marseille’s contribution to the festival. As with all Flamand’s works, design is the key part of the performance and he has collaborated this year with the renowned Iraqi-British architect, Zaha Hadid who is responsible for the attractive stage and costume design. The set is made up of a 3-part metal construction which is pushed around the stage by the dancers, forming different shapes and patterns as well as offering different performing levels. As with Flamand’s previous works, and no doubt due to the fact that he has no background as a dancer or a choreographer, the choreography is a collaborative effort produced by his dancers. It was performed in front of multiple layers of film and video images. The sound collage, a relentlessly throbbing of electronic sound with occasional passages of piano and cello music, dictated an equally inexorable continuum of movement performed with unflagging energy by the magnificent dancers of the Ballet National de Marseille. However, the lack of any true choreographic invention, indeed of any structure to the performance, made seventy-five minutes seem an eternity despite the welcome distraction of a rising moon and a ceiling of stars.

After the excesses of last year’s Avignon Festival when Jan Fabre and his company from Belgium filled the huge expanses of the Cour d’Honneur of the Popes’ Palace with a Bosch-like vision of hell – leaving the stage literally awash with torrents of water – this year’s offering by Josef Nadj and his Centre Choregraphique National from Orleans was a more muted affair. The Hungarian born Nadj has worked and lived in France for twenty-five years, and besides being a dancer and choreographer is also an artist, sculptor and photographer. At Avignon, there is hardly a higher honour than to present the opening performance at the Popes’ Palace and with the traditional fanfare of trumpets to issue in the start of the performance, the typical ‘ready-for-anything’ Avignon audience had high expectations of the performance entitled Asobu, Japanese for ‘game’. The sixteen strong company were found seated at a long table, dressed in uniform grey suits, the men all balding or with shaven heads, resembling a group of survivors from a concentration camp. They twitch and gyrate, roll and crawl to the accompaniment of a group of musicians placed on the side of the huge stage pounding drums and percussion. There are quieter moments of deeply felt ‘Angst’ and many more scenes of more violent twitching, falling, rolling and a change into uniform black suits., Of the performers, the five female members are obviously good dancers and the men, including four Japanese Bhutto dancers, are led by Nadj himself. Delegated as ‘Creative Associate’ of the entire Festival, Nadj was presumably responsible for choosing the other dance companies, all small contemporary groups, taking part at Avignon. The days when major international companies such as those of Maurice Béjart, Martha Graham or William Forsythe were regularly to be seen in Avignon, seemed to have disappeared.

Coming to Vaison-la-Romaine brought home the reality of the hazards of outdoor performing. Performers learn to cope with moths and mosquitoes, even inquisitive bats and errant cats, but moisture, whether in forms of rivulets of dampness on the linoleum dance floor or a summer downpour is the most perilous of situations. Storm clouds gathered ominously over the 2,000 metre-high Mont Ventoux outside of Vaison all afternoon, but it was only just thirty minutes before the performance to be given by Sylvie Guillem and Russell Maliphant, that a storm of apocalyptic proportions descended on Vaison washing away all hopes of a performance that evening. Other, more successful visitors to ‘Vaison Danse 2006’ were groups from Japan, Ballet Nacional de Espana and from the USA, – Bill T.Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company and Tamango’s Urban Tap.

Back to the Riviera, the Ballet de l’Opéra of Nice performed in the gardens opposite the Promenade des Anglais presenting director, Marc Ribaud’s version of Carmen. If the music was too loud, the lights too garish, and the pas de deux decidedly too long, the performance took on the character of a popular festival attracting enthusiastic capacity audiences of tourists and locals. Marc Ribaud’s nine year directorship in Nice ends this year and the future of the Company is as yet uncertain. There were numerous other outdoor performances along the Cote-d’Azur this summer and, as last year, a busy

programme of dance at Chateauvallon, outside of Toulon. The season culminated in style with two weeks of performances given by the Ballets de Monte-Carlo on a specially constructed stage on the terrace of the Casino de Monte Carlo, the Mediterranean on one side, the ornate facade of the Casino on the other. Les Nuits de la Danse included ballets by director Jean-Christophe Maillot, including his full-length Cinderella as well as works by Forsythe, Cherkaoui and Maurice Bejart’s Bolero.