The DREAM with Ballets de Monte-Carlo & SACRED MONSTERS at Vaison-la-Romaine- Summer 2011

Le Songe, Ballets de Monte-Carlo

Opéra de Monte-Carlo – 14 July 2011

Sacred Monsters, Sylvie Guillem & Akram Kahn

Théatre Antique, Vaison-la Romaine – 16 July 2011

Dancing Times 

Summer brought forth the usual explosion of dance performances in southern France, starting with the Festival de Marseille in June. Titled ‘Out of Africa’ the festival brought together dancers and dance groups from the continent on the other side of the Mediterranean, as well as companies from Brazil and the USA where the influence of Africa is felt strongest. The Ailey II company performed ‘highlights’ from Alvin Ailey’s ballets and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui  collaborated with the South African dancer Gregory Maqoma. However, Akram Khan and the Merce Cunningham Company were also present, giving classes and workshops as well as performing.  After the excesses of last year’s huge 30th anniversary festival, Montpellier Danse’s programme concentrated this year on different forms of physical theatre, including the circus, and brought in Raimund Hoghe, the very individual German performer as an associate festival director. The only mainstream dance company was the Royal Ballet of Flanders with a programme of William Forsythe ballets, and other international visitors were Hofesch Shechter and Meryl Tankard.  As in recent years, dance was conspicuous by its absence at the Avignon Festival, but one major event was programmed in the magnificent outdoor setting of the Palais des Papes, with Anne Teresa de Keersmaker’s new work for her Rosas company. Choreographed to polyphonic music of the 14th century, Cesena was performed at the unusual time of 4 am, scheduled as a meeting of night and day. Apparently about eight thousand people did turn up, over the four days of performances, to witness this event.

The Ballets de Monte-Carlo presented a more conventional programme in the sumptuously ornate setting of the Opéra de Monte-Carlo, designed by the same architect, Charles Garnier, as Paris’s opera house. Le Songe (The Dream) was created by company director, Jean-Christophe Maillot in 2005 for the company’s 20th anniversary season. As with all of Maillot’s ballets, Le Songe has a simple but effective stage design with gleaming white pillars and movable rostra under a milky ceiling of smoky clouds. Maillot has used  Mendelssohn’s incidental music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream  as well as commissioning new music from two composers in contrasting styles: Daniel Teruggi’s electronics are somewhat strident for the fairy world, but Betrand Maillot has created a fitting accompaniment of folk-music using bells and percussion for the ‘rude mechanicals’. The performance started promisingly with some joyously fluid choreography for the two couples of lovers and good use of the workmen to link the scenes together. Entering the fairy world, in the woods of Athens, Jerome Marchand is a frightening, macho Oberon, with bulging thighs covered in fur and threateningly piercing horns. Jeroen Verbruggen is a perfect Puck, fast moving and wickedly amusing, while Titania was danced by Mimoza Koike, replacing the company ballerina, Bernice Coppetiers, who created the role in 2005. Marchand and Verbruggen have the most interesting choreography with some acrobatic leaps and falls, which they bring off with élan, while Koike, while being a charming dancer, lacks Coppetiers inimitable, very individual, style and dominant presence.  However, there is something very dark about this Dream, and as the action continues, the situations and the characters lose their clarity, the scenes with the lovers becoming almost violent, and those with the fairies more and more steamingly erotic. Even the corps de ballet of fairies look more like dancers from a seedy music hall. This is not relieved by the comedy scenes with the workmen, which are much too long and the humour overdone. With Bottom’s transformation into an ass, he is not a lovable beast with whom Titania falls in love, but a brutish one who entangles her in a long and somewhat tedious sexual battle. However, as always, the dancers of the Ballets de Monte-Carlo impressed with their ability and the commitment they bring to everything they do.

Open-air performances included a busy season at Chateauvallon, high on the hills above Toulon, and the Ballets Nice Mediterranée performing in the Théatre de la Verdure in the centre of Nice. However, the most attractive of the open-air venues must be the Théatre Antique, a roman amphitheatre,  in the small Provençal town of Vaison-la-Romaine, where the annual festival ‘Vaison Danses’ takes place. With three thousand people filling a two thousand- year- old auditorium, expectations are always high, and on the night when Sylvie Guillem and Akram Kahn were to perform their programme, Sacred Monsters,( first performed at Sadler’s Wells in 2006,) nerves were jangling as some heavy raindrops hit the stage floor. However, this was short-lived and the performance went ahead without more problems. This is an unlikely partnership, with two dancers from totally differing cultures and origins and trained in almost opposing dance styles. The programme, which incorporates much speech and improvisation, was doubtlessly a success in the smaller, familiar setting of Sadler’s Wells. However, in this grandiose setting, to which the majority of the audience would have travelled many miles ostensibly to see France’s most famous classical ballerina, it is questionable how successful the informal format was. Akram Kahn’s opening Kathak solo was impressive, but what followed was little more than a couple of likable dancers ‘fooling around’. as dancers do in a dance studio, and the commentary, during which they exchanged childhood memories as well as exploring their lives as dancers and performers, became little more than some kind of adolescent soul-searching. Undoubtedly, both are highly talented and interesting dance artists, but to be viable on international tours I felt the performance needed a great deal more substance. Other visitors to Vaison-la-Romaine, included the Ailey 11 company, the Malandain Ballet Biarritz, performing Thierry Malandain’s version of Romeo and Juliet and companies from Spain, Algeria and Vietnam.