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Ballet National Marseilles

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I got to see the Ballet National de Marseilles at the Opera Royal Versailles. THis theater is wonderful and very beautiful, full of history! I like it here !

I didn't know what to expect, besides Marie-Claude Pietragalla, of course ! It was a very enjoyable event , except I wasn't, (and I'm not now !) able to put names on the faces of the dancers, except for some known ones. I noticed Benjamine Dupont, Aurelie Dupont's sister. They're looking very similar. I also saw former POB dancer Delphine Baey, now a soloist of that compagny, and MYlène Martel, I think. She won the prix Carpeaux in Valenciennes, France during the 1990 years, if I remember well.

Overall, the level of the compagny is very good, but no one is equaling the level of "Pietra", as she likes being called. She is just mesmerizing, and I find that a little embarassing for the others dancers (which are very good, but..). She's filling up the stage, and is like a light on it, really a "star", especially in the second piece of the performance, Forsythe's Approximata Sonata. Her partner, Julien Derrouault, was good also, but less than her. I think she was in a stellar night ! There were three others pairs of soloists whose I don't remeber names, sorry! But they danced very well!

The first part of the performance was Balanchine's Cappricio. Good dancers, good executions, but without Pietra it was different from the others pieces, and I was under the impression that something (or someone ?) was missing. Maybe they should try to engage one or two stars, or at least someone whose level can equal Pietra's one ? I think one of the major problem of this compagny is they have a lot of good dancers, but no stars, or great personalities, besides Pietra.

The last piece was a choregraphy of Marie-Claude Pietragalla called Fleurs d'Automne, on some very nice irish/ celtic musics.

I liked it very much, that was my favorite part of the performance. The music is fast, and so is the choregraphy, with a lot of moves very well linked together; The dancers are looking very happy, and are smiling a lot, showing a real joy of dancing. You want to dance with them. And once more time, Pietra was wonderful !!!

It was a great event, slightly different from what I usually see at the POB but it was nice to see something else. IF you can see them, go !

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Originally posted by cygneblanc

The first part of the performance was Balanchine's Cappricio. Good dancers, good executions, but without Pietra it was different from the others pieces, and I was under the impression that something (or someone ?)  was missing. Maybe they should try to engage one or two stars, or at least someone whose level  can equal Pietra's one ? I think one of the major problem of this compagny is they have a lot of good dancers, but no stars, or great personalities, besides Pietra.  

Well, it takes some time to develop a company, and nearly all the dancers of Roland Petit's time left, there has been quite a lot of turnover... Also, perhaps one problem might be that I'm not really sure that Pietragalla wants to develop other "stars" in the company besides herself: her name and face are everywhere, the advertising for the company is based mostly on her (which I find not such a great idea, because when she doesn't dance many people are disappointed, and if she leaves ot stop dancing everything will have to start again from zero) and I doubt she'd like to share it...


Do you remember which dancers danced in "Capriccio"? I wish I could have seen the company, but going to Versailles was too far from me.

su-lian, I'm not sure, but it seems to me that they will perform another program in Poissy. Perhaps the content of the programs will be written on the Ballet de Marseille's web site?

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Estelle, I think the soloists were Delphile Baey, maybe Gilles Portes and another female dancer with a japonese name, but I don't remember it.

I agree with you about Pietra and the "star system". Well, I went to see the performance in Versailles mainly to see her, so I mean I have to keep my mouth shut :D

Su-Lian, the ballet of Marseilles will perform in Poissy le sacre du printemps (but I don't which one, maybe the Maryse Delente's version ?) on may 16 and in Meudon on May 13 (Ni Dieu ni maître, Pietra's new creation)

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The 2003-2004 season of the Ballet de Marseille has been announced on its web site:


So it will include:

-"Out of focus", a world premiere by Carolyn Carlson (Sept 27- 0ct 1, at the Théâtre Toursky)

-"Don Quichotte", a new production of Marie-Claude Pietragalla after Marius Petipa (Nov 7-9, at the Marseille Opera)

-"Ni Dieu ni maître", by Pietragalla (a production premiered in January 2003)- -Nov 28-30, at the Théâtre Toursky)

-a triple bill with two new choreographies by Pietragalla, "Ivresse" and "Métamorphoses II"- dates and a world premiere by Tero Saarinen, "The Captain" (March 10-20 2004, at the Théâtre de la Criée)

Well, their repertory seems to shift more and more away from classical ballet... :)

And it is more and more the "Ballet National de Marseille- PIETRAGALLA". :wub:

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Thank you for posting that, Estelle. The company certainly does seem to be following the trend in Europe to turn ballet companies into contemporary dance companies. Do you have a sense of the audience there -- is this following their wishes, or those of the director?

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Really, I don't know much about the Marseille audience, especially as I haven't gone back to Marseille in more than one year.

During the first season of Pietragalla, I remember some disappointment in the audience, as most of the marketing was focused on "Pietragalla the ballerina, the former POB principal" while she danced mostly modern roles. It is possible that the audience has evolved in the last few years. Also, now the company performs in several theaters (while Roland Petit's company performed mostly at the Marseille Opera), it might be for some technical or financial reasons (as much of the Marseille Opera season is taken by some operas and operettes, and administratively there is as far as I know no link between the opera company and the ballet company) but perhaps also because the audience to those theaters (which mostly show theater) is different of that of the opera.

Anyway, Marseille should be a big enough city (about 1 million people, the second or third French city depending on how one counts) to have audiences for both ballet and modern dance (especially as there are few outside dance companies touring there), but now the opportunities to see some ballet are scarce...

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There seems to be a big crisis at the Ballet de Marseille:


To summarize what is written in the article:

-last week, Marc Sadaoui, the administrative director of the company (Marie-Claude Pietragalla being its artistic director) has resigned. He had joined the company in June 2002, chosen by the Ministery of Culture because the company had some serious financial problems, and there were some problems of moral harrassment and illegal firings. So far

Mr Sadaoui has given no explanation for his departure.

-more than 80% of the people working for the Ballet National de Marseille and for its school (and especially 87% of the dancers) have written an open letter to Marie-Claude Pietragalla, asking her to leave the direction of the company. They protest about the fact that too much of the company's budget (it's the most subsidized company in France after the Paris Opera Ballet) is spent on Pietragalla's own works, that there are not enough tours, complain about the program for the 2004-2005 season, and about the negative working atmosphere...

There had already been a few lines in the latest issue of the magazine "Danser", saying that Pietragalla would probably leave the company soon.

It's really sad to see such a situation... :thumbsup: It looks a little bit like what happened last year with the Ballet du Nord, whose director Maryse Delente was fired after some problems of moral harrassment (and now the company seems to be in big trouble: the ministery of Culture had chosen the modern choreographers José Montalvo and Dominique Hervieu, but they have also signed again a contract in the Théâtre National de Chaillot in Paris, and say that there could be some big financial problems with the company preventing them from accepting its direction). Well, I've always been rather unconvinced by Pietragalla's direction, especially as I think that being at the same time a principal dancer, a choreographer, a school and company director, and also dancing as a guest for other companies, generally isn't a healthy situation- and I'm suspicious about the people who suddenly discover a vocation for choreography at a late age when they are given the direction of a company. Pietragalla was chosen mostly on the basis of her fame as a POB étoile (and also most people knew her name as she had been in some ads for cosmetics...) but she had no previous experience as a director. The whole advertising for the company was centered on her, which I found not very clever- if she leaves (that seems likely) then all the company image will have to be re-built again...

Now I just hope that the next director will be someone really interested in maintaining a classical repertory. There have already been so many French ballet companies being transformed into modern companies mostly for financial reasons (and because it seems to be more fashionable for some politicians), and the main problem of most French companies except the POB is a chronical unstability: with every new director comes a new repertory, most of the dancers leave, etc. I do hope that this time most of the dancers will stay there (that was one of the good points of the company, I think) and that the next director won't be chosen on a basis of "fame" only. I've no idea who the candidates are, but when Pietragalla arrived (she wasn't even a candidate at first, it was the city of Marseille and the Ministery who asked her to come) the other candidates were very diverse, and included some ballet people like Jean-Paul Gravier (former director of the Ballet du Rhin) or Ib Andersen (lucky people in Arizona) as well as William Fortythe and the modern choreographer Régine Chopinot... There have been some rumors now about Carolyn Carlson, that doesn't make me feel optimistic :wacko:

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Here's a link to an article in "Le Monde", which says basically the same thing:


About the audience: well, it's really hard to tell, all the more as I left Marseille in the fall of 2001, and also that when I had arrived there it was Petit's last season (and his sudden departure was a surprise to everybody, and even now it isn't very clear why he left in such a way :shrug: ) Also the repertory shifted progressively to include more and more Pietragalla works: for example, this season (2003-2004) in Marseille includes only a full-length work by Carolyn Carlson, two full-length works by Pietragalla (one being her own version of "Don Quixote"), and a triple bill with two works by her and one (modern) work by Tero Saarinen. They do perform some other works on tour, but not many this season (the only "classical" works in this season's tour are "Giselle"- well, you guess, Pietragalla's version- and Balanchine's "Stravinsky Violin Concerto").

By the way, the whole repertory of the company is listed there:


So it includes Pietragalla's versions of "Giselle" (actually at first it was staged by Eric Quilleré, but there were some disagreements between him and Pietragalla), "Don Quichotte", "Raymonda" act III , and some pas de deux and pas de trois from "Paquita", "Sleeping Beauty", and "Swan Lake", three other pas de deux (from "La Sylphide", "Flower Festival in Genzano", and "Grand Pas Classique"), five original works by Pietragalla ("Sakountala", "Ni Dieu ni maître", "Fleurs d'automne", "Ivresse", "Vita"), five works by Balanchine (Rubies, The Four Temperaments, Tzigane, Stravinsky Violin Concerto, Who Cares), Richard Wherlock's "Strange Waltzes" and "Stetl", Claude Brumachon's "Les indomptés", "Les Voyageurs d'Innocence" and "Lola", Forsythe's "Approximate Sonata", Rui Horta's "Flat Space Moving", Paul Taylor's "Esplanade", Jacques Garnier's "Aunis", Carolyn Carlson's "Out of focus", Jiri Kylian's "Nuages",

Maryse Delente's "Rite of spring", and that's all- not very much, considering that some of those works haven't been danced in a while...

I don't know how popular Petit's works were in Marseille... It seems to me that his company toured a lot and didn't perform that often in Marseille; also the last season (the only one I attended) was pretty badly organized, as the calendar wasn't even available at the beginning of the season, there were no subscriptions, etc. From that point of view, the change of direction had been an improvement. I had the feeling that Marseille was far more a theater city than a ballet city (there were many active small theater companies and small theaters in the neighborhood I lived in) but it's just an impression...

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In the last few days there have been tenths of articles about the Ballet de Marseille in the French press (including a lot of national newspapers), for example




It even made the evening news on all national channels...

The company and the school are now on strike (for the first time in their history), asking for Pietragalla's departure. Pietragalla herself gave a press conference, saying that people accused her of moral harrassment but that it was herself who was harrassed. It seems that the minister of Culture has declared that it was time for her to leave.

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There's an article in the Guardian today about this:

Company revolt forces ballet director to quit

In six years as head of the prestigious Marseille ballet, she saw off four managers and sparked a strike by staff who claimed her temper terrified them.

But now Marie-Claude Pietragalla, France's highest profile dancer after Sylvie Guillem, has been forced out of her role as artistic director of the company after the intervention of a government minister.

This week most of the principals, corps de ballet and backstage staff walked out and refused to take another step until Ms Pietragalla, 41, was sacked as head of the country's most highly subsidised provincial dance company.

She shrugged off accusations of a tyrannical temperament and selfishness: "How can a five months' pregnant woman terrorise 80 dancers and staff?"

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Last week-end, the Ballet de Marseille performed a mixed bill at the Marseille Opera, including Balanchine's "Violin concerto", Forsythe's "Approximate sonata" and Saarinen's world premiere "The Captain". "The Captain" was supposed to be premiered earlier, in a different mixed bill with two Pietragalla works, but it was postponed because of the conflicts in the company (it seems that, as Roland Petit did before, Pietragalla has withdrawn all her works from the repertory).

The temporary director is Norbert Schmucki, 64, former POB dancer and répétiteur and also former ballet master of the Ballet de Marseille between 1986 and 2000. Nothing has been announced so far about the next season.

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It seems that a new director for the Ballet of Marseille will be chosen very soon.

Here's a link to an article (in French) from "La Libre Belgique", dating back from June 23th, mentioning the final list of 6 candidates chosen among 64: Frédéric Flamand (Belgian choreographer, director of Charleroi danses), Sasha Waltz (German choreographer, co-director of the Schaubühne in Berlin), Michaël Denard (former POB principal, and former director of the Staatsoper Ballet of Berlin- his name is spelled incorrectly in the article), Robert North (former dancer of the Graham company and former director of the Scottish Ballet), Yves de Bouteiller and Peter Jacobson:


According to that second article, dating from July 22th, Waltz and Denard were not candidates any longer, and Flamand would be the most likely choice:


It also is mentioned in that article from "Libération" dating from July 24th:


There also was an article about it in the Belgian newspaper "Le soir", but it no longer is freely available.

I can't help finding it extremely worrying. :blushing: The Ballet de Marseille is the second most subsidized dance company in France, and one of the only remaining ballet companies in France (even though its repertory already tended to include more and more contemporary works under Pietragalla's direction). The officials who are to choose the next director had announced that they wanted the company to remain a ballet company... but several of the candidates they chose clearly are not ballet people (I know nearly nothing about de Bouteiller and Jacobson, but North primarily was a modern dance dancer and choreographer, and Waltz and Flamand are modern dance choreographers). Their last choice of director (Pietragalla) mostly was motivated by some questions of fame and publicity, and now they really don't seem to care at all about the company's repertory- and also about the fact that there is very little need to have a ballet company in Marseille, if there is not enough French ballet companies for its students to find a job after graduating! :wacko:

Among the French ballet companies, several have been transformed into modern dance companies in recent years (sometimes they still hire classically trained dancers and dance some ballet once or twice in a season, but I don't think they still can be called ballet companies, given their repertories): the Ballet de Nancy et de Lorraine after Pierre Lacotte's departure, the Ballet du Rhin after Jean-Paul Gravier's departure, the Ballet du Nord which went throught several crises (early death of Alfonso Cata, financial problems with Jean-Paul Comelin, problems to find a director, and more recently Maryse Delente fired for moral harrassment) and now seems on the verge of disappearing completely (a few months ago the modern choreographers José Montalvo and Dominique Hervieu refused the direction of the company which was offered to them, saying that its financial situation wasn't clear enough, and so far no new director has been chosen). Those decisions were motivated partly for financial reasons (modern companies generally cost less), and sometimes also because the people in the ministery of culture or in the cities who took the decision despised ballet and found modern dance more "fashionable"...

The only remaining ballet companies outside Paris are those of Bordeaux, Toulouse, Nice... and Marseille, but until when? :blink:

And very sadly, nobody in the French press seems to pay any attention to it :(

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I know about de Bouteillier (he taught in Milwaukee, WI and can definitely make a dancer - one of his students is with Joffrey, I believe). I'm wondering if you mean Petter Jacobsen - who ran the Royal Swedish Ballet for a brief while. He is a ballet turned modern dancer (he was with Sadlers Wells in the 80s) and then went to Tharp, etc.

Please keep us informed.

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Well, "La libre Belgique" wrote "Peter Jacobson, le directeur des Ballets de Suède", but I guess if they called Michaël Denard "Michel Denart", they probably can't spell "Petter Jacobsen" either... :grinning:

It seems that the official results will be known monday.

By the way, in my previous list of French companies, there are two that I didn't mention: the Lyon Opera Ballet and the Ballets de Monte-Carlo. Both hire ballet-trained dancers, but their repertories have gone farther and farther from ballet. For example, the repertory of the next season of the Lyon Opera Balle includes works by William Forsythe, Russell Maliphant, Christian Rizzo, Angelin Preljocaj, Philippe Découflé, Trisha Brown, John Jasperse, and Sarah Michelson. For some reason I never understood, some French critics call that kind of company "neoclassical" sometimes...

The Ballets de Monte-Carlo used to have a ballet repertory, including a lot of Ballets Russes works and more than ten Balanchine works, but its director Jean-Christophe Maillot has programmed more and more of his own works, plus a handful of crossover works by Childs, Kylian, Forsythe, Hoche... On their web site, the only Balanchine works still listed as "in the repertory" are 4 Ts and "Stravinsky Violin Concerto", and all the Ballets Russes works have disappeared (while they still were performed during the first seasons of Maillot's tenure). I'm afraid that, if Flamand is chosen in Marseille, even if he's supposed to stage some classical works as well, the same kind of situation would be likely to occur (and, as far as I know, his own works are farther from ballet than Maillot's).

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That article (in French) in "La libre Belgique" says the conseil d'administration (board) of the Ballet de Marseille has chosen Frédéric Flamand, but the choice still would have too be confirmed by the minister of Culture. However, it adds that there has been no official announcement about it, neither by Flamand, nor by the Ballet de Marseille, nor by the ministery of Culture.

The second half of the article deals with the changes that would be caused by Flamand's departure for his company Charleroi/ Danses, which is by far the most subsidized dance company in Wallonie (the French-speaking part of Belgium) with 3 million euros of subsidies (500000 of which are "re-distributed to other companies"): it seems likely that if Flamand leaves, the company will probably disappear.

I do hope that there still is some hope for another decision (and doesn't it seem weird that, out of 64 candidates, the administration of the Ballet de Marseille couldn't find more ballet-oriented potential directors ? I remember that when Pietragalla was chosen, among the candidates were Jean-Paul Gravier, who had done an excellent job with the Ballet du Rhin, and also Ib Andersen- compare the shapes of the Ballet de Marseille and that of Arizona now... :( ) because now it sounds like a lose/ lose situation: loss of classical repertory for Marseille (if the officials really want a big modern dance company, why on earth can't they fund it without killing the ballet ?) and loss of its main company for Wallonie (which already had lost the Ballet de Wallonie a few years ago). :unsure:

And the near silence of the French press about all that really confirms that it really doesn't give a damn about ballet... How saddening! :(

By the way, Marc, have you seen some works by Flamand ?

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