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Roland Petit program, POB, March 3

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Here's a copy of a review I just posted in alt.arts.ballet:


Roland Petit suddenly left the direction of the Ballet de Marseille two

years ago, after more than two decades, but still is active, at 76, with

other companies. Last fall, he created a new work for the Paris Opera

Ballet, "Clavigo", and a few weeks ago, he re-staged some of the early

works for the company: "Carmen", "Les Forains" and "Le Jeune homme et la


Though those works were created in the 1940s, they entered the POB's

repertory only in the 1990s. But the POB dancers are now quite familiar

with Petit's style (it is interesting to notice that no less than 15

dancers chose some of his works as their "free" variation for the POB

competition on March 10).

The evening began with "Les Forains", which had entered the repertory of

the POB dance school before being performed by the company itself in 1993.

"Les Forains" was premiered in 1945 by Petit's first company, the Ballets

des Champs-Elysees. It is quite typical of Petit's style: its atmosphere

and theatricality are as important as the choreography itself... Petit had

the luck to work with very talented people from the beginning: the score

was composed for him by Henri Sauguet, Boris Kochno wrote the libretto,

and Christian Berard mae the sets and costumes. The plot is simple: a

troupe of wandering comedians arrives in a village, gives a performance in

the street, and depart (being given no money by the audience).

I had already seen this work performed by the Ballet de Marseille at the

Maison de la Danse de Lyon, and found the POB performance slightly

disappointing- it's hard to say why, since all the dancers were very good,

but perhaps it was because it was more suited to a small stage such as

that of the Maison de la Danse, rather to the big one of the Palais

Garnier (with all its gold and red velvet), and so part of the magic was

missing. Among the little shows performed by the comedians, one could

especially notice Jeremie Belingard's lively clown, Celine Talon as a

dancer with white veils "a la Loie Fuller", Fanny Grose (little girl from

the POB school) as a tiny acrobat, and Yann Saiz and Stephanie Romberg as

a magician and a mysterious "sleeping beauty" (both nice, but lacking

the stage presence of Jan Broeckx and Paola Cantalupo with the

Ballet de Marseille).

The second work of the program, "Carmen", was premiered in London in 1949,

with Zizi Jeanmaire in the main role, and has been very successful since

then. It had entered the POB's repertory in 1990, with Isabelle Guerin and

Laurent Hilaire in the main roles. Here, Carmen was danced by the charming

Fanny Gaida, and Don Jose was Kader Belarbi (unfortunately, he seems not

to get on well with Petit, so that he's cast less often than before in his

ballets- it's a pity, because he's at his best in such roles). HerveCourtain, Laure Muret and Stephane Elizabe were especially humorous and

bright as the main three Brigands (thieves), and Clave's sets and costumes

were a real delight.

The last ballet of the evening, "Le jeune homme

et la mort", was Petit's first big success, in 1946

(premiered by Jean Babilee and Nathalie Philippart).

Since then, Petit has staged it for many talented male

dancers (in a documentary about him made a few years ago,

it was interesting to see some excerpts of several versions

of this ballet, with the original cast, Nureyev/ Jeanmaire,

Baryschnikov/? and Dupond/ Makarova...) In 1993, it was

one of the first big "etoile" roles of Nicolas Le Riche,

and since then Le Riche has become one of Petit's favorite

dancers. In the performance I saw, it was performed

by Yann Bridard and Delphine Moussin; both are talented

premiers danseurs who are especially at ease with Petit's

style. I had already seen Bridard in this role (with

Pietragalla) in 1995, and he was very bright and moving again.

Moussin was perhaps a little bit too small for Bridard,

but else she was a fascinating, seductive Death.

The whole program was welcomed with enthusiasm by the Paris Opera audience, and the applauses were shared by Stephane Deneve, who was conducting the Orchestre Lyrique de Paris that evening.

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Thanks for posting this, Estelle. Your reviews are interesting (as always!) I have to say I'm glad the audience liked a Petit program. I've always found Jeune Homme effective (I only saw Nureyev on film, and saw it onstage with the Marseilles company several times), I'm quite fond of Carmen, and have always wanted to see Les Forains. I understand what you mean about the small stage, though. I've often wished there were a really fine chamber ballet company that wanted to do Tudor, and early Ashton, and Petit, and other ballets that are full of detail and need great, small performances. In Heaven, perhaps....

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Thanks for your comments, Alexandra.

Do you remember which dancers of the Ballet de Marseille you saw? I had seen it around 1997, with Lienz Chang (Cuban dancer) and Dominique Khalfouni (one of her last performances with the company).

About the stages: in the mid-80s, the POB used to perform at the Opera Comique sometimes (for example, I think that the Tudor program was danced there), and most critics wrote later that its small stage was more suited to some ballets than that of Garnier (let alone Bastille, which is really huge...) But they haven't performed at the Opera Comique for a while, except for a gala around 1994.

I also had a similar feeling about "Jardin aux lilas": I saw it twice, once at the Maison de la Danse de Lyon (smaller stage, and with seats closer to the stage), by the Ballet du Rhin, and once at the Opera Garnier, by the POB. Though the POB cast was better, the atmosphere was much more efficient in Lyon...

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Good to hear that the Petit programme is a success and that these works from 50+ years ago have kept their freshness.

We see little of Petit in the UK. The Mukhamedev Company performed his 'Bolero' recently, but even with Irek and Asylmurtova, it looked a very poor work. Everyone has their off days - shame when Petit performances are so rare.

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Alexandra, it probably was Luigi Bonino. He was one of the principals of the Ballet de Marseille, and now restages Petit's works for other companies. He was mostly known as a character dancer (for example, dancing the main role in Petit's Chaplin ballet), so I really wonder what he looked like in that role...

I'd have liked to see Gil. I only saw him in a solo program last season in Marseille, but even in his 40s, he still has such a great stage presence...

Jjfan, that "Bolero" is one of Petit's last works for the Ballet de Marseille. I generally find that his best works are his earliest ones...

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