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PROUST ACCORDING TO ROLAND PETIT

 

 

By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 19 APRIL 2007Proust ou les intermittences du cœur was one of the first full-length works created for Petit's own company, the Ballet of Marseilles shortly after he became their director, and after making a first appearance at the Palais Garnier in 1988, it has now happily entered into the repertoire of the Paris Opéra Ballet.

Roland Petit, probably the greatest and certainly one of the most prolific of 20th century French choreographers, has always believed that literature contains the most beautiful ballet stories that one can imagine, and Carmen, Le Loup, Les Forains , to name but three, remain amongst his most outstanding works.

In 1974, he was the first person to create a work based on Proust's novel, A la recherche du temps perdu, completed in 1922, the year of his death. The book, better known to Anglo-Saxon readers as In Search of Lost Time, in which the author's homosexuality is latent, was written over the last fourteen years of his life. Marcel Proust mingles childhood souvenirs with adolescent memories and is full of nostalgia for places once visited and exhibitions he'd seen. He dwells lengthily on love, passion, and jealousy and inevitably questions one's reason for living.

From the seven lengthy tomes which complete the unabridged work, Petit has chosen to convey the spirit of the novel via a succession of impressionistic tableaux which reflect the changing moods of the writer as he oscillated between periods of intense happiness and deep depression. And although the choreographer paints a merciless portrait of the aristocracy and bourgeoisie during the Belle Epoque , the highlights of the work lie in the series of poetical pas de deux, which at times might have seemed a little disconnected, but at which the French choreographer is past master.


Mathilde Froustey and Yann Saïz in Proust ou les intermittences du Cœur
Choreography: Roland Petit
Ballet de l'Opéra national de Paris
Photo: Laurent Philippe

After the overture, Le Carnaval des Animaux by Camille Saint-Saens, with the Orchestre de l'Opéra National de Paris conducted by Koen Kessels, the curtain opened upon a salon given by Madame Verdurin, interpreted by Stéphanie Romberg, whose dream to become the Duchesse of Guermantes has been fulfilled. A little boring and somewhat static, it soon gives place to, La petite phrase de Vinteuil, the first of the beautiful pas de deux, enhanced by the exquisite Mathilde Froustey partnered by premier dancer Christophe Duquenne. Set to a score by César Franck, Sonate pour violin et piano, this was one of those treasured moments when one wishes time would stop still. Froustey has a very special quality which enables her to bring out the poignancy in the role she dances. She was Proustian to the tips of her delicate small fingers.

Tableaux 111 , Les aubépines was remarkable for the softness of the atmosphere and attractive dresses, designed by Luisa Spinatelli, followed by Les jeunes filles en fleur , a tableaux which was seemingly a paradise of freshness and purity, but the whole was sublimated by the extraordinary pas de deux between Proust jeune and Albertine, interpreted by Manuel Legris and Isabelle Ciaravola. Legris is not only an exceptional dancer and interpreter, he is also a remarkable partner, and, set again to a score by César Franck, Psyché followed by Saint-Saens, Organ Symphony, Petit's musical intelligence let the music itself dictate the steps. Throughout his ballet he has in fact used scores by the composers who had most marked Proust, and at no time does he cut into or manipulate the music.

Choreographically speaking however, the work was more coherent in the second part for there was an evolution in the characters and a narrative of sorts. Stephan Bullion was outstanding as Morel, the idol of Mr Charlus, commanding the stage as he stood, naked and immobile.


Hervé Moreau and Stéphane Bullion in Proust ou les intermittences du Cœur
Choreography: Roland Petit
Ballet de l'Opéra national de Paris
Photo: Laurent Philippe

But again, the most beautiful moments came in the pas de deux, and in particular between Morel and Saint-Loup, superbly interpreted by Hervé Moreau. Set to Gabriel Faure's Elégie for Violin and Piano, and Elégie for Cello and Orchestra , the blond Saint- Loup, the symbol of courage and masculine beauty confronts Morel, the dark angel. When a company has two powerful young interpreters of the stature of Bullion and Moreau in a work of this quality, the result can only be magnificent.

This very fine ballet ended dramatically with a return to the salon where all society was ridiculed in whirlwind of gesticulations and jerky staccato movements. While what they were expressing was eternal, much of the choreography here seemed somewhat exaggerated and out-dated compared to the timeless beauty of the rest of the work. Possibly this was also because it was over-long as Roland Petit's main concern was to give pride of place to the wonderful music, in this case, Wagner's Rienzi , composed in 1839. 

Patricia Boccadoro is dance editor at Culturekiosque.com

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