By Patricia Boccadoro
25 May 2000 - In the two years since the prestigious French
choreographer Roland Petit was forced out of the Ballet of Marseilles,
the troupe he had directed for almost thirty years, he has been freer
to accept invitations to stage works for the Paris Opera ballet, and
the Southern city's loss has been the French capital's gain.
choreographer, who was trained at the Paris Opera school, began his
career as a dancer in the company in 1940. Attracted by choreography,
he left four years later and formed his own troupe, the Ballets des
Champs- Elysées, surrounding himself with the brightest young
talents in Paris ; writers Boris Kochno and Jean Cocteau, painters
Christian Bérard , Georges Wakhevitch, and composers such as
Henri Sauguet who composed the haunting score for Les Forains.
The works which followed, full of atmosphere, verve and chic, heralded
the Renaissance of French ballet.
After the creation of Clavigo
at the beginning of the season, a sumptuous programme of three of his
early masterpieces, danced by the company's younger generation, was
Saiz and Stephanie Romberg in Les Forains; Choreography:
The evening began with
the melancholic and poetic Les Forains , a highly nostalgic
work telling the story of a group of strolling players who arrive in a
small town, but get short shrift from the locals for their pains .
Cold and weary, without money for food, they are obliged to move on.
Interpreted by members of the corps de ballet, it was danced with
tenderness and charm.
This was followed by Petit's colourful
and fiery version of Carmen , soon to celebrate its five
thousandth performance. Over the years, the ballet has become
inseparable from the legendary Zizi Jeanmaire who created the role in
London in 1949 and became the star of French dance overnight. The
story goes that the cheers and hysteria of the crowd was so great the
orchestra had to interrupt playing. A hard act to follow, and
particularly in the presence of Jeanmaire herself, there to watch Aurélie
Dupont dancing the ballet for the first time.
by a superb Manuel Legris in the role of Don José, dramatic,
authoritative, and tragic, the young etoile, despite lacking that little
bit of perversity, coped admirably.
Dupont in Carmen; Choreography: Roland Petit
However, the climax of the
evening was the eagerly awaited Le Jeune Homme et la Mort ,
based on Jean Cocteau's poem. A superlative work by any standards, it
was magnificently interpreted by Nicolas Le Riche and Marie-Agnès
Gillot in an electrifying performance.
Physical, earthy, and
powerfully masculine, Nicolas Le Riche was a truly exceptional 'jeune
homme', marking the role by his brooding intensity and audacious
spectacular jumps. In Marie-Agnès Gillot, he has found the
perfect partner . Violent and sensual , she dominated her victim with
Dans un atelier, un jeune homme seul attend.The
ballet ends as she returns wearing a death-mask which she places over
his face and leads him off over the rooftops of Paris.
Entre la jeune fille qui était cause de sa détresse.
Il s'élance vers elle. Elle le repousse. Il la supplie.
Elle l'insulte, le bafoue et s'enfuit.
Il se pend. Jean
In an artist's studio, a young man is waiting
The young girl who was the cause of his distress arrives.
He rushes towards her. She knocks him aside. He pleads with her.
insults him, slaps him, and takes flight.
He hangs himself.
evening where we witness people slowly dying of starvation in the face
of indifference, two murders, and an adolescent committing suicide, the
delirious reaction of the home -going audience could only be explained
by the exhilaration that comes from seeing such rich and vital
choreography brilliantly danced. Roland Petit, then as now, is not
afraid to tell a story, to talk about human beings and their emotions,
and to stage works with decor, lighting and costumes. When all these
conditions are linked to an interpretation of very great quality,
ballets such as these remain alive year after year, and become
Le Riche in Le Jeune homme et la mort; Choreography: Roland
Patricia Boccadoro writes
on dance in Europe. She contributes to The Guardian, The Observer and
Dancing Times and was dance consultant to the BBC Omnibus documentary on
Rudolf Nureyev. Ms. Boccadoro is the dance editor for