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Has the Ballet of Nancy Seen Better Days?

By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 25 July 2001 - Shortly before the end of Karole Armitage's Cat, Le Chat de Schrodinger, an electrifying ballet full of pure energy, off-balances, and dizzying turns, my mind wandered and I felt a pang remembering the Ballet of Nancy's golden days. When Nureyev came to interpret Béjart's Song of a Wayfarer with Patrick Armand, there wasn't a seat to be had in the house. These days the Chaillot Theatre is barely two thirds full.

Not so long ago, Director Helene Trailine's repertory for the troupe included Balanchine's La Somnambule, Apollon musagète, and such ballets as van Manen's Four Schumannn Pieces, and remarkably well-danced they were. Indeed, when the company was founded in 1978, one of its aims was to dance part of the Diaghilev heritage, presenting works by Fokine and Nijinsky , and programming ballets by Maurice Béjart, Roland Petit and John Cranko alongside more contemporary choreographers such as John Neumeier, Jiri Kylian and Nils Christe. Decor and costumes were by Bakst, Benois, Dufy or Derain.

What, then, can one say of the company today, run by ex-delegate of dance at the French Culture Ministry, ex-contemporary dancer, Didier Deschamps, who has no background whatsoever of the classics, so that even if he had the financial support to do so, he couldn't present them anyway? Yet another nail has been banged in the coffin of classical dance in France with this resolutely modern programme, an indigestible mixture of unrelated, nondescript works by Abou Lagraa, director of "La baraka", and star dancer Nicholas Le Riche, which preceded the work by Armitage, now the company's resident choreographer for three years.

Unfortunately there is a proliferation of what can only be described as experimental dance around, often full of philosophising and tiresome interiorising. When you have a company of good, well-trained dancers, they should also be interpreting classical works of value which have something to express. Contemporary dance in France had its period of glory in the eighties, and much of what is around at the moment is leading to a lowering of standards, and a lack of purpose. Fed solely on this kind of diet, the best dancers will leave, and classical dance outside Paris will peter out.

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

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