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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 5 DECEMBER 2005— Unfortunately, Caligula, the new ballet by star dancer Nicolas Le Riche for the Paris Opéra Ballet was disappointing. His first choreography, RVB 21 for the Ballet of Lorraine performed at the Theatre du Chaillot in 2001, was without interest, but given his five years study of the Emperor Caligula, the dedication and enthusiasm of some of the finest dancers around plus the opportunity to choose his own designers and music, he could have produced a creditable work. It was an important creation.

At a press conference, Le Riche spoke about his obsession with Caligula, the Roman Emperor stabbed to death at the age of 29. Helped by Guillaume Gallienne, he constructed an original story based around the Emperor's passion for shows and theatre emphasising that his cruelty and the destruction he caused were due to his mental sickness, facts which are historically true. Le Riche wanted to produce a clear, poetical vision of the man who was said to have been in love with the moon and his horse, Incitatus, for whom he built a palace, (as well as appointing the aforesaid horse consul). It was less the assassination which interested him, he added, as the events over the four year reign which led up to it.  Caligula, he discovered, was a man torn between being an artist and a tyrant.  

caligula picture
Mathieu Ganio in Nicolas Le Riche's Caligula
Ballet de l’Opéra national de Paris
Photo: Anne Deniau

The dancers themselves, though highly professional, were limited by the banality of the steps, and although the work hung together, the moment there were more than a few people on stage, it was messy.  The costumes by Olivier Bériot, inspired  by L'Ange Anatomique, an engraving made by Jacques Fabien Gautier d'Argoty in 1746, were unattractive and out of context, while the choice of music, Vivaldi's Four Seasons, did the choreographer a disservice rather than the contrary. It is beautiful music but it has no tragic dimension and couldn't carry the ballet.  It was too lightweight and in the end it was the "extra" electroacoustic music created by Louis Dandrell which stood up best. Even the decor, a sort of Japanese-style temple supported by wooden red-stained columns was less than one has come to expect from this great company.

A puzzled audience clapped valiantly at the end. Not everyone buys a programme, and without it, one was lost! Why was a girl in a white tutu, "the moon", performing steps from Swan Lake? Who was the good-looking guy jumping around? Wasn't Caligula very ugly? Where was the suffering of the people, the ambiguity and madness of the Emperor who thought he was god, wanting to murder every last one of his subjects?  Nothing made much sense.

Nicolas Le Riche: Caligula
Ballet de l’Opéra national de Paris
Photo: Anne Deniau

While all choreographers are influenced to some extent by what has gone before, they themselves have something new to contribute. Le Riche brought nothing; he has no personal vocabulary, and literary knowledge is not enough; he's learnt well from Petipa and Preljocaj but showed no imagination of his own. Why was the creation so unconvincing, and where was the fire of invention in all this?


Patricia Boccadoro is the Dance Editor of

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