By Patricia Boccadoro
14 October 2001 - On
their first visit to Paris, Charles Jude and the National Ballet of
Bordeaux presented a buoyant, light-hearted and very successful new
reading of Coppélia at the Chatelet.
E. T. A. Hoffmann's macabre story, Der Sandmann, Jude's
version conjures up New York in the 1950's, with its shiny chromium
motor cars, fast food bars, sleek-haired Mafiosi and high-rise
apartment blocks. Without changing a note of the music nor scarcely a
detail of the story, Jude has set his ballet in the musical comedy
world of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. It's not that the star
dancer/director has 'rejuvenated' this most traditional of French
ballets, premiered at the Paris Opera in 1870, but that he has created
something entirely different, letting his fertile imagination and
sense of fun run riot.
just fulfilled my childhood fantasies", Jude told me over a
grenadine at a pavement café overlooking the fountain at the
Place du Chatelet. "I grew up in Vietnam where we were very
pro-American and I was submerged in American culture which I loved.
It's not a coincidence that the opening scene of Coppélia
brings echoes of Jerome Robbins first choreography, Fancy Free
(1944), which later became the musical On the Town. I've
always been fascinated by the era of musical comedy which I dreamed of
turning into classical ballet."
Fonzy (Franz in the original story) , and his joyful companions are
sailors on shore-leave waylaying the pretty waitresses at the corner
pizzeria when Fonzy's roving eye spies Coppélia on her father's
balcony, and his heart balances between her and his fiancée,
Swanie (Swanilda). Small wonder the spirited Swanie, seeing what he's
up to, determines to break into Coppelius' workshop to check out her
character has a warm, immediate impact upon the audience, and the mime
is exceptionally vivid, particularly when Swanie in her little pink
dress, a cross between West Side Story's Maria, and the young
Bardot, incites her panicky friends into the elevator to investigate
Coppelius' mysterious domaine.
old burgomaster from the traditional version has become a
white-uniformed ship's Captain, Coppelius does not lose his key but
the remote control device of his high rise flat, and the more usual
Eastern European peasants are replaced by colourful immigrants who
joyfully add rock and roll and tangoes to the traditional mazurkas,
waltzes and czardas .
An extraordinary second act is
dominated by the magnetic presence of Jude as Coppelius,who, he told me,
had regretfully abandoned the idea of cutting someone in two. Instead,
he performed nifty little conjuring tricks, staged by magician Gérard
Magix (the French David Copperfield). Swanie, irresistible disguised as
the doll Coppélia 'comes to life' and causes utter chaos amongst
the robots, while the audience, helpless with laughter at the headless
dolls, the pair of legs in high-heeled shoes zooming around pushing a
barrow of flowers, and the bodiless head trying to slurp a goblet of
wine brandished by an abandoned arm, suddenly falls into subdued silence
as the disquieting Coppelius, who has been trying to breathe life into
his robots, is overcome by the very automatons he created.
The final pas de
deux, imbued with emotion, is sublime, and the ballet ends with the
wedding of the happy couple surrounded by all their cheering friends.
accomplished the entire staging with finesse, elegance and a sure eye
for detail with not one gesture over the top, and the scenery by Guilio
Achilli, complete with gas station and a lighted elevator is both
effective and picturesque. The inside of Coppelius' home almost
ressembes a surrealist painting.
besides that of Jude included the exquisitely danced Swanie of Hélène
Ballon, partnered by the boyish Brice Bardot, while the excellence of
the corps de ballet in both acts reflected the impeccable training of
"Each rôle in the ballet seemed to
lend itself to a different dance style", Jude told me. "The
heroine is strictly classical and neo-classical, her boy-friend jumps
out of a Hollywood musical, and Dr. Coppelius, somewhat of an Italian
gangster U. S. style, is contemporary, as is Abderam in
Rudolf Nureyev's restaging of Raymonda.
Among the many things Rudolf taught me was that there were roles in
classical ballets that could be adapted to different styles to bring out
the personality of the character concerned."
Two names occur
repeatedly in any conversation with Charles Jude. Alexander Kalioujny,
his first teacher, and Rudolf Nureyev, with whom he was closely
associated from the beginning of his career. Jude, Nureyev's favourite
dancer, created nearly all the principal roles in the great Russian 's
ballets and travelled all over the world with him for over twelve years.
National Ballet of Bordeaux
working along exactly the same lines as Rudolf and planning to go where
he wanted to take dance in the future", the director of Bordeaux
told me. " He taught me all I know and his influence on what I'm
doing now is enormous. When I want to create a rôle, I listen to
the music, think of my years with him, and my head is filled with
countless images and movements. You have to take from others to give to
the next generation. Once you know how to listen to music, you have to
understand how to make the dancers move. I can handle pas de deux, even
pas de six, but handling large groups of up to forty is a very tricky
business, and I'm still learning."
The star, who has
quietly transformed a small, provincial troupe into an excellent company
in its own right, second to none, became a choreographer quite by
chance. When the person asked to restage Nutcracker never turned
up, the general director Thierry Fouquet merely told Jude to get on with
"It was less a question of finances, than the fact we
couldn't find anyone else", he said . "All the time I'd spent
with Rudolf absorbing the way he functioned, plus my work with people
like Lifar, Balanchine, and
Robbins, and contemporary choreographers including
Cunningham and Tetley, had left its
mark. When I staged Nutcracker, I thoroughly enjoyed every
minute of it, setting it in the colouful cartoon world of Tin-Tin. After
all, it's a children's ballet.
"Bordeaux is a classical
company with a strong classical base, and so the repertory has been
enlarged to include Sleeping Beauty and Giselle, the
nineteenth century masterpieces you can't really touch, alongside
contemporary pieces, but for me, ballet has to have a story, and I want
to make people dream, so next on my schedule is a new look at Cinderella,
set in the world of "haute couture", and a large production of
Swan Lake, for which I'm using sixty-five dancers.
also presenting a Serge Lifar evening, with Petrushka, Icare,
and Suite en blanc, and Nijinsky's L'après-midi d'un
faun, and then John Neumeier is re-staging his Magnificat
with us, in conjunction with the Ballet
I hope there will be a lot more creations. The
subjects for ballet are limitless, and I've so many ideas. There's
something beautiful in every form of dance, whether modern or classical,
and I'd best define my own style as simply saying I'm a choreographer
for dance, where predominance is given to the 'artiste'. What matters is
that dance is the star."
The National Ballet of Bordeaux
was accompanied by The National Orchestra of Bordeaux and Aquitaine
directed by Thomas Rosner.
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