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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 4 October 2005—Two suicides and one dramatic murder, and the whole of the audience at the Palais Garnier was on its feet, laughing and cheering wildly as the instigator of these heinous crimes, that grand old man of French dance, Roland Petit, came briefly on stage to smile, acknowledge and share the applause alongside his brilliant interpreters. Three wonderful ballets; three masterpieces.

No one in Paris has forgotten that Petit, who trained at the Paris Opéra School and began his career as a dancer in the company, changed the face of ballet in post-war France. He left the troupe in 1944, at the age of twenty, to concentrate on choreography, gathering around him some of the most gifted people of the time, including Jean Cocteau, Boris Kochno and Christian Bérard. His subsequent creations were not only superbly decorated, but also featured some of the most outstanding interpreters of the time, not least the legendary dancer Jean Babilée, a strong and charismatic performer, who created the title role in Le Jeune Homme et la Mort which Petit choreographed for him two years later. It was one of the most influential works of its time, and the role of the young man, timeless, is one that has been coveted by the world's greatest dancers, from Nureyev to Baryshnikov.*

Re-staged for the Paris Opéra Ballet in 1990, when it was superbly interpreted by Nicolas Le Riche partnered by Fanny Gaida, the one-act ballet with libretto and costumes by Jean Cocteau, tells the story of a young artist who waits in his miserable attic for the woman he desperately desires. When she arrives and rejects him, he hangs himself. She then returns, places a death-mask on his face, and leads him out onto the sleazy, neon-lit rooftops of Paris. Danced to a Bach Passacaglia, it was seen as shockingly erotic at the time, but its impact sixty years later is equally as disturbing.

In July, it was interpreted by Yann Bridard with Stephanie Romberg, strong, cold, and indifferent, as the girlfriend who goads him to his death. Bridard, a dancer with a compelling personality who has long been a favourite of Roland Petit, made his first appearance in the role ten years ago. While his technique, supple and precise, has gained in strength with heart-stopping leaps, his interpretation is now outstanding for its conviction and sensibility.

Photo: ICARE

Carmen, a ballet about seduction, is also one that enchants the eye. Brilliantly theatrical, with costumes and décor by Antoni Clavé, and set to a Bizet score, it was created in London in 1949 when it took the city by storm.** In Paris in 2005, with the performances of guest star, Lucia Lacarra partnered by handsome, Spanish-born José Martinez as Don José, the effect on the audience was no less electrifying. And not only due to the divine Lacarra, herself born, brought up, and trained in Spain.

The ballet is based on the Bizet opera, but brings to the fore the exceptional beauty and sensuality of the French dancers with the erotically charged choreography and stunning costumes. There's passion and violence, but also wit and charm and elegance from Caroline Bance, from Alice Renavand, Miteki Kudo, Dorothée Gilbert and Sarah Kora Dayanova, to name but a few. In particular, José Martinez, a dancer of great intelligence as well as possessing a prodigious technique, gave a magnificent performance as the discarded Don José. He was Don José. And while the bedroom pas de deux was sexually explicit, it also portrayed a Don José helplessly in love with the radiant Lacarra, sublime in her role. Light, fluid, and totally exquisite, the Spanish star commanded the stage as well as the heart of her aristocratic, but unfortunate lover.

The programme began on a somewhat lesser note with L'Arlésienne, one of Petit's outstanding dramatic works, created in 1974, which entered the Paris Company's repertoire in 1997. The eight couples of the corps de ballet danced with neatness and precision, but Benjamin Pech as Frederi, with his staring eyes and wild grimacing did not convince; although he went through all the movements, his dancing did not match the grandeur of the music. He remained resolutely earthbound, as did the audience. For those who did not know the story of his obsession for the faithless L'Arlesienne, who in fact is never seen, it was hard to understand what was going on. Nolwenn Daniel gave a sweet but rather colourless interpretation of the tender young girl who married him.

Proof again that these works depend very highly on the quality of interpretation of the main characters, all of whom had an appointment with Death.


*A filmed version of the work starring Mikhail Baryshnikov can be seen in the film White Nights.

**Details from Petit's own book, J'ai dansé sur les flots", published by Grasset in 1993.


Patricia Boccadoro is the dance editor for

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