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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 15 NOVEMBER 2010 — Roland Petit, one of this century's most important choreographers, is back at the Palais Garnier with a string of murders followed by yet another suicide. Yet with all these sudden deaths and bloodcurdling violence comes a chic and an elegance allied with a unique ability to combine exciting choreography with music commissioned from the most popular composers of the time, while his  set and costume designers included such names as Pablo Picasso and Georges Wakhevitch. Continuing the ideal of the Ballets Russes, three mythical works linked by the theme of tragic love opened the new season for the dancers of the Paris Opera Ballet.

Roland Petit Le Rendez-vous
Photo: Anne Deniau

And although the works, the finest of mid-twentieth century artistic Paris, were created in the late forties and fifties, time has dealt more than kindly with them. They remain resolutely modern, and were superbly interpreted by the rising generation of young dancers, most of whom were personally chosen by the choreographer, himself a youthful 87 years old come January.

Le Rendez-vous is based on a poem by Jacques Prévert. It is a fascinating work which tells the story of a young man outside a dance-hall who reads his horoscope predicting his imminent death. Accosted in a sombre alley by a hunchback who threatens him with an open razor, the youth eludes his aggressor by telling him he has a rendez-vous with the most beautiful girl in the world. But in escaping from one, he falls under the spell of the other, and Destiny is fulfilled when she slits his throat.

Roland Petit: Le Rendez-vous
Photo: Anne Deniau

All the Petit vocabulary is there, from the haunting score by Joseph Kosma, beautifully played on the accordion by Anthony Millet, with the song, "Les Enfants qui s'aiment "interpreted by Pascal Aubin, to the striking décor by Picasso and the photographer, Brassai, with costumes by Mayo.

Isabelle Ciaravola, the most recent of the opera's étoiles, was indeed compellingly beautiful, and stunned as "La plus belle fille du monde," the excellence of her interpretation matched only by the highly expressive Hugo Vigliotti as the Hunchback, a role created by the nineteen year-old Jean Babilée in 1945. Etoile Benjamin Pech was cast as the young man. 

Roland Petit excels in the art of telling a story, however improbable, and nowhere is this more evident than in the dateless, wonderfully poetic ballet, Le Loup, a version, albeit tragic, of Beauty and the Beast. It is a cruel tale of a young woman who is abandoned by her husband and who dies because of her love for a wolf, a wolf whose greatness of heart gives him human form.

Stéphane Bullion and Emilie Cozette in Le Loup
Photo: Anne Deniau

Composed in 1953 to a text by Jean Anouilh, it is set to a score by Henri Dutilleux with striking scenery and costumes of exceptional beauty by Carzou. Interpreted by Petit in the title role at its creation, Le Loup is a ballet which relies heavily on the brilliance of the two main interpreters, in this case Stéphane Bullion and Emilie Cozette. These two young dancers, both now holding the rank of étoile, seem to have been made to dance together, and brought many in the audience to tears by their freshness, their sincerity and joy in dancing together in a perfect illustration of love triumphing over death.

The evening ended with Le Jeune Homme et la mort which surely merits a place as one of the greatest works of twentieth century dance. The text by Cocteau, written in 1946, with the young painter abandoned in his studio by a strange two-faced girl who turns out to be death has lost nothing of its shock impact at the time of its creation. On the contrary; danced by Nicolas Le Riche, a supreme artist, it seems to have gained in dramatic tension. He gave a breathtaking performance, both artistically and technically, with gigantic leaps defying all gravity. They made one's heart turn over. The tension at the end after he hangs himself and his face is covered with the mask of death, was so palpable it was hard to breathe, and the eventual explosion of applause one of the loudest and lengthiest of recent years.

Nicolas Le Riche in Le Jeune Homme et la mort
Photo: Anne Deniau

Georges Wakhevitch designed the artist's workshop which opens up upon the rooftops of Paris at night, highlighted by the Eiffel Tower  and the flashing advertisement for Citroën while at the same time suggesting to costume designer, Karinska, that Jean Babilée, creator of the role, should keep to his blue dungarees, with neither shirt, shoes or socks. J.S. Bach's Passacaille was chosen for the score. Première danseuse, Eleonora Abbagnato, gave an admirable performance as the elegant, dark-haired young girl.

Patricia Boccadoro is the Dance Editor at

Related Culturekiosque Archives

Interview: Stéphane Bullion

Marcel Proust According to Roland Petit

Roland Petit Exhibition at the Paris Opera Honors French Choreographer

Book Review: Fade to Black

The Suicide Tourist: Frontline Investigates Assisted Suicide in Switzerland

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