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By Patricia Boccadoro

VERSAILLES, FRANCE, 2 MAY 2012 — Commissioned by Louis XIV in 1682 but not inaugurated until 1770 for the marriage of the future Louis XVI to the Austrian princess Marie Antoinette, the Opera of Versailles is situated within the famous Chateau of Versailles, residence of the kings of France since Louis XIV. Seating 660 spectators, it is one of the most beautiful court operas in Europe. The architect, Ange Jacques Gabriel, modelled it along the lines of the great Italian opera houses, and with its ornate painted ceilings highlighted by a profusion of crystal chandeliers, its amphitheatre constructed all in wood and painted to resemble marble, and impressive colonnade  of  golden Doric pillars along a corridor of glittering mirrors above the orchestra stalls, it was a magnificent setting for the young, vibrant Ballet of Vienna to stage their new creation, a two act ballet based on Marie Antoinette.

Designers Marcelo Pacheco and Alberto Esteban did not hesitate to make use of such a fabulous setting and consequently the décor, with resplendent floor to ceilings mirrors at the back of the stage reflecting yet more chandeliers, was an extension of the theatre before them. Both scenery and costumes, baroque in style, by Paris Opera étoile, Agnès Letestu, were at one with the setting.

Olga Esina (Marie Antoinette) and Roman Lazik (Louis XVI)
Copyright: Wiener Staatsballett/Dimo Dimov 

The choreographer, Patrick de Bana, trained as a classical dancer with John Neumeier in Hamburg and worked with Maurice Béjart before continuing a career as soloist with Nacho Duato where he interpreted works by such choreographers as Kylian, Forsythe, and Mats Ek and began creating pieces of his own. More recently, he worked with the Spanish director, Carlos Sauro, but it was, however, after he created a solo for Manuel Legris in 2008 that the new Director of the Viennese company turned to him to create his first, full-length story ballet for the company.

Rather than follow the chronological story of events, de Bana chose to create a ballet reflecting Marie-Antoinette’s own frame of mind and uncertainties, from her arrival in France barely more than a child, to the historic events that swept her along relentlessly to an untimely death. Set to a selection of recorded baroque music including Telemann, Vivaldi and Mozart, the ballet opens in the Court of Vienna where one could admire the originality and diversity of the costumes, ruffles, crinolines and all, but designed with a transparency and light so admirably suited to the setting. From the gaiety of the Viennese court, the action moves to Versailles and to the Trianon, Marie-Antoinette’s beloved small palace, the colours of the costumes, first multi-coloured, then white and transparent, reflecting the naiveté and guileless nature of the Austrian princess. When the corps de ballet appears in black, it is an indication of the imminent tragedy.

Olga Esina (Marie Antoinette) and Roman Lazik (Louis XVI)
Copyright: Wiener Staatsballett/Dimo Dimov

Destiny, in the charismatic figure of the Russian trained dancer, Kyrill Koulaev, was ever present particularly in the darker second part of the work which was set to a more musical and hence more danceable score. Music by Rameau, by Jean-Fery Rebel and Luis Miguel Cobo accompanied the attack on Versailles and the attempted flight of Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI, while the sombre ending shows Marie-Antoinette in gaol in a series of superb pas de deux, first with the king, and after his death, with her Destiny. A sudden, dramatic blaze of iridescent red light illuminated her slight frame, and everything was over.

All the company, who believed wholeheartedly in what they were dancing, seized upon on the creation with an enthusiasm and verve which were contagious, and although it is easy to single out and praise the brilliant dancing and charismatic personality of Kourlaev, his outstanding performance was equalled by the touching innocence and beauty of Olga Esina, the exquisite ballerina formerly from the Ballet of the Mariinsky in the role of the heroine. Each member of the cast, with their lovely, lithe bodies and lightness and joy of dancing gave grace to even the most ungainly step. They were quick and light, with strong lines and feather-soft jumps, and what they had to express was all-important.

Ketevan Papava (Madame Elisabeth), Kirill Kourlaev (Destiny)
Copyright: Wiener Staatsballett/Dimo Dimov

After years of starvation, when the Viennese company were relegated to dancing only the classics, with a sempiternal programme of waltzes and polkas for Christmas each year, they were so obviously overjoyed to be dancing something created especially for them. Every dancer merited praise for an exceptional interpretation of the ballet, reflecting the enormous amount of work accomplished by Manuel Legris since his arrival in Vienna in September, 2010.

Headline image: Olga Esina (Marie Antoinette)
Copyright: Wiener Staatsballett/Dimo Dimov

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John Neumeier's Sylvia: Nymphs in Black Leather Shorts

Swedish Cross-Dressing Mocks Catholic Spain

Sex and Marriage in the Gardens of Versailles

Dispatch From Versailles: From the Ridiculous to the Sublime

Film Review: Marie Antoinette

Marie Antoinette's Estate Le Petit Trianon Reopened After 5.3 million euro Makeover

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