December was an eventful month musically with much going on operatically, orchestrally and on the dance scene. Couple that with holiday happenings and schedule conflicts meant some things had to be missed. But some fancy footwork and manipulating of TrenItalia schedules did allow me to see a Riccardo Muti conducted Moïse et Pharon at the Teatro dell’Opera on my birthday and then make a run to La Scala for the new Die Walküre the next night. Observations on both those performances should follow shortly. I had been looking forward to the mid-month Academia Santa Cecilia Christmas concert – note not Holiday Concert but Christmas Concert – and the opportunity to hear both Arthur Honegger’s Une cantate de Noël and the much talked about young baritone Jacques Imbrailo but other commitments made it impossible.
However I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to see Eleonora Abbagnato, the Sicilian born premiere danseuse, of the Paris Opéra Ballet in Roland Petit’s L’Arlésienne at the Teatro dell’Opera. And the fact that it was being paired with Petit’s ground-breaking Carmen starring Polina Semionova, one of my favourite dancers, made the evening a must-see. So on the second last night of the year our friends Simonetta, Brigitte, Lorraine, Simon and Laurent and I ensconced ourselves in a palco at the Teatro dell’Opera for una Serata Roland Petit.
Abbagnato is as much known here in Italy for her commercials and magazine appearances (including a few of the gossip rags) as she is for her dance work but that all falls in the shadows when she steps on stage. This is a dancer who has “star” in every step she takes and even her stillness has impact. Though the role of Vivette doesn’t have the showy opportunities that Petit gives to his male dancer in this tale of obsessive love it is technically and theatrically one of nuance and Abbagnato makes every moment on stage electric.
As often happens at the Teatro dell’Opera the originally announced cast list qualified as a work of fiction – Benjamin Pech, Abbagnato’s frequent partner in Paris, was scheduled to dance Frederi but was replaced by Alessandro Riga, a dancer who received his major training here in Roma. It was an impressive substitution. Petit’s choreography for the village boy driven mad by his love for an unfaithful girl from Arlés requires virtuosity as both a dancer and an actor: after a slightly tentative beginning Riga delivered both. That final desperate descent into madness was electric and the suicidal leap breathtaking. He is listed as a “guest artist” for several productions in the coming months – it will be interesting to see him in other types of roles.
I had seen L’Arlésienne many years ago when Petit’s Ballet de Marseilles brought it to Ottawa along with the Carmen that he had revived for Karen Kain. I don’t recall it having the same impact as it did in this performance. Even with the less than stellar company of the Teatro dell’Opera the power of this piece of dance-making, with the central drama set within the framework of the folk-inspired movements of the Corps de Ballet, came through.
Here is Eleonora Abbagnato with her frequent partner (on and off stage) Jérémie Bélingard in the final scene of L’Arlésienne. Unfortunately it is split in two clips and the dark setting does obscure some of the complex leg work that Petit demands of the male dancer – but Bélingard is incredible in this performance as is Abbagnato in a quieter way.
My friend Simonetta and I turned to each other almost simultaneously at the end of the Carmen and muttered “dated”. This is arguably Petit’s most famous work and one of his earliest – it was created in 1949 for his Ballet de Paris and more particularly for his wife the great French ballerina-performer Zizi Jeanmarie. Looking at it now it is very much dance theatre of its time – even the once striking decor and costumes by Antoni Calvé have a musty feel to them. On the way home Laurent remarked that he kept thinking “Gene Kelly” and there was a certain truth to that – the choreography has a quality to it that marks it as a piece of dance from the 50s. Perhaps with a Carmen of more sensuality than Semionova – she’s just too nice – and a José of more passion than Robert Tewsley it would have had more impact. I recall seeing Semionova and Roberto Bolle dancing the pas de deux at a Gala two years ago and feeling at that time that there was something missing. In both instances the technique was there but not the sexuality.
The company put a good deal of energy into the performance and notable amongst the gypsies, cigarette girls and riff-raff of Seville was Alessandra Amato as the chief bandit. She is a dancer who has demonstrated rare skill over the past few years and it has been interesting watching her develop. Hopefully the Company’s new director, Micha van Hoeck, will give us more opportunity to see her in other roles.
Though there have been great dancers who have assumed the roles of Carmen and José there have never been any to challenge the sensuality and sexuality that Zizi and Petit brought to those first performances. Fortunately it was caught on film in Black Tights, a 1960 dance film that featured four dance pieces choreographed by Petit for Zizi, Moira Shearer and Cyd Charisse.
It was an enjoyable evening but as I made note in the title a rather short one. Perhaps budgetary constraints stopped van Hoecke from programming a third Petit work to fill out the evening. It would have been interesting to see another of his works – Le Loup, Le jeune homme et la mort or even the Company’s lead male dancer Mario Marozzi in Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune which he danced here several years ago. However given the current financial situation – the Company is only presenting 4 programmes this season – I should just thank the gods he was able to give us an evening of dance at all.
04 gennaio – Beata Angela da Foligno