Ballet Nice Méditerranée presents its annual open-air performance at the Théâtre de Verdure this week, with a programme which highlights the versatility of the Company.
In advance of the opening of the 2016-17 arts season, Ballet Nice Méditerranée, under Director Éric Vu-An, performs four works from its current repertoire: Kitri’s Wedding – a dazzling excerpt from Vu-An’s Don Quixote – Oscar Araiz’s passionate pas de deux Adagietto, the atmospheric beauty of Lucinda Childs’ Oceana, and Alvin Ailey’s jazz-inspired Night Creature.
Don Quixote is a perennial favourite in the ballet repertoire. Set to a wonderfully melodic score by Czech composer Ludwig Minkus, it’s lively and colourful, and Ballet Nice opens its performance with Kitri’s Wedding, the joyful and exuberant finale to Éric Vu-An’s revival of the ballet.
Set in a 19th century Andalusian village, and loosely based on the classic novel by Miguel de Cervantes, the ballet differs from Cervantes’ work in that it focusses more on the love story played out between Kitri, an innkeeper’s daughter, and the town barber, Basilio, than on the character of Don Quixote and his quest to find the beautiful Dulcinea. The ballet was originally choreographed by Marius Petipa for its first staging in Moscow in 1869, and Eric Vu-An – to whom Rudolf Nureyev gave the role of Basilio when he was just 19 – created a new version of the ballet in 1995 when he was appointed artistic director at the Ballet du Grand Théâtre in Bordeaux. His first staging for Ballet Nice Méditerranée was in 2010.
This delightful excerpt from Don Quixote – featuring some of the most technically challenging choreography in the repertoire – will surely have audiences eagerly anticipating the performance of the full-length work by Ballet Nice Méditerranée in December.
The passion and intensity of Argentinian choreographer Oscar Araiz is beautifully captured in his sensual pas de deux, Adagietto. The work takes its name from the fourth movement of Mahler’s Symphony No 5, which the composer is believed to have written as a love song to his wife. Probably the most widely performed of Mahler’s works, the Adagietto is familiar to many of us as the theme from Luchino Visconti’s film Death in Venice. Deeply moving and achingly beautiful, this piece is the perfect setting for Araiz’s hypnotic pas de deux.
One of South America’s most highly regarded choreographers, Oscar Araiz has created a work of understated elegance, yet one with an emotional depth which is mesmerising, his barefoot dancers, on a bare stage, clad in simple unitards, with nothing to detract from their impressive portrayal of his innovative choreography.
Lucinda Childs according to The New York Times “has become a master at creating luminous, continuously shifting dancescapes in which the outside world seems never to intrude”. A case in point is her ballet Oceana, in which she recreates the serenity of an underwater world – an almost ethereal atmosphere – with the fluid, almost weightless quality of her choreography. This sensation is heightened by a series of effective backdrops – by Dominique Drillot – of the constant swelling and movement of the ocean.
Written for Ballet Nice Méditerranée in 2011, Oceana is set to a score by contemporary Argentinian composer Osvaldo Golijov – for female vocalist, boy soprano and choir – emphasizing the strangely haunting sound that we associate with the depths of the sea.
In a complete change of mood, the programme ends with Alvin Ailey’s sparkling, spirited, 1920s-style ballet Night Creature – full of the fun-filled, carefree live-for-the-moment attitudes which characterised the Jazz Age. The music is by Duke Ellington – his Night Creature for Jazz Band and Orchestra – commissioned in 1955 by Don Gillis and the Symphony of the Air, written in 1956, and premiered that same year at Carnegie Hall. He wrote it, he said, “to try to make the symphony swing”.
Ellington also said that “night creatures, unlike stars, do not come OUT at night– they come ON, each thinking that, before the night is out, he or she will be the star”, and Ailey’s work abounds with these ‘night creatures’ – as they strut, shimmy and leap their way through the night hours, having a simply marvellous time.
Ballet Nice Méditerranée appears at the Théâtre de Verdure on Friday and Saturday, 16th and 17th September at 9:00 pm. For more information, visit the Opéra de Nice website. Tickets may be reserved online.
Ballet Nice Méditerranée
Théâtre de Verdure
Jardin Albert 1er
Promenade des Anglais
Lead image courtesy Ballet Nice Méditerranée, © Dominique Jaussein