This month Nice Ballet stages Marco Polo – Luciano Cannito’s vibrant interpretation of the relationship which developed between emperor Kublai Khan and the Venetian explorer Marco Polo.
Commissioned by the Company’s Artistic Director Éric Vu An, and inspired by the 1972 novel Invisible Cities by Italian writer Italo Calvino, the ballet is set to music by Francis Poulenc, edited by Marco Schiavoni.
A fascinating and exhilarating work, it explores the conflict in the relationship between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan. Polo is invited to the palace of Kublai Khan, where he marvels at the diversity of Kublai Khan’s cities, and the emperor is impressed by Polo’s travels – each man holding the other in a degree of awe.
Initially, Kublai Khan views Marco Polo as more of a captive than a guest, but after some time, warms to the traveller and begins to trust his advice, however the relationship inevitably evolves into a confrontation between the two. Gradually, their meetings become more and more acrimonious, because when the emperor looks at the souvenirs which Polo has gathered from around the world, he is reminded of his own limitations. Ultimately, Polo escapes from the palace, and the emperor is left examining and brooding over the contents of Polo’s travel bag once more.
In actuality, Marco Polo is considered to be the most famous Western traveler to have journeyed on the Silk Road. He began his journey to China as a young merchant in 1271, and during the 24 years of his travels, he became the confidante of Kublai Khan, founder of China’s Yuan Dynasty. His adventures and rapport with the emperor are told in his book The Travels of Marco Polo, and although other Europeans – his father and his uncle included – had travelled throughout the East, Marco Polo attained fame because of the stories told in his book.
To date, multi-award-winning director and choreographer, Luciano Cannito, has produced more than 45 ballets, three musicals, directed five plays, four video clips, and several works for the Italian broadcast television service. He has worked as a dancer in Israel, Germany, Austria and Italy, with some brief interruptions as an actor for commercials and television fictions, and made his first feature film La lettera in January 2003.
As a choreographer and director, he created Napoli Dance Theatre Company, was Artistic Director of Balletto di Napoli, Artistic Director at Petruzzelli Theatre in Bari, Artistic Director of Balletto di Roma and Artistic Director and resident choreographer of the Ballet Company of Teatro San Carlo Opera House in Naples. His works have been performed and co-produced by the most prestigious theatres and festivals, amongst which is La Scala Theatre in Milan, New York’s Lincoln Center, the San Carlo Opera House of Naples and the Opera of Rome. Some of his works, such as Marco Polo, Cassandra, Amarcord, Five Seasons, Mare Nostrum and Barbie’s World, have been performed around the world.
Alessio Passaquindici is a sympathetic Marco Polo, dancing with elegance and technical brilliance. Éric Vu An is a brooding, charismatic and volatile Kublai Khan – superb in his role – and Cannito’s clean, incisive and lively choreography is impressively performed by Nice Ballet. Costuming by Jean-Pierre Laporte is, for the most part, either sumptuous or sparse, and although the sets are minimal, the mood is eloquently captured.
Ballet Nice Méditerranée presents Luciano Cannito’s Marco Polo at Opéra Nice Côte d’Azur between October 14th and 20th. More information can be found on the Nice Opera website and by telephone on 04 92 17 40 40.
Lead image courtesy Ballet Nice Méditerranée / Opéra de Nice Côte d’Azur