Ballet Nice Méditerranée takes the spotlight in April, with a programme of works by three well-known, but very different, contemporary choreographers – Jiří Kylián, Alvin Ailey, and Liam Scarlett.
With Director Éric Vu-An at the helm, Ballet Nice Méditerranée presents an eclectic programme of contemporary works this April, which features Jiří Kylián’s upbeat Sinfonietta, Alvin Ailey’s jazz-inspired Night Creature, and Liam Scarlett’s delicate Vespertine.
Multi-award-winning Jiří Kylián is arguably one of the most prolific of contemporary choreographers. He wrote Sinfonietta for Nederlands Dans Teater – of which he was artistic director – at the request of the director of the 1978 Charleston Festival in the United States. This presented something of a challenge for Kylian, for although he’d long wanted to choreograph a ballet to Leoš Janacek’s Sinfonietta, he had to adhere to a tight deadline to get the ballet ready for its premiere, with dancers working overtime – rehearsing whilst on tour in Israel – and the choreographer himself putting in what he termed “impossible hours”.
The result, says Kylián, “certainly reflects the spontaneity and spirit in which it was created”. The dancers fairly burst onto the stage in a display of high spirited exuberance, which had the most remarkable effect on the audience. They were unable to hear the final Fanfare, he says, because they were standing on their seats, cheering and throwing their programmes into the air. Sinfonietta also had the effect of opening many new possibilities for the future of the NDT, and subsequently became a cornerstone of the company’s repertoire.
The second spirited ballet on the programme is Night Creature, created by choreographer Alvin Ailey, founder of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. This multi-racial modern dance company, established in 1958, had a significant effect on spreading the popularity of contemporary dance, not only in America, but around the world as well. Ailey was a prolific choreographer, having created 79 ballets during his extraordinary career, many of which were inspired by his own experiences of life in the rural South. The work for which he is most well known, Revelations, was set to a score comprising African-American spirituals, song-sermons, gospel songs and holy blues.
Ailey’s Night Creature dates back to 1974. Set to Duke Ellington’s Night Creature for Jazz Band and Orchestra, it features the antics of a group of bright young things in the Jazz Age, who come into their own after nightfall – as they strut, slink, leap and soft-shoe shuffle their way, 1920s style, through Ailey’s sassy choreography and Ellington’s fabulous score. Commissioned in 1955 by Don Gillis and the Symphony of the Air, the music was written in 1956 – “to try to make the symphony swing” said Ellington – and premiered that same year at Carnegie Hall.
Night Creature is a marvellous vehicle for the dancers of Ballet Nice Méditerranée, an opportunity to demonstrate their versatility, and to show that they’re every bit at home with a contemporary piece as they are with the classical repertoire.
While the first two works on the programme are linked by their sparking, fun-filled themes, the setting of the final work, Liam Scarlett’s Vespertine, is totally different in style, although there’s a tenuous link to Ailey’s work in that it’s relevant to nightfall – Vespertine meaning relating to, or blossoming, in the evening.
Artist in Residence at The Royal Ballet, Liam Scarlett retired from dancing during the 2012-13 season to concentrate on his choreographic career, and is fast emerging as one of today’s most sought-after choreographers. He won a Critics Circle National Dance Award for his Asphodel Meadows, created for The Royal Ballet, and has also created works for companies such as English National Ballet, New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Miami City Ballet and San Francisco Ballet. One of his most recent successes was the spellbinding Frankenstein, a co-production of The Royal Ballet and the San Francisco Ballet, which had its world premiere at Covent Garden in May last year, and its North American premiere at San Francisco’s War Memorial Opera House only a few weeks ago.
Scarlett created Vespertine for the Norwegian National Ballet in 2013, as part of a Baroque evening, hence his choice of music by Italian violinist and composer of Baroque music, Arcangelo Corelli. An abstract work, Vespertine is described by Scarlett as “nuanced and delicate”, reflecting the elegant, almost shimmering, quality of Corelli’s music. Scarlett is known for the musicality of his works. As Royal Ballet Principal, Steven McRae, observed, “One of the major telling points of a Liam Scarlett ballet is the musicality. The music drives the movement, it drives the thought process, the dramatics, everything.”
Ballet Nice Méditerranée presents Sinfonietta, Night Creature and Vespertine at Opéra Nice Côte d’Azur in six performances from April 7th to 15th. Tickets cost from €8 to €23 and may be reserved online.
Opéra Nice Côte d’Azur
4-6, rue Saint François de Paule
06364 Nice CEDEX 4
Tel: +33 4 92 17 40 79 (Box Office)
Lead image courtesy Opera Nice Côte d’Azur