There’s an interesting programme from Ballet Nice Méditerranée this month of October, featuring four works by four different choreographers.
The four choreographers in question are Maurice Béjart, Norbert Vesak, George Balanchine and Luciano Cannito. Two of the ballets have a religious theme, one is a display of stylish vivacity, and the final one is a spoof – an unusual mix, to be sure.
The performance opens with Belgian choreographer Maurice Béjart’s Cantate 51 – remounted by Éric vu An, Artistic Director of Ballet Nice Méditerranée – and set to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. The theme of this piece of music, Bach’s only church cantata, revolves around the Annunciation, and bears the title (loosely translated) of Rejoice unto God in all Lands. Scored mainly for soprano voice and trumpet, this beautiful piece also includes a trio of two violins and continuo.
Béjart describes Cantate 51 as “…. a dance of joy with the addition of a Biblical theme, a constant source of inspiration: that of the Annunciation, when the Angel brings the message of eternal life to Mary and all of creation”.
It’s an engaging work, the first and third movements of which are characterised by lively footwork, rapid pirouettes, and very Béjart-esque movements – the simplicity of the pure white minimalist costumes complimenting the stylish choreography. Separating these two movements is a beautiful and elegant pas de deux, by turns languid and spirited, and danced to an exquisite aria.
Premiered by Ballet 20th Century, Brussels, on the 24th of December 1969, Cantate 51 is presented in co-operation with the Maurice Béjart Foundation.
The pas de deux which follows is entitled simply Belong, and is an excerpt from a 1973 ballet, What to do till the Messiah Comes, by Norbert Vesak – one of Canada’s leading choregoraphers during the 1970s. Although Vesak was said to be controversial because of his “penchant for flashy choreography, trendy subjects and lavish visual effects”, this pas de deux couldn’t be further from that description. Set to a piece of music entitled December Angel by Syrinx, it’s a passionate and graceful creation which became the signature work of two dancers from the Royal Winnipeg Ballet – Evelyn Hart and David Peregrine.
Hart and Peregrine performed the Belong Pas de Deux at the 1980 Varna International Ballet Competition in Bulgaria, where she became the first Canadian ballerina ever to receive Gold, and was also the first to be awarded the rare Certificate of Exceptional Artistic Achievement at Varna. David Peregrine won the Bronze medal, and Norbert Vesak received a Gold for the choreography – an honour which he also received at the World Ballet Concourse in Japan in the same year.
Allegro Brillante, said its creator, George Balanchine, “… contains everything I know about classical ballet in 13 minutes” – and bears all the more scrutiny for that statement! It’s wonderfully typical of his work – crisp, creative, stylish and lyrical – and clearly demonstrates the flawless brilliance of the legendary combination of Balanchine and Tchaikovsky, both of whom studied at the St Petersburg Conservatory. Tchaikovsky was the first famous graduate of the Conservatory, in 1865, and Balanchine, who was known to be a tremendous admirer of the composer, began his studies there in 1922.
Danced to Tchaikovsky’s Third Piano Concerto – which was initially written as a symphony, but later converted by the composer into a concert piece for piano and orchestra – Allegro Brillante is one of those works that you’ll want to see over and over, to ensure that you take in all that’s wonderful about it.
Who said ballet couldn’t make fun of itself? Not Luciano Cannito, certainly. He’s the choreographer of the final work in the programme, Viva Verdi, described as an affectionate spoof, and inspired, it is said – some 30 years after the event – by the frenzy created in Italy by the John Travolta film Saturday Night Fever.
Set to the Preludio from Aïda, the ballet is performed by dancers apparently costumed in their underwear – the girls in sports bras and tutu skirts, the men in vests and briefs. Choreogically it’s beautiful, particularly the pas de deux, with the humour arriving unexpectedly when – with the ballerina held high above her partner’s head in an elegant lift – his mobile phone starts ringing and he fumbles to answer it, with predictable results. It’s a fun and light-hearted way to end an evening of some marvellous ballet programming.
Ballet Nice Méditerranée presents Cantate 51, the Belong Pas de Deux, Allegro Brillante and Viva Verdi, at the Opera Nice Côte d’Azur from October 13 to 21. Tickets may be reserved online.
Opéra de 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 © Dominique Jaussein