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After a year’s absence, I was back in Nice last week for the current triple bill by Ballet Nice Mediterranee – Jerome Robbins’ En Sol, Dwight Rhoden’s Verse Us and Oscar Araiz’s Petrushka. An exciting programme and performance by dancers who had been with the company already a year ago and by those who have joined since, including following the company’s audition in February 2018. It was great to meet Aileen on Friday night, too. The lead couple in En Sol was danced by two new recruits, Marlen Fuerte Castro, previously with Victor Ullate Ballet in Madrid, and Luis Valle, who had danced with Acosta Danza last year. I hadn’t seen En Sol previously so am lacking comparison but the whole piece looked very smooth. The ensemble work provided a sunny display (I just loved Giacomo Auletta’s beaming smile) and the long PDD in the middle was of dreamlike/ ethereal quality. Verse Us by Dwight Rhoden had been created on the company in 2014 and nominated for the Benois Prize at the time. The current bill included a shortened version of his creation. To contemporary music by Philip Glass and others, dancers perform solos and various combinations of PDD and larger groups. They dance in light shafts and with the whole stage brightly lit. The movements are based on classical technique e.g., arabesques, female dancers on pointe, and combined with curving spines and other contemporary elements. I particularly enjoyed those parts of the choreography that brought everyone together in vivacious, pulsating and uplifting dance. Great team work, with Maxime Quiroga and Alex Cuadros Joglar standing out for me with their fluidity in curving and bending movements. The latter trained at the Royal Ballet School, so that’s now two former students from the RBS in Nice, the other dancer being Alessandro Audisio. Araiz’s Petrushka uses the story of Petrushka to depict the triangle between Nijinsky (Petrushka), Diaghilev (magician and moor) and Romola (ballerina) among the Ballets Russes. Nijinsky being attracted to Romola, just to be pulled back by Diaghilev time and again like a marionette, and also illustrating Diaghilev’s desire for Nijinsky. Zhani Lukaj whom I had seen in a number of very technical roles previously was very good as Diaghilev. Loved Zaloa Fabbrini in the role of Romola whose affection for Nijinsky is first met and then rejected, and her facial expressions and body language, moving from love to sadness to worry for Nijinsky’s health were great acting. The dancer in the role of Nijinsky though, wow, just wow, Stefano Sacco who danced with Balleto del Sud in Southern Italy previously. Utterly convincing in his acting and dancing, portraying the changes from Nijinsky's love of Romola to rejection as and when Diaghilev intervened, his contemporary solo during which he destroys a portrait of Diaghilev, and the deterioration of Nijinsky's mental health. A great addition to the company. Other members of the Ballets Russes also feature. Another great team performance, the piece an exciting addition to the company’s repertoire. The applause on Friday (opening night) was rather muted and however far more enthusiastic on Saturday and Sunday. Eric Vu-An has put video extracts of all three works on his public Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/Eric-Vu-An-383731904998106/?fref=nf. Oscar Araiz has provided the full recording of a performance of his Petrushka at the Teatro Colon on Youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Iqf5bY_yHw (the stage in Nice was lit a lot more brightly than seen in the recording from the Teatro Colon).
Just when I wasn’t going to post about all the performances I am seeing abroad … the list of dance links on Friday included a review of the mixed programme in Nice that finished yesterday (thank you, Ian Macmillan). The review on DanceTabs is very detailed, and I am thus keeping it to some comments about the performance that I saw last night. Le grand pas classique from Raymonda. Compared to the version in the ROH repertoire, Vu-An’s version is a little shorter, adjusted in the number of variations to the much smaller company, and equally adapted to the smaller stage in Nice. This is a wedding of pride, prestige and honour - love didn’t seem to feature, not for the bride and groom (Gaëla Pujol and Théodore Nelson, as on the opening night) nor for any of the wedding guests. Dance wise not really my style as too classical and inviting applause after every solo. I preferred most a male quartet with double tours en l’air followed by entrechats followed by double tours en l’air and entrechats and … Gnawa. This was hypnotising in music and movement. Two group sections with a long sensual PDD in between. The music included drums and the sounds of birds, and invited moving to the rhythm of the music in one’s seat. Veronica Colombo and Mikhail Soloviev in the lead roles were superb. The review on DanceTabs mentions that Mikhail Soloviev is new to the company in Nice. This may be relatively new as he was already there when I first saw the company in April, and a search for his name on the web also shows him with the company in 2013. L’Arlésienne. This is new to the company in Nice. Wow. Fabulous. Magnificient. Splendid. I was watching in utter disbelief at how marvellous the performance by the lead couple - Zaloa Fabbrini and Alessio Passaquindici - was; both in acting and dancing. They made the story to truly believable. I sat there open mouthed and with baited breath, and I felt so incredibly sorry for the two of them. Eric Vu-An has published extracts from a general rehearsal on his public facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/Eric-Vu-An-383731904998106/?fref=nf Last night confirmed that this is one of my favourite companies in France. I really like how Vu-An expands the repertoire and develops dancers from within the company, and how much he is able to achieve with a company of just 26 dancers. The new soloists were all promoted from within the company at the end of last season, and the new dancers all joined at corps de ballet level. I do hope that the success that he is able to generate will allow him to grow the company in size at some stage in the future and in doing so, add a few more performances across the year. I can’t wait to be back in April for the next mixed programme, which will include Jiri Kylian’s Sinfonietta and Liam Scarlett’s Vespertine.
My thoughts of possibly adding a ballet performance to a walking holiday in Nice last December didn’t work out as there was no performance scheduled for that time however I identified the mixed programme that I saw both on Friday and yesterday evening: Oceana by Childs, Voluntaries by Tetley, Oktett by Scholz. And I loved it (and the long hikes that I did during daytime)!! Apologies for the long post, I guess this is testimony of how much I liked what I saw. Eric Vu-An has been Artistic Director of Ballet Nice Méditerranée since 2009, a small company of about 30 dancers. From what I can see, they perform only a few ballets each season however these come with a wide variety of styles. A mixed programme last autumn included George Balanchine, Oscar Araiz and Robert North (Troy Game, how much would I have liked to see this again!), Christmas time had Vu-An’s version of Coppélia, they also did Jerome Robbins’ En Sol in a previous season, Vu-An’s versions of Don Quixotte, Raymonda, Sylvia, etc. Lucinda Childs’ Oceana was choreographed for Ballet Nice Méditerranée in 2011. Dancers in shades of pale blue dance in 2 PDD and groups of 4/ 7/ 12 in front of a video projection of gently ebbing water and later a blue sky to a series of melodious non choral and choral music pieces. Childs uses the movement of a dancer to build on it, have it repeated by the same dancer and by groups of dancers within the same piece and equally later pieces. A septet of dancers allows for intriguing variations of different sets of movements by varying numbers of dancers. The recurring patterns of steps invite reflection and meditation. I wasn’t sure what to make it of on Friday evening however liked it much more on Saturday. Thinking of a three-course meal - if Oceana was a nice starter, the meaty main course came with Tetley’s Voluntaries – and my main reason for seeing this programme. Voluntaries has already been in the repertoire in Nice. I haven’t seen this in Covent Garden for a few years now so my memory is probably playing tricks and I guess the way I watch ballets may be evolving over time however I don’t remember having seen the atmosphere of loss and desolation at someone’s death so clearly previously. Standout for me on both nights were Claude Gamba and Zaloa Fabbrini as the lead couple as their PDDs with their intricate lifts were assured and fluid and looked effortless, just as those of the dancers in the pas de trois on Saturday evening. However everyone else was really good as well. Oktett by Uwe Scholz is new to the repertoire in Nice. The choreography is highly musical, also here movements by a dancer are repeated by other dancers and appear a few more times later in the ballet as and when a theme of the music is repeated. The fluidity in steps is matched by fluid yellow dresses for the women, tailored jackets and white tights for the men, and a copper-coloured backcloth that is reminiscent of long draped curtains. A first section for 12 dancers is followed by a long PDD and a male quartet, before a closing group section for 14 dancers. Again Claude Gamba as lead, here dancing with a serene smile throughout on both nights. The other standout for me on both nights was Théodore Nelson as lead in the male quartet with a series of a variety of pirouettes, chainées, jumps … and he finishes the ballet by going on demi point in 4th position and then moving into arabesque, all while staying on demi point on the other foot. My eyes nearly popped out when I saw this. In particular on Saturday, he received the loudest cheers of all for their performances in Oktett, and fully deserved so. Eric Vu-An has published extracts of all three ballets on his - public - Facebook page https://fr-fr.facebook.com/pages/Eric-Vu-An/383731904998106. Top price tickets for the ballet came at €23, and this included a 20-page programme booklet. What a treat! I hadn’t seen Ballet Nice Méditerranée previously and wasn’t sure what to expect from the two nights however I am hugely impressed by Vu-An’s work, and I am really looking forward to the announcement of next season’s programme which should be coming soon I hope.