Lynn René Bayley
, May 2011
I know it doesn’t matter to some people, but I find it annoying to hunt with magnifying glass and fine-tooth comb for performance dates on either the box or in the booklet, and then when you find them, all you get is a year. It’s better than nothing, but it’s not what you want or expect. From the comments made by Paris Ballet director Brigitte Lefévre in the bonus track, these two works were part of an evening dedicated to three of Petit’s ballets. One wonders why L’Arlesienne, the third, was not put on disc. Possibly because it does not include Nicolas Le Riche, who is clearly the star of the other two.
I mention in my review of Sylvia elsewhere in this issue just how incredibly flexible, exuberant, and dazzling Le Riche’s dancing is. In Le Jeune Homme et la Mort, one of Petit’s first postwar ballets, it beggars description. The brief plot by Cocteau concerns a poor young man who has a date with a beautiful woman who not only spurns him but suggests that he hang himself—and so he does, but fails to die, whereupon he is met by Death, who is really the date/woman. The poor man’s garret then turns into a panorama of Paris and rooftop, from which he jumps to his death. In Le Riche’s extension, elevation, flexibility, spins, and entrechats, all that keeps going through my mind is, “Nureyev, Nureyev,” except for one leap where he manages to suspend himself in the air for a few seconds à la Baryshnikov. Yes, he’s that good, and thus it didn’t surprise me to learn that Nureyev himself appointed Le Riche as étoile in 1993. In addition, Marie-Agnès Gillot, as the girlfriend/Death character, very nearly matches Le Riche in all of these things—plus she has an outstanding stage presence. No, it isn’t quite like watching Fonteyn with Nureyev because she was even more perfect than he, but you get the impression. The dancing here will stun you and stay with you, it’s that good.
Petit’s Carmen is an entirely different conception from the panoramic, modern, intensely sensual version that Maya Plisetskaya unveiled in the early 1960s. Petit’s ballet is tied much more to the Dada style, with numerous touches of surrealism and offbeat humor, and the main characters are presented almost as mannequins. Both facial expressions and exuberance are kept to a minimum…Clairemarie Osta’s…dancing is extraordinarily well controlled, virtuosic, and clean…Dorothée Gilbert, as principal soloist among the cigarette girls, isn’t Osta’s equal as a technician but far surpasses her in stage personality. The role of Escamillo is very brief in this telescoped version of Merimée’s story, but that doesn’t stop Petit from making the character the most humorous of all. As the repeated rhythms of the “Toreador Song” play, Charlot bobs his head like a chicken, and later struts like one!
It is interesting to hear Petit talk about his work. He obviously knows where he stands in the ballet world, but like any great choreographer, he’s always looking to improve. As he puts it, “The choreography remains the same, but the dancing is always different depending on the dancer.” He then talks about how impressed he is by Le Riche as a dancer and always tries to use him. This is followed by Le Riche himself, talking about his personal friendship and professional relationship with Petit, and he tells of the time—when he was only 18—that he had worked very hard on Le Jeune Homme and wanted to dance it for Petit. The choreographer was tired, hungry, and didn’t have time, but watched him anyway on a Friday night at 8:30, an audition without music. Le Riche did the best he could, playing the music in his head. All Petit said at the end was, “Well,” then walked out, but the next day Le Riche learned that he had moved from the “possibles” list to second understudy. His career was on its way.