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Ian Lace
MusicWeb International, August 2011

LEVAILLANT, D.: Petite Danseuse de Degas (La) (Paris Opera Ballet, 2010) (NTSC) 101543
LEVAILLANT, D.: Petite Danseuse de Degas (La) (Paris Opera Ballet, 2010) (Blu-ray, Full-HD) 108026

The story is set around the dreams and aspirations of the little dancer whose ambition is to become an étoile (principal ballerina). But her more realistic, more down-to-earth mother knows they could never afford such long and intensive training and is set upon exploiting her daughter. Inevitably the little dancer is compromised and, at length, is caught stealing a rich ballet fan’s money, and subsequently dismissed from the Opèra, imprisoned, then put to work in the sweat shop that is the Laundry, her dreams shattered.

Put simply, this imginative ballet is stunning. The costumes throughought all the varied scenes and locations (streets, dance class, artist’s studio, Opera ball, cabaret, prison and laundry) are all exquisite. Just one example: in the ballet class the dancers’ white dresses have beautifully harmonised pastel-coloured sashes and underskirts; and the dancers’ groupings and attitudes in repose are so aptly and beautifully lit that their resemblance to Degas’s paintings is quite uncanny. Ezio Toffolutti’s sets are simple but effective and again they not only enhance the feeling of clever emulations of Degas’s artwork but also reflect the reality that is, for instance, the Opèra’s ballet schoolroom.

The sense of the reality of the dancers’ life behind the little dancer’s dream world is evident in so many ways and is a tribute to Patrice Bart and his team’s research and imagination. At the beginning of the dancing class scene, for instance, we see a male junior dancer with his water jug preparing the dancing area for the little girls’ practice—this sequence is daintily choreographed, the girls’ dancing being full of charm and innocence. We also note that the musician attending the student dancers is a violinist not a pianist; this is historically accurate.

Bart’s choreography and the dancing of all the leads and the corps de ballet is consistently top drawer. La Petite Danseuse de Degas is very much an ensemble ballet. Clairmarie Osta as the petite danceuse is central and she so touchingly conveys, in Bart’s adroitly conceived dances, the 14-year old’s vulnerability, her starry-eyed ambitions grounded by her naiveté, her unwittingly comic posturing and ultimately her desolation. She is supported by a wonderful cast. All shine: Dorothée Gilbert is sublimely graceful as the fairy godmother-like étoile. She is strongly partnered by Mathieu Ganio as the dancing master—one of the highlights of the production is the pas de trois dance between these two and la petite danseuse during the latter’s dream sequence. José Martinez as the subscription holder to whose seduction la petite is forced by her mother—tellingly portrayed by Elisabeth Maurin cast in a wicked step-mother-like portrayal to extend the fairy tale imagery—is lofty and aloof. The Man in Black who can be interpreted as Degas and the little girl’s Destiny is a shadowy puppetmaster figure.

Denis Levaillant’s interesting mix of tonal and atonal music—sometimes gleaming, diamond-hard and often favouring batteries of percussion, particularly xylophone and tubular bells—spans many styles from the baroque to modernism and jazy figures via Late Romanticism and Impressionism.

An inspired and visually ravishing creation. This ballet deserves to go from success to success.

Nicholas Sheffo
Fulvue Drive-in, June 2011

LEVAILLANT, D.: Petite Danseuse de Degas (La) (Paris Opera Ballet, 2010) (NTSC) 101543
LEVAILLANT, D.: Petite Danseuse de Degas (La) (Paris Opera Ballet, 2010) (Blu-ray, Full-HD) 108026
ALSO AVAILABLE: LEVAILLANT, D.: Petite Danseuse de Degas (La) (Paris Opera Ballet, 2010) (Deluxe Edition) (NTSC) 101572

Easily the best work here and the biggest surprise, La Petite Danseuse de Degas is an exceptional and exceptionally powerful ballet that might now be my favorite ballet Blu-ray next to the Criterion Collection release of Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger’s The Red Shoes (reviewed elsewhere on this site) and the best outright concert.  This stunningly powerful tale of the artist Degas (who you might know from his painting that inspired the Nicole Kidman hit feature film Moulin Rouge, which has nothing on this concert) conducted by Koen Kesseles with Patrice Bart’s amazing choreography and Denis Levaillant’s music live from the Opera Garnier with the Corps de Ballet de l’Opéra national de Paris.

It is smart, powerful, cutting edge, stunning, non-stop and has some of the most complex ballet dancing we have seen to date.  If I were introducing the art form to someone, I would show them this disc.  Dancer/actors include Clairemarie Osta, Dorothée Gilbert, Mathieu Ganio, José Martinez, Benjamin Pech, Elizabeth Maurin, Stephanie Romberg and Emmanuel Thibault.

Extras include a great booklet in the BD case and interview with Bart, Levaillant and the originators of the concept of this show: Patrice Bart and Martine Kahane.

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