Soirée de Danse Roland Petit
by David Mead
November 6, 2006 -- National Theatre, Taipei, Taiwan
Soirée de la Danse Roland Petit brought a complete evening of Roland Petit choreography to Taipei, courtesy of a group of seven dancers led by Japanese ballerina and movie star ("Shall We Dance") Tamiyo Kusakari. Prominently sponsored by a Japanese beauty product company, it was billed as being a chance to "discover the beauty in Asian ballet", although in addition to the fact that Petit is French, the dancers come from Germany, Italy and Cuba, as well as Japan, China and Mongolia. It was quite a strange programme in some ways. There were no fewer than 17 excerpts from 11 ballets, but while some were humorous, some beautiful, and all excellently danced, there wasn't really a showstopper; no dazzling piece to send everyone home remembering. Also, rather oddly, there did not seem to be a group or company name.
The evening opened rather disappointingly with three excerpts from the "Pink Floyd Ballet". It was a mix of jazz, gymnastics and the sort of dance you see on MTV, none of which seemed to link together very well. Apparently, Petit hated rock music at the time he created this piece but was persuaded to do it by his daughter. That could explain a lot. It got quite a muted response from what is always a knowledgeable dance audience here and to be perfectly honest, if these are the best three sections, all I can say is that I'm quite happy never to have seen the rest!
Things, however improved immediately. Wang Qimin and Li Jun, both formerly with the National Ballet of China and graduates of the Beijing Dance Academy, were quite simply wonderful in the "Thais" pas de deux. Always beautifully in time with the music and each other they really did seem to be the perfect couple; she as light as a feather and he very strong. The final image, Li holding Wang with one arm high above his head, both turning slowly as the lights die, was quite stunning. The couple also paired up later for the final pas de deux from "L'Arlésienne". They excellently projected the situation: Li, newly married and still in love but haunted by the image of another woman he once loved but now can now never have, so haunted, in fact, that he ends it all with a very convincing headlong leap through an open window.
More sinister and hard-edged dance came from Raimondo Rebeck, formerly of the Deutsche Oper Ballett in Berlin, and Cuban Lienz Chang in the pas de deux from "Le Rendezvous", preceded by a variation by Kusakari from the same ballet. I found myself wishing I had seen what had gone before. This is one of those dances where there is a relationship, but something is clearly amiss, proved as it culminates in her coldly slitting his throat with a razor, although it has to be said not too convincingly, before exiting, as if nothing had happened.
The evening's humour was superbly provided by Petit's long-time assistant, Luigi Bonino. First we had the "Danse de la poupee" from "Coppélia", in which he danced with a life-size puppet (I think made of felt) that flopped around as he moved. The puppet's feet were fixed to his, so there were no big lifts, but there were certainly some very odd positions! In the second half, he gave us two extracts from "Charlot danse avec nous" (also known as "Chaplin Dances") in which Petit sought to get to the essence of the man by using images and ideas rather than by personifying him. First was "Je cherche après Titine", best described as a duet for a man and a chair. He sat on it, climbed over and under it every way possible and, of course, danced with it. And yes, the chair did get a bow and a round of applause. This was followed by "Les Petits Chaussons", a great ballet joke that had Bonino on his knees with a tutu around his neck and pointe shoes on his hands. As he moved around the stage, his fake feet and legs swung into an amazing series of arabesques and jumps. All this was added to by the looks of surprise, amazement and even pain on Bonino's wonderfully expressive face as he imitated ever more unlikely positions. It quite rightly brought the house down.
We may not have had a showstopper, but we did get a finale with one of those tunes you just can’t get out of your head, Irving Berlin's "Cheek to Cheek". Initially a duet danced by Kusakari and Bonino, showing a more serious side, it was turned into an opportunity for everyone to make a final appearance and for the audience to show their appreciation, which they did in plenty.
The opening may have been a letdown, but the rest of the evening was extremely enjoyable. There are always problems with excerpts. So often, they do not really work out of context, and that was certainly the case with some of them here. However, it was certainly a treat to see excerpts from so many ballets new to me in one evening; and it did leave me wanting to see more of some of them.
For the record, the other pieces danced were the pas de deux from "Maurel et St Loup" (Altankhuyag Dugarai and Li) and "Ni Dieu Ni Diable" (Kusakari and Rebeck), and "Sophisticated Lady" and "The Opener" from "Duke Ellington Ballet".
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