CARMEN with L'ARLESIENNE
Isaac Theatre Royal, Christchurch
16/02/2017 - 18/02/2017
Regent Theatre, The Octagon, Dunedin
25/02/2017 - 26/02/2017
Regent On Broadway, Palmerston North
17/03/2017 - 18/03/2017
22/03/2017 - 25/02/2017
ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre, Auckland
30/11/-0001 - 02/04/2017
Two landmark works of 20th century dance, never before performed in New Zealand, are here given their first performances by the Royal New Zealand Ballet. Combining explosive drama with high-voltage technique, this programme of two iconic works by French master-choreographer Roland Petit (1924 – 2011) will be a white-hot start to the RNZB’s 2017 season.
It is high summer in Provence. On his wedding day, a young man is captivated, then obsessed, by an unknown, unseen woman – the ‘girl from Arles’. Consumed by his vision, he abandons his bride, losing his reason and ultimately, his life.
Drawing on Provençal folk music as well as original themes, Georges Bizet composed incidental music for the premiere of L’Arlésienne, a play by Alphonse Daudet, in 1872. While the play is now seldom performed, Bizet’s L’Arlésienne Suites are frequently heard on the concert platform. Roland Petit’s intense one-act ballet, based on Daudet’s play, was created for the Ballet National de Marseille, the company founded by Petit, in 1974.
Who is Carmen? Temptress, free spirit, victim or villain, she lives and loves on her own terms. Whatever claims a man may make on her body, her heart and her mind are her own.
Bizet’s opera Carmen, based on a novella by Prosper Mérimée, was first performed in Paris in 1875. The opera’s lurid story, and especially its working class setting, created a scandal, but Carmen has gone on to become one of the most popular works in the operatic canon, inspiring works in other genres, from musicals to notable ballets.
Roland Petit’s Carmen was created for his company, Les Ballets de Paris, and was premiered in London in 1949. Roland Petit’s wife, Zizi Jeanmaire, took the title role, while Petit himself created the role of Don José, Carmen’s jealous lover. Carmen is Petit’s most frequently-performed work, with the title role eagerly sought by dancers with a flair for drama.
L’Arlésienne and Carmen are staged with permission of the Roland Petit Trust.
See dates and booking details at:
L'Arlesienne: Frederi & Vivette: Shaun James Kelly with Madeleine Graham or Massimo Margaria with Katie Hurst-Saxon
Carmen: Carmen and Don Jose: Natalya Kusch with Joseph Skelton OR Mayu Tanigaito and Daniel Gaudiello
Toreador: Paul Mathew OR Jacob Chown
Bandit Woman, Chief Bandit & Second Bandit: Kelby Selchow, Massimo Margaria, Filippo Valmorbida OR Leonora Vvoigtlander, Koheo Iwamoto, Shaun James kelly
Dance , ,
Carmen and L'Arlésienne shouldn't be missed
Review by Dione Joseph 31st Mar 2017
Shaun James Kelly plays Frederi with an otherworldly personality that works well for the most part but it is perhaps Madeleine Graham who most impresses. She plays Vivette, the young bride-to-be, whose devastated calm is exasperating especially considering there are eight more equally capable strapping young men and she must remain fixated on this loner….
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Power of Petit
Review by Brigitte Knight 31st Mar 2017
Guest artist Natalya Kusch is sublime in the title role of Carmen, perfoming with technical prowess and artistic characterisation in equal
measure. The partnering is especially challenging, with unusal connections between the leading dancers creating bold and vital
alignments and lifts... Read the review
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Petit double bill a revelation
Review by Jenny Stevenson 30th Mar 2017
This is the second version of Carmen that Royal New Zealand has taken into its repertoire: the first, originally choreographed by Didi Veldman to Georges Bizet’s operatic score for the Northern Ballet Theatre (UK,) was presented by the Company in both 2002 and 2010.
Carmen as choreographed in 1949 by the late, great French choreographer Roland Petit (also to Bizet’s score) for his own company Les Ballets de Paris, is considered to be a modern classic, with more than 5,000 performances of the work being given around the world during its first 50 years. It is this version that is presented in the RNZ Ballet’s current season with another of Petit’s works created to music by Bizet: L’Arlésienne (first choreographed in 1974 for another of his companies, Ballet National de Marseille). Both works have been staged for the Company by Luigi Bonino who is the Artistic Director of the Roland Petit Trust, and they have been superbly lit by Petit’s own designer, Jean-Michel Désiré.
Seeing the two works together is a revelation. Petit is the most musical of choreographers and his work enunciates every subtle nuance of the score. His humour also shines through, but it is his sense of drama that elevates the works to a whole new level. The Royal New Zealand Ballet does not disappoint in this respect, with Bonino eliciting fully inhabited characterisations from the dancers.
Throughout his lifetime, Petit’s muse was his wife, the iconic dancer Zizi Jeanmaire, who he first met at ballet school as a young student. It was she who created the title role of Carmen and her stamp has remained on the ballet ever since. As a guest artist to the RNZ Ballet, Ukranian dancer Natalya Kusch steps boldly into Jeanmaire’s shoes and gives a stunning performance as the volatile and seductive gypsy girl. Her exceptional extensions, especially her near-vertical penchée arabesque are a thing of beauty. She imbues Carmen with a devilish insouciance that belies a “little girl lost” that the audience occasionally glimpses beneath her tough exterior.
Joseph Skelton is an enigmatic Don José, a dark and brooding presence, but a man who is ruled by his passion, nevertheless. The bedroom duet between the two lovers is most beautifully danced. Paul Mathews makes the most of his brief role as a white-faced Toreador in the French mime tradition, a larger-than-life characterisation that borders on caricature. Kirby Selchow revels in her role as the Bandit Woman, as does Massimo Margaria as the Chief Bandit who oils the way for all manner of skulduggery.
The corps is a delight as the rag-tag band of cigarette factory workers and as the audience at the bull-fight. Their super-crisp dancing and rhythmic chanting and clapping, sets the work alight, whenever they appear. Spanish painter, Antoni Clavé’s wildly inventive set and costumes are a swirl of dream-like distortion and colour
In L’Arlésienne the scene opens to a Van Gogh-like landscape set by René Allio, establishing the work geographically, with reference to the master painter’s highly productive year spent in Arles. A particularly stylised work, L’Arlésienne is reminiscent of Bronislava Nijinska’s masterpiece Les Noces (made for the Ballets Russes in 1923) in vocabulary and in its austere costuming. Indeed, Petit seems to intentionally reference the ballet throughout in his groupings and gestures.
Shaun James Kelly gives a strong, yet subtle performance as the hopelessly deluded Frédéri who eschews his living, breathing, fiancée for a woman of his dreams, living only in his imagination. His romantic yearnings and his descent into the feverish world of delusion are splendidly reflected in the choreography, culminating in Kelly performing a slowly-decreasing circle of fast low jetés before hurling himself through a window to his death.
Madeleine Graham brings a fully-formed characterisation to her role as Frédéri ‘s fiancée Vivette. At first the ecstatic, yet modest bride-to-be, she charts her bewilderment and then her anguish as Frédéri discards her.
Once again the corps is superb. Petit seems to have fun with their choreography inserting humorous moments such as the incremental glissades by the women across the stage and the little runs in formation By the end of the ballet, the corps has become stern in demeanour, as time and again they attempt to prevent Frédéri from leaving his bride-to-be. Christine Laurent has created a stark and striking costume design.
RNZ Ballet’s Artistic Director Francesco Ventriglia, who himself worked with Petit and performed the role of the Toreador in Carmen, has wrought miracles to create this season and will be following it shortly with another exciting tour of three works by Swedish choreographer Alexander Ekman and his own choreography in Romeo and Juliet. Although these seasons are bound to be immensely enjoyable, could I also make a plea for the Company to present a season of New Zealand choreography?
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Two Petit ballets masterfully restaged
Review by Deirdre Tarrant 23rd Mar 2017
Two ballets by Roland Petit began its tour in Christchurch and has been on tour through the country with still more centres, including Auckland to come. Fittingly, opening night in Wellington was dedicated to the memory of the company’s costume designer for the past 30 plus years, Andrew Pfieffer, a wonderful costumier and maker of the wardrobe magic for many many ballets. He lost his battle with illness only a couple of weeks ago and leaves many memories for both the company and audiences.
This is a programme of memories – Roland Petit who died in 2011 was one of the game-changers of the world of ballet and still a key influence as his works are remounted. I personally remember seeing Petit’s Carmen and vividly recall Zizi Jeanmaire, his wife, a vivacious and theatrical dancer for whom he made a number of works. Petit was a meticulous choreographer, demanding and musical but above all he related emotionally to the power of dance. It was not only the steps- although his work is not easy- it is the emotion and the expression and the being totally the character that counts.
Extensive programme notes give us a comprehensive history and comment on the significance of these works being shown in New Zealand. We are the winners all the way as these two ballets unfold.
L’Arlesienne has a svelte corps de ballet caught in a time warp of finickity footwork used as a social positioning tool in this choreography of marriage. The messages are strong and clear, the smiles are saccharine sweet, and the groom is in the wrong place! Anguish, torment, longing, lust and self-doubt inhabit his being as he stands at the altar of a life he cannot commit to.
As Frederi, the young man about to marry, Shaun James Kelly builds his tormented character, is hollow-eyed in supplication, dances sublimely and loses his fight. The imaginary other woman is never seen, we do not know if she exists at all ? and the efforts of his bride- to- be, Vivette, danced by Madeleine Graham seem uncertain and not entirely desperate?
The choreographic voice of relatives, friends and the community is clever, symmetrical and inventive. It is compelling and perseveres but cannot effect change and the destructive or liberating power of attraction and the tragic and predictable destruction of both young lovers is inevitable
Similar themes of social comment and the destructive power of emotion are again central to Carmen, a story we all know. It is none the less tragic and the casting here is excellent.
Carmen, danced by guest artist Natalia Kusch, is riveting. Gamine, seductive, duplicitous, selfish to the end, but irresistible, sexy, gorgeous and with a flawlessly strong technique that is totally subsumed by her interpretation.
Her Don Jose is securely danced by Joseph Skelton and his downfall is more subtle but no less compelling. Petit’s Toreador role( danced by Paul Mathews) is almost a caricature and is overplayed as a simpering white-faced commedia del arte figure. Hard to believe any woman would love this person however it is not the man but the trappings that enthrall. A universal story of human weakness, fatal attraction and cruelty.
Setting, staging, lighting and design are all evocative and excellent for both ballets. But where is the orchestra? The music all the way through is well known and the real magic the dancers delivered would have been emotionally and theatrically so much more exciting with live music. The company deserves better than a sound system and the evening lacks that lustre which a live orchestra and the interaction of a conductor bring. But what a treat to see these works onstage here – historically important and masterfully restaged by Luigi Bonino. Bravo.
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Petit ballets bring psychological drama and intensity
Review by Tania Kopytko 18th Mar 2017
The evening of Roland Petit’s choreography opens with L’Arlésienne, which is stunning. The two leads, Nicolai Gorodiskii and Madeleine Graham, are perfectly complementary in the depth of their character portrayal, allowing a great psychological drama to unfold. The set portraying fields, hills and a large sun in a circular and rolling style, reminiscent of van Gogh, contributes to the ballet’s tensions. The layers of Petit’s 1974 choreography come to life. The symbols, juxtapositions and contradictions of life, freedom, love, control, entrapment and death are clear. At times reminiscent of Les Noces, the male and female choruses set the scene for the young couple-to-be; the expectations of their life together, their conformity, portrayed though large ensemble blocks of movement and motifs, sometimes reminiscent of folk dance, but with masterly composition, conveying so much more. The essential timing and interpretation of the music by the ensemble is excellent.
Vivette is young, innocent, caring and so desirous of her ideal partner. She uses all her innocent wiles to try to keep him and yet subtly expresses diffuse unease and growing anxiety, that all is not right. Graham inhabits the beautiful choreography, which provides so many ways to express these ideas. Gorodiskii gives a wonderful performance – an intense, psychological and physical expression of his malaise. In doing so, he opens the work up to a broad interpretation beyond the problem of the elusive “girl from Arles”. What is eating into him, why can he not conform to society’s expectations, why does he choose death, the leap into the unknown? His interpretation lets us explore this, with his recoil from her touch. Gorodiskii maintains the developing tension and his slow unravelling is like a long and sustained “mad scene” from Giselle. The audience picks up on this charged performance with a very enthusiastic response. Bravo!
Carmen is the archetypal intense and passionate ballet, created by Petit in 1949, and was performed originally by the sizzling Renée (Zizi) Jeanmaire and Petit himself. At the time this was a strikingly bold and colourful theatrical work with the “a la mode” daring corsetry revealing Jeanmaire’s exquisite form – so bold the first (London) audience broke into applause as soon as the curtain rose. The costumes now are still garish and wild, but in today’s world perhaps some of that daring has disappeared.
The cast is led by guest artist Natalya Kusch as Carmen. Don José is performed by RNZB company member Gisborne-born Joseph Skelton. There is so much to read in this masterful choreography. The wonderful use of blocks of dancers, using chairs, or as a “Greek chorus” chanting and percussive, builds the histrionic level drama. The company performs this with great intensity and energy. The two lead bandits, Massimo Margaria and Filippo Valmorbida, dance with the theatrical passion this Petit work demands. Kusch is an impish but at times more coy Carmen. She has a beautiful technique and upper body plasticity. She warms to her role, developing sensuousness and passion as the story unfolds. Skelton dances beautifully with a handsome stage presence, but like Kusch, takes some time to show his attraction to Carmen. I feel there needs to be more emotional intensity between them. The frisson needs to be there right from the beginning so that the dramatic intensity which is built up so strongly by the ensemble is made more intense and magnified by Carmen and her lover, inevitably leading to the tragic end. But that said; it is a wonderful production. Bravo again to the Royal New Zealand Ballet and thank you for presenting these great works.
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Bravas and sustained applause
Review by Hannah Molloy 26th Feb 2017
Starting the year with such a sparky, brash style of performance is a generous and exciting move on the part of the Royal New Zealand ballet. There were many new (for me) faces in the company and I look forward to watching how the new balance of dancers works this year.
Carmen with L’Arlésienne was every glorious thing that was promised. These were both new ballets for me (and my friend who had never seen any ballet at all!) and having always loved the memory of seeing Carmen on the big screen with my father as a teenager, I was very much predisposed to love this version.
L’Arlésienne was thoughtful and confusing and dramatic. Shaun James Kelly, as Frédéri, was mad and dashing and beautiful. He seemed to warm into his performance, gathering strength and grace and a fire in his belly as he dissolved into madness. Madeleine Graham, as Vivette, had grief and tragedy etched into every line of her body, with tiny moments of hope drawing out her grace as well. She was dainty without appearing weak (as a woman scorned for a figment of her lover’s imagination could so easily be).
The eight girls and eight boys were engaging, and I found myself in a little reverie about the beauty of different bodily interpretations of the same movements – specifically I was watching Massimo Margaria and Shih-Huai Liang at this moment. It’s fascinating the way different physiques and experience can draw a different picture of the same movement and elicit a different strand of emotion from the watcher. These two were stand-outs for me.
Carmen was all too brief. While short ballets are definitely a good introduction for a ballet initiate – my friend sat through most of both performances with her mouth open… – I could have watched more and more and more. Natalya Kusch as Carmen was saucy and delicate with so much spice. Her assurance in her movement gave Carmen a complacence in her desirability that would be hard to replicate.
The cigarette girls were delightfully pert and brassy – I’ve said it before, no one does rags like the RNZB’s wardrobe department – while the bandits displayed an agreeable degree of machismo and comedy. Together, they were a fascinating mix of macabre and beautiful and the bar scene was a swirling chaos of chairs, enormous hair and legs. The dancers’ placement and timing was immaculate in this part.
I don’t think there have ever been so many cigarettes on the Regent Theatre’s stage and the post-coital smoke curling out of Joseph Skelton’s (Don José) nose as he watched Carmen’s smug, well-satisfied solo somehow gave him an extra degree of patriarchal ownership of her. Skelton brought this domineering maleness to the fore in his movements, without losing the sympathy of the audience – he was never going to win that battle of wills.
I could watch Paul Matthews (The Toreador) for hours and he makes me think of Sir Jon Trimmer. Massimo Margaria brought comedy and spark and general badness to his Chief Bandit although I found his yellow wig a little distracting. The lace curtain was exquisite as was the overture curtain, bringing an element of goth punk to the very heated Spanish emotions.
For both ballets, there were cries of “brava” from a usually non-verbal Dunedin audience and sustained applause with many sighs and exclamations and discussions of delight as people left the auditorium. I wrote very few notes during this performance – perhaps leading to a review scant in fine detail – but I think that was because my eyes were fixed on the stage and my whole self felt still while I watched.
It’s such an exciting time for the RNZB’s audience.
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Emotional turmoil at the heart of Carmen
Review by Dr Ian Lochhead 20th Feb 2017
After a very successful premiere two days earlier, the first of the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s alternate casts for its current season of Roland Petit’s Carmen and L’Arlésienne took to the stage of the Theatre Royal on Saturday evening. In L’Arlésienne, Massimo Margaria confidently assumed the role of Fédéri while Katie Hurst-Saxon, now re-established within the RNZB after a period of absence, was a moving Vivette. She tellingly conveys the prospective bride’s confusion and growing anguish as she gradually realizes that she has lost Fédéri to the invisible, probably imagined, girl from Arles for whom the ballet is named. The opening sections are performed on a bare stage with a backcloth based on one of Van Gogh’s sun-drenched Provencal landscapes, its swirling rhythms contrasting with the formal geometries of the dances for the wedding guests. As Fédéri’s delusion grows, the stage darkens to become the claustrophobic wedding chamber, through the window of which Fédéri dives to find his imagined love and certain death.
Although created 25 years after Carmen, which premiered in London in 1949, L’Arlésienne is the perfect foil for the earlier ballet, since they share the theme of an impossible love that can only be resolved through annihilation. From the moment Mayu Tanigaito’s Carmen makes her entrance, locked in a tussle with a fellow cigarette girl, danced by Kirby Selchow, we realize that conflict is what turns this Carmen on. Daniel Gaudiello’s elegant and refined Don José can see that she is trouble from the start, but is irresistibly drawn in, becoming increasingly violent and deranged as his passion for Carmen grows. The fact that Tanigaito and Gaudiello have danced together before is a distinct advantage, giving them the confidence to forget about the steps and focus on the emotional turmoil at the heart of the ballet. In the famous bedroom pas de deux Carmen’s languorous sensuality is only sparked into flame when Don José, in a premonition of violence to come, knocks her to the ground. Sex and danger flare in their partnership, creating the illusion that all constraints have been thrown to the winds.
Petit choreographed the role of Carmen for Zizi Jeanmarie, who later became his wife, and he himself danced Don José. His demanding choreography includes steps well outside the normal balletic canon but these hold no fears for Tanigaito. By having Carmen rap the toe of her trailing foot on the stage, Petit creates a percussive effect in a clever inversion of the heel stamping of flamenco zapateado. This is more than just a dash of Spanish colour, for it continually reminds us of Carmen’s independent and feisty nature. Tanigaito also wields her fan like a rapier, a lethal weapon in her seduction of José.
The ballet’s final pas de deux, outside the bullring, is played out in complete silence except for the remorseless drumbeat of fate and the sound of the dancers drawing breath. A rapt audience watched spellbound. Gaudiello’s now brutalised and knife wielding Don José will allow no escape and Carmen runs into a final, passionate embrace, knowing that this means death. One can imagine these roles being played differently, but it is hard to envisage better performances.
Mention must also be made of outstanding performances from Kohei Iwamoto as the chief bandit and Shaun James Kelly and Leonora Voigtlander as his associates, but the whole company deserves accolades for their total commitment in bringing these two classics of twentieth-century ballet so vividly to life.
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Restraint and exuberance in two passionate ballets
Review by Andrew Shepherd 17th Feb 2017
Good art creates questions, as well as supplying answers. For me, L’Arlésienne is a good piece of art that left me questioning, thinking, and wanting to see more.
The unseen (off stage?) eponymous ‘girl from Arles’ destroys the promise of a bucolic country wedding … Or does she? Is it the rigid choreographic structures and stylistically unfamiliar movement vocabulary employed by the choreographer that makes this initially an uneasy ballet to watch? Why does the impressionistic backdrop and contrasting costumes so strongly evoke the late 19th Century in a ballet created in 1974? Is it because the play the music was composed for dated from an earlier time? Do early faltering moments by the lead dancers Shaun James Kelly (Frédéri) and Madeleine Graham (Vivette) illustrate opening night nerves, technical weakness, or an entirely appropriate commitment to the emotional journey the young bride and groom are playing out on-stage?
The Royal New Zealand Ballet (RNZB) and Artistic Director Francesco Ventriglia should be commended for presenting these two works in New Zealand for the first time. The souvenir programme provides interesting background and context for both works and their staging. And also about their creator, Roland Petit: described by Mikhail Baryshnikov in 1997 as “a crucial link in the chain of the development of dance theatre and story ballets around the world.”
Personally, I felt L’Arlésienne to be a technically restrictive work for both dancers and audiences alike. The challenge this offers the company is to find connections and relevance for themselves and to share those with the audience through their performance. And on the opening night of a national tour, there were moments where this challenge was admirably met.
The confusion and vulnerability of Vivette as she strives to understand the dissolution of her union is beautifully portrayed. Contrasting with this, there are hints of a joy and ease during the later set corps de ballet pieces that seem entirely appropriate for a country wedding, but which also bely the technical and physical constraints the choreography places on the dancers. Frédéri is an extremely demanding role: Shaun James Kelly’s building assurance and athleticism throughout the work dramatically juxtaposes his character’s loss of reason, ending only with the dive to his death. The pas de deux has moments of beauty and pleasing line, but also shows signs of strain that is not comfortable to an audience expecting skill, ease and grace; but that somehow works within the story being acted out.
At times, L’Arlésienne feels like a lesson in the restrictions and challenges mid-20th Century choreographers placed on themselves in an effort to create new movement, or to reveal the psychological depths of familiar stories. However there are also times when it feels like a new and unfamiliar ballet on dancers uncertain of what is being asked of them. Opening nights are hard. My hope is that the company relaxes into this work, enjoys it more, and hears that the audience is responding to it too.
Carmen provides a very different experience. From the moment the beautifully painted overture curtain is raised, the audience is treated to a showcase of performance mastery, technical strength, perfectly harnessed exuberant energy, and youthful vitality. The choreography feels fresh and current – while still demonstrating elements of the same restrictive movement vocabulary employed in L’Arlésienne – and offers all of the dancers moments to shine in both technical accomplishment and characterisation. Costume, make-up and set all make significant contributions to the work and give a clarity to the storytelling that is thoroughly enjoyable. This is the RNZB I came to see: a national treasure of which all New Zealanders should feel proud.
Guest Artist Natalya Kusch is the shining star befitting the title role. Her fluidity of movement, innate musicality, and the seemingly effortless grace with which she executes the demanding choreography makes her a commanding presence onstage.
Paired with Joseph Skelton in the role of Don José, this developing partnership works harmoniously to recreate roles originally crafted for the choreographer and his future wife, Zizi Jeanmarie. The choreography offers less freedom to Skelton during his solos; however this gives a heightened sense of frustrated passion and despair that feeds nicely into the ultimate tragedy of the story. Kirby Selchow, Massimo Margaria, and Filippo Valmorbida as the three principal bandits appear to relish their roles; displaying strong and enviable technique, camaraderie, and an infectious sense of fun.
In 1949 the passionate exuberance of this ballet would have provided welcome respite from post-war austerity and deprivation. The well-crafted choreography – with its familiar music by Bizet, well timed entrances and pleasing sharing of the spotlight throughout the company – is just as welcome today. As with the cast of L’Arlésienne, I would love to be able to see Carmen at the other end of the tour, when the partnerships have fully cemented and the company has taken full ownership of all of their roles.
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Unfamiliar, dramatic and quintessentially French
Review by Dr Ian Lochhead 17th Feb 2017
L’Arlésienne, which opens the programme, is also a ballet about impossible love, that of Frédéri for a woman who exists only in his imagination. On the eve of his wedding he abandons his bride and leaps to his doom.
Dating from 1974, L’Arlésienne shares with Carmen a powerful ritualistic element. As Frédéri, Shaun James Kelly’s haunted eyes and increasingly frenzied dance powerfully convey the theme of obsessive love. Petit’s choreography also reveals the pathos and drama hidden in Bizet’s familiar score, although credit for this is also due to the RNZB’s idiomatic performance.
An enthusiastic audience was surely left wondering why we have waited so long to see these classic works.
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