Friday, February 18, 2011

Caligua Ballet (John Gish)

Ballet Review: Caligula
By John N. Gish Jr.

Is it an over-simplification to say that ballets were created for an audience, not the dancers, choreographers nor critics?  Hence, as a long time spectator I’m prepared to share my reactions  – I saw Igor Youskevich dance The Whirling Dervish at Lewisohn Stadium (NYC) in the late 1940’s.

So, it’s not surprising I regularly attended Emerging Pictures Ballet in Cinema series at the Tropic Cinema.  On Feb. 8th I attended the Paris Opera Ballet’s 90-minute spectacle of Caligula, choreographed by that company’s superstar Nicolas Le Riche.

Caligula was a phenomenon beyond anything I have ever seen – from the Bolshoi to Pina Bausch, and everything in between.  Perhaps Jose Limon’s 20-minute The Moor’s Pavane (1976) with Rudolph Nureyev prefigured it.

Le Riche’s Caligula (2005) was successful because it not only featured a bravura corps and soloists, but it artistically depicted history’s greatest, most  mental melt-down: Caligula.  He was the Roman emperor who was finally assassinated by his own Praetiruan Guard after too many ghastly, psychotic episodes in the final years of his extravagabt four year reign (37-41 A.D).

Antonio Vivaldi’s perennial masterpiece The Four Seasons provided a  familiar yet contemplative backdrop to the unique story about the mind’s effort to join the human dance – albeit unsuccessfully.  Special electro-acoustic embellishments by Louis Dandrel were effectively super-imposed on the exquisite score or featured as an eerie special effect after a music movement ceased.  Virtuoso violinist and conductor was Frederic Laroque of the powerful ensemble.

Recently, the historical Caligula became a popular via the PBS 1976 production of “I Claudius”.  Caligula was portrayed by John Hurt as a somewhat fey caricature with distinctly grotesque overtones.  The ballet version eschewed those titillations and focused on the universal trauma of  mental breakdown.

All the ballet’s characters could be viewed as aspects of Caligula, who is  trying to find a “fit” in the real world – such as it is. It effectively depicts Caligula reaching out to his “anima” or his feminine side (Luna – brilliantly danced by Claramarie Osta – the only en pointe female). In counterpoint, he also dealt with his male “animus”, cast in the form of that period’s historical pantomime actor, Mnester, effectively executed by Stephane Bullione.

The most striking scene involved a pas de deux with Caligula and his horse, Incitatus – read-up on that scandalous-but-true story on your own.  It ended with a kiss on the horse’s reined lips – shades of Equus. Incitatus was uncannily danced by a youthful stallion, Mathias Heymann.

Lastly, the conniving Praetorian Guards consisted of nine sinister, leather clad males while the imperial court was represented by an equal number of uniformly gowned women.

Saving the best for last, Caligula himself was portrayed superbly by Jeremy Belingard who was physically larger and more attractive than all the other dancers. His interpretation will earn him a role in ballet history if not immediate, international stardom.

While the ballet didn't stress the clinical nature of this breakdown, it did attempt to reveled the elements of Everyman’s delicate process of  integrating a personality with society-at-large.  While one cannot effectively learn this from a textbook or by medical observation, one can insightfully glimpse it through great art – such as dance.  Bravo tutti.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Indeed a fantastic ballet but you had a wrong cast sheet!

Caligula was danced by St├ęphane Bullion and Mnester was Nicolas Paul.