Thursday, December 22, 2011

Sleeping Beauty in Venice

La Bella Addormentata
(Venice, Italy) The Royal Ballet of Flanders (Koninklijk Ballet Vlaanderen) presented a dazzling performance of Sleeping Beauty by Pyotr Tchaikovsky to a full house at La Fenice on Tuesday night. The holiday spirit descended upon a theater full of enchanted faces as we watched the classic fairy tale by Charles Perrault come to life.

From Wanted in Rome (I don't know why Venice is listed under Rome, but so it is:)

Royal Ballet of Flanders. In The Sleeping Beauty, choreography by Marcia Haydée.  

Building on the solid foundation of Petipa and Tchaikovsky, Marcia Haydée has chosen to concentrate on the dramatic content of the work. She has added depth to the character of Carabosse, transforming her into a much rounder character who actually carries the piece.  
Nonetheless, Haydée’s Sleeping Beauty is also faithful to Petipa in the sense that it represents a struggle between good and evil, and it is Carabosse, the personification of evil, who is eventually defeated. New company director Kathryn Bennetts and Marcia Haydée have aimed to restore this well-known fairytale ballet to its former glory, whilst answering the question of why a company that privileges a contemporary repertoire should choose to revisit this classical romantic piece.  
The reason is, as Marc Haegeman puts it in Danceviewtimes, that this is not an “old-fashioned and dusty museum piece" but a work that “still inspires today’s artists as well as audiences. And what’s more, it takes an academically schooled company like the Royal Ballet of Flanders – the only one left in Belgium – to dance it."  

The Evil Fairy Carabosse
photo at Koninklijk Ballet Vlaanderen
We all know the story of Sleeping Beauty, the beautiful Princess Aurora blessed with good wishes at her christening from her fairy godmothers. The evil fairy Carabosse arrives and, angry at not being invited, curses the baby Aurora and says she will prick her finger at age 16 and die. However, the Lilac Fairy, who has not yet given her blessing, softens the curse and says that instead of dying, Aurora will sleep for 100 years until she is awakened by the kiss of a prince. 

Most of us know that story, but many of us do not even know where Flanders is. With all the focus on the European Union lately, perhaps we should review some history, especially because the headquarters of both the Europe Union and NATO are based in Flanders. This is from a Flanders tourist website:

Map at Principia Cybernetica
Belgium, officially the Kingdom of Belgium, is a state in Western Europe. It is a founding member of the European Union and hosts the EU's headquarters, as well as those of several other major international organizations such as NATO. Belgium covers an area of 30,528 square kilometres (11,787 sq mi), and it has a population of about 10.8 million people. Straddling the cultural boundary between Germanic and Latin Europe, Belgium is home to two main linguistic groups, the Dutch-speakers, mostly Flemish, and the French-speakers, mostly Walloons, plus a small group of German-speakers. Belgium's two largest regions are the Dutch-speaking region of Flanders in the north and the French-speaking southern region of Wallonia. The Brussels-Capital Region, officially bilingual, is a mostly French-speaking enclave within the Flemish Region. A small German-speaking Community exists in eastern Wallonia.

Many things go on up there in Flanders that affect the lives of all of us who live in Europe, and the US, too, so it's probably a good idea to know exactly where it is. The Royal Ballet of Flanders is located in Antwerp, about forty minutes by train from Brussels. If you just skimmed the above description, please go back and read it again, slowly. 
Photo Ballet van Vlaaderen

Now that we've established some geographics, I think that Marcia Haydée's decision to develop the character of Carabosse, the evil fairy, really worked. I loved when the green magical curtain came down, and then, on top of it, down came another black gossamer curtain that Carabosse draped around himself (the sex of the evil fairy was ambiguous; but since it was played by a man, I will use the masculine pronoun). Especially chilling were Aurora's childhood interactions with the Lilac Fairy. Aurora grew up, playing with dolls, seemingly happy and protected by the Lilac Fairy, while waiting in the background, unseen, was Carabosse fluttering his black gossamer curtain. If Aurora was not conscious of the curse awaiting her, the audience most certainly was. 

The costumes by Pablo Nunez were ravishing, with fine details that made each character stand out -- Nunez and Marcia Haydée were also responsible for the lighting. Benjamin Pope conducted the Orchestra del Teatro La Fenice, expertly transporting Tchaikovsky's vibrant notes to our ears. Pablo Nunez must be some kind of genius because in addition to the costumes and lighting, he was also was responsible for the whimsical sets, creating a fairy tale wonderland on the stage of La Fenice. The dancers were superb. The members Royal Ballet of Flanders come from all over the world. The night I saw the performance, Aurora was played by Altea Nunez from Spain, the Prince by Ernesto Boada from Cuba, Carabosse by Yevgeniy Kolesnyk from the Ukraine and the Lilac Fairy by Maria Seletskaja from Estonia. 

The way things are going on the planet, I had been worried that humanity might be losing its ability to even perform traditional ballet, but after witnessing the Royal Ballet of Flanders, I am happy to report that not only is ballet alive and well, there were plenty of young people from the Royal School of Ballet in Antwerp and the Centro Artistic L'étoile in Pisa livening up the stage. 

Photo Ballet van Vlaanderen
It was such an enjoyable evening, that I was surprised to read the following article in the New York Times by Rosyln Sulcas dated March 14, 2011 entitled Tough Passage for Flemish Ballet Troupe:

The Royal Ballet of Flanders is today one of the best companies in Europe. It has dynamic, top-notch dancers and a repertory that achieves, with effortless flair, the balance between traditional and modern that every ballet troupe seeks. In the last six years it has toured the world, won awards and garnered rave reviews. It is, surely, considered a jewel in the Belgian cultural crown.
Or is it? In October the Flemish Culture Ministry announced that the company would merge with the Flemish Opera, with both under a state-appointed administrator, or intendant. As the ballet company’s artistic director, Kathryn Bennetts, sees it, this would mean a loss of artistic autonomy, hamper international touring and mire her already underfinanced company in greater practical and financial difficulties.
“I am absolutely outraged at the minister for making such an ignorant and arrogant decision,” she said on Belgian national television after the announcement. “The minister of culture,” she went on, referring to Joke Schauvliege, “shouldn’t pretend to know anything about the arts — she doesn’t.” Ms. Bennetts declared that she would resign if the merger occurred.

Photo giornaledelladanza
Kathryn Bennetts is Australian:)

Needless to say, Ms. Bennetts did not resign. I don't know the current status of the company, but I think that the Royal Ballet of Flanders is a national treasure of which Belgium should be proud. They should travel all over the world, spreading good will, culture and delight, inspiring humanity with some the finest qualities that mankind has to offer.

Ciao from Venice,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

1 comment:

  1. The Royal Ballet of Flanders (Koninklijk Ballet Vlaanderen) presented a dazzling performance of Sleeping Beauty by Pyotr Tchaikovsky to a full house at La Fenice on Tuesday night. The holiday spirit descended upon a theater full of enchanted faces as we watched the classic fairy tale by Charles Perrault come to life.