Roland Petit is unquestionably, with Lifar and Béjart, one of the three great French-speaking choreographers of the postwar period. He has completely absorbed the traditions and sense of excellence that imbue the Corps de ballet and its Ecole de danse, which he entered at the age of nine in 1923. He has an innate sense of beauty, too, that has enabled him to build on that tradition and guided his bold but always successful innovations. I vividly remember seeing Le jeune homme et la mort at the Palais Garnier in 2005 and being thoroughly subjugated by the Petit-Cocteau combination.
But this time, I was impressed even further. Brigitte Lefèvre and her Corps de ballet have come pretty close to perfection with this series of thirteen tableaux directly inspired by Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu. A recent interview of M Petit in Le Figaro sheds some light on the artists intentions:
Petit’s concentrate focuses quite a bit on the ambivalent Charlus, and he constructed this rendering of Proust (with the help of his friend edmonde Charles-Roux) using the same techniques that he had successfully applied to Goethe (Clavigo), Mérimée (Carmen) and Hugo (Notre-Dame de Paris).
The music, chosen for its heroic overtones, provides a magnificent sound frame for the set (Bernard Michel) and costumes (Luisa Spinelli), which were specially recrafted under M Petit’s supervision for this production. There is a gigantic mirror at the back of the stage in which all the details are reflected, a simple yet frightfully clever idea among many others that shows how fertile M Petit’s imagination can be, using the most unexpected objects with a rare sense of appropriateness, beauty and humour.
I was impressed well before the interval. But after Part II, an exploration of the
Proustian inferno, had begun, the work rose to yet more dizzy heights, technically, aesthetically and analytically. Eleonora Abbagnato (Albertine), Hervé Moreau (the young Proust), Stéphane Bullion (Morel), Manuel Legris (Charlus) and Mathieu Gagnio (Saint-Loup) had individually rehearsed with M Petit, who had then adapted his work to what he had gleaned from their separates styles and personalities. The scene where Morel and Saint-Loup, as angels, engage in a fight in the twelfth tableau, was, if you can judge from the applause it received, the evening’s pinnacle. It is said by M Petit to have been inspired by this phrase of Proust in Le temps retrouvé:
At the traditional party at the Rotonde du glacier where M Mortier always asks me, I had a long conversation with M Petit: he struck me, despite his advanced age, as outstandingly alive and lucid, resolutely contemporary in his outlook and filled with joie de vivre. Amazing, considering he entered the Corps de ballet in 1940.