A Paris-Born Ballet
Maurice Jarre’s renowned ballet Notre-Dame de Paris has won the hearts of many viewers worldwide, and on June 24 and 25, the residents and guests of Astana will be able to see this production. In the Main Hall of the Astana Opera House, the audience will meet the well-known characters of Victor Hugo’s novel – the enchanting gypsy Esmeralda, the hunchback Quasimodo, the handsome Phoebus and the priest Frollo. However, there is another very active hero in this ballet – the crowd.
It will be the exact same performance as the one created by the legendary French choreographer Roland Petit in 1965. The Astana Opera production revives Roland Petit’s choreography (ballet master – Luigi Bonino) and René Allio’s set design (Jean-Michel Désiré has transferred it to the opera house in Astana). The costume designer Philippe Binot has revived the costumes of the famous fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent.
All That Glitters Is Not Gold
Having split the ballet into 13 episodes, Roland Petit and his production team presented it to the audience in the spirit of the 60s ‘minimalism’. The style has influenced dramaturgy, choreography, set design and costumes. Accustomed to the luxurious scenery of classical ballets, the Astana audience will be surprised this time: long and wide platforms that demonstrate the depth of the stage, the bell, the contours of the Cathedral, sketches of Paris on the backdrop and the gallows – these are, perhaps, the only set pieces that the audience will see on stage.
“When the artist was contemplating what Notre-Dame would be like, he was drinking coffee at the bar. Then he poured a few coffeedrops on the surface of the table and with a match began to draw his future idea, which later became a masterpiece, says Jean-Michel Désiré, who has worked with Petit and his team.”
Head of Artistic and Production Complex Victor Carare says that the only change the opera house has allowed itself to bring into René Allio’s set design was to increase the size of the platforms, as the Astana Opera stage is bigger than that of the Paris Opera. Before producing the platforms, the management of scenic projects implementation and staging specialists has made drawings for over a month.
Our partners, theatre artisans with centuries-old traditions, have made some scenery abroad.
“There are great masters – set painters in Italy, thus the scenery painting have been mostly made there, noted Jean-Michel Désiré.”
The famous bell, on which Quasimodo swings in the second act, has already arrived in Astana from Italy. The fiberglass mold construction weighs about 350 kilograms. The upper and lower machinery, which is used in the performance, will change the sceneryin front of the audience’s very eyes. In order to get closer to the original version of the ballet, the devices that illuminated the performance half a century ago will be used in the production.
Enjoying a Vogue
Even now, the most capricious fashionable woman would not mind wearing the costumes the renowned couturier Yves Saint Laurent have created for Notre-Dame. However, at that time, the costumes stirred up the entire French beau monde – small lace-up A-line dresses and men in the rectangular jackets and tights… The designer was sure that beautiful, captivating Esmeralda should come onstage in white and purple mini-dresses.
Revival costume designer assistant Assel Dosmuratova went to France to get acquainted with the culture of this country as well as to choose fabrics. Some shades of colours were literally revived according to the fabric certificates of the French production.
“The Lyon factory has produced and painted rolls of bright fabric we need. A variety of different materials – stretch, a stretchy fabric made for the comfort of movement (115 meters), cotton, wool and others were used. It is necessary that the fabric can ‘breathe’, so mostly we have chosen natural fabrics. The special wine-red shade of Esmeralda’s tunic is no longer produced, and a small piece of cloth made by the French factory at our request will arrive in Astana soon. She will take off her other white costume onstage, remaining in a nude-coloured leotard: thus, the image of the naked heroine will be created in a love scene with Phoebus. Quasimodo’s costume emphasizes his social status. If in classical performances we pay more attention to the principals, as their clothes are embroidered with sequins and stones, in this production, it is the corps de ballet that looks brighter. All the costumes were made at the Astana Opera costume shop,” says Assel Dosmuratova.
Sketches created by Yves Saint Laurent for Roland Petit’s ballet still nourish artists’ imagination. This will become clear when ladies in stylized medieval dresses with three-meter trains will appear on stage in the Prologue. Hats have also been exaggerated in size; their height is more than a meter tall, like Maleficent’s hat, which she wears in the recently released eponymous film.
“Such theatrical costumes with the exaggerated proportions of hats, sleeves and other details are designed to show the grandeur of the Middle Ages as well as to convey its mood, noted designer Philippe Binot.”
The costume shop specialists consider the prostitutes’ costumes to be the funniest ones. While creating them, dressmakers asked their colleagues, prop makers, for help, and the latter have made large foam breasts. Therefore, seven slim ballet dancers will turn into little plump women.
There are many costume changes during the performance. Therefore, all the costumes were sewn to make a costume change quick and comfortable for the dancers. Children also take part in the ballet. They will appear among the colorful crowd in loose white shirts.
Yves Saint Laurent chose rich shades of fabrics with matte finish – it was the designer’s main rule for this production.
Provocative Choreography and Brilliant Dancers – That is All You Need to Make It a Great Success, Petit Thought
As for the choreography, minimalism is manifested here in the number of main characters; there are four of them – Quasimodo, Esmeralda, Claude Frollo, and Phoebus. At the premiere in the Grand Opéra, Roland Petit himself danced the part of the ugly hunchback. Bakhtiyar Adamzhan and Rustem Seitbekov will present this role characterized by the broken angular plastique on the stage of the Astana Opera. Madina Basbayeva and Aigerim Beketayeva will dance the part of Esmeralda, Serik Nakyspekov and Gaziz Ryskulov will perform Claude Frollo, Zhandos Aubakirov and Arman Urazov – Phoebus.
Altynai Asylmuratova, People’s Artist of Russia, Artistic Director of the Astana Opera Ballet Company, had the luck to work with the amazing choreographer Roland Petit personally.
“His remarkable productions are still regularly featured on the best stages of the world. Not many opera houses can afford to stageNotre-Dame de Paris. Choreography, which requires accuracy and detailed approach, is a real test for the dancers. It is difficult for them, but very useful. There are both Esmeraldas and Quasimodos in the Company. I think it is an incredible piece of luck for any artist to have such interesting and dramatic roles in his or her repertoire, not everyone has such an opportunity,” said Altynai Asylmuratova.
Luigi Bonino, Roland Petit’s close friend and assistant, has transferred the French ballet master’s choreography to the Kazakhstani stage. The performance is not just a set of gestures, aiming to show originality, each movement has its own task and goal, and the plot reveals the drama of human relationships. It is assumed that Esmeralda is the main character of the production; however, Roland Petit has emphasized the role of Quasimodo. A monster with a heart of an angel is the purest and most kind-hearted character. His dance is complicated and, at first glance, not very beautiful. However, it is full of the real drama. The dancer will have neither a fake hump nor his face will be ugly – plastique will convey everything.
The corps de ballet plays a special role in this performance. It has a great responsibility to create both the atmosphere and style. Almost the whole Ballet Company is engaged in the production; Gillian Whittingham, a remarkable choreographer, who has transferred the crowd scenes of this ballet to all world’s opera houses, including Teatro alla Scala and the Paris Opera, has been working with the corps de ballet separately.
The role of the corps de ballet is as important as that of the main characters, and it takes an active part: first, the crowd is amazed at Quasimodo’s ugliness, then it prays in the Cathedral and rejoices at Esmeralda’s rescue, and later demands “Hang her!”. Gillian Whittingham says that the synchronicity, to which the maestro gave special importance, is not an easy thing to achieve.
“The Company works very well, the ballet is difficult, because the music is complicated, but the artists have been coping with it. I am trying to achieve quality performance. How many colours the corps de ballet have to try on and represent them throughout the ballet! In the second act, it plays a particularly significant role both in the development of the plot and in creating an atmosphere of the whole performance,” says Whittingham.
The Trial Scene when the dancers in black costumes angrily shout “Hang!” brings to mind a different story, in which the same crowd shouted “Crucify!”.
It may seem that the artists’ movements in Roland Petit’s ballet look like those of puppets with their angular plastique. Gillian Whittingham explains that the choreography, being a part of the musical score depends on the music, which requires movements of a certain character and rhythm. For example, one type of movement is represented during the Prayer Scene and the Scene of Fallen Women, dancing in a tavern, in other scenes it is completely different.
Despite the fact that Notre-Dame’s style is considered neoclassical, artists who perform this ballet must be well-trained classical dancers.
“There is a difference between the classical and modern ballets. In the classical dance, all the energy is kept inside, in Notre-Dame de Paris – the artists have to work especially hard on this – the energy must be let out. It is necessary for the artists to give 100 percent of their energy,” said Gillian Whittingham.
An Academy Award Winner’s Music
It is not only the unusual choreographic style that distinguishes this performance, but also Maurice Jarre’s magnificent music. Music Director and Conductor Arman Urazgaliyev says that the score is quite unusual for the Astana Opera Symphony Orchestra.
“As a rule, theatrical scores are clearer; however, here we face a difficulty because of the constant change in size and metrical and rhythmical accents extrapolation. The composition of the orchestra is also interesting – three harps (!), an organ, a celesta, and a huge number of drums. We have 5 in the orchestra and this ballet requires at least 11. I was wondering why it was so, and then it turned out that Maurice Jarre first specialized in percussion instruments and composition. There are scenes in the score that convey the spirit of the city and have the phantasmagorical character, it is something surreal, but along with them, there is gentle and reverent music in the duets of Esmeralda and Quasimodo,” said Maestro.
Composer Maurice Jarre, the famous author of soundtracks for films, paid much attention to electronic music. He received numerous awards: three Oscars (1963, 1966 and 1985), a Grammy Award (1967) and four Golden Globes (1966, 1985, 1989 and 1996) for film scores. He is the author of five ballets.