Royal NZ Ballet season launches in Christchurch

The Royal New Zealand Ballet, L’Arlésienne and Carmen
Isaac Theatre Royal, Christchurch
February 16 -18
Then Invercargill (February 22), Dunedin (February 25–26), Blenheim (March 3–4), Rotorua (March 9–10), Palmerston North March (17–18), Wellington (March 22–25) and Auckland (March 29–April 1) 

The Royal New Zealand Ballet’s 2017 season begins with two New Zealand premieres of French choreographer Roland Petit’s landmark works L’Arlésienne and Carmen. The two works open in Christchurch in the newly restored Isaac Theatre Royal on February 16 ahead of a national tour to seven centres.

This is the first time that the ballet company has performed works by Roland Petit (1924–2011), one of the great choreographers of the 20th century. Renowned for his theatrical vision of ballet, he created works for many of the world’s finest dancers including Dame Margot Fonteyn, Rudolf Nureyev, Mikhail Baryshnikov, and Natalia Makarova.

His collaborators included artists such as Picasso, writers Jean Cocteau and Orson Welles, designer Yves Saint Laurent, and musician Serge Gainsborough. He also spent four years in Hollywood as choreographer on films that included Daddy Long Legs with Fred Astaire and Leslie Caron (1954), and Anything Goes (1955) with Zizi Jeanmaire and Bing Crosby. His ballets continue to be performed by the world’s leading ballet companies.

He created Carmen for his company, Les Ballets de Paris, and it 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 is set during 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.

Ballet company artistic director Francesco Ventriglia was a 19-year-old dancer with La Scala in Italy when he first met Roland Petit. “Maestro Petit had an extraordinary impact on me as an artist. He not only cast me in my first major roles but he also became my mentor. I feel very honoured to be introducing his genius to the dancers of the New Zealand Ballet company and to nurture them as artists through this experience. I really believe that Maestro Petit’s works should be seen by everyone who loves the arts, and I am thrilled New Zealanders now have the opportunity to see these masterpieces,” Ventriglia says.

The artistic director of the Roland Petit repertoire, Luigi Bonino, who danced for many years in Petit’s ballets and who went on to be his assistant, has travelled to New Zealand especially to teach the dancers the two masterpieces, with the assistance of Gillian Whittingham.

Mr Ventriglia has invited two guest artists to join the company for the season.  Natalya Kusch, originally from the Ukraine and a former dancer with the Australian Ballet will be one of the dancers in the lead role of Carmen, and dancer Daniel Gaudiello who also joined the ballet company for 2016’s acclaimed Giselle returns to New Zealand to be one of the dancers in the lead role of Don José.