Soirée Roland Petit
Grand Théâtre, Geneva

Two special performances last week in Geneva’s Grand Théâtre were given to celebrate the choreographies of Roland Petit, now a local resident (and local genius). These were the simplest, most rewarding of events, evenings of solos and duets shown on a bare stage magically lit by Jean-Michel Désiré, involving eight international stars – from Moscow and Paris, Cuba, Italy and Ulan Bator – who have appeared in Petit’s choreographies during recent years.

The events showed something of Petit’s range, from balletic tragedy – his Notre Dame de Paris and Carmen – to those fizziest of showbiz displays that set Pink Floyd and Duke Ellington hot-footing it over the stage. Another, not so incidental reason, was to raise money for the Fondation Clair Bois, which is devoted to the care and careers of the severely handicapped in Geneva, and I mention with gratitude the sponsorship of the evenings by Semper Gestion SA.

What Petit has done over the past six decades is a marvel of dance-making, of sustained imaginative resource and elegance, of adventurousness, always moving onwards, of unforced theatrical magic in ballet, in music hall, in film. He has involved many of the greatest, most fashionable artists of the second half of the 20th century: a massive exhibition in Geneva last year, Zizi Jeanmaire/Roland Petit: un patrimoine pour la danse, showed design for Petit’s ballets by such figures as Cocteau and Carzou and Clavé, Bérard and Delvaux, Bernard Buffet and Tom Keogh and Hockney and the graffiti artist Keith Haring; also on show, of course, those clothes from Dior and Erté and Saint Laurent (who delighted in dressing Zizi) which so enhanced their wearers and certainly made Jeanmaire the best-dressed as well as the most chic of ballerinas of our time. And, says this devoted Zizi-mane, the wittiest, an artist as quintessentially French as the Eiffel Tower. Zizi “et ses boys” in Mon truc en plumes is a defining and joyous fact in the French art of our time.

Petit is of the theatre, theatrical, and this means that even denied, as in these two evenings, a full production, the dance touches us, tells its story. So, solos from Pink Floyd and Duke Ellington were given with happiest verve by Altan Dugarai and Lienz Chang and the Bolshoi’s Svetlana Lunkina; and Luigi Bonino, most versatile of artists, revived his solos from Petit’s Chaplin ballet and assumed Petit’s role in his cunning revision of Coppélia (when Coppélius dances with a life-size Coppélia doll).

Last year I reported on the Paris Opéra revival of Petit’s Proustian study Les intermittences du coeur, and Eleanora Abbagnato, Hervé Moreau and Stéphane Bullion repeated their tremendous performances: in the Prisonnière duet, when Marcel contemplates the sleeping Albertine, and then Robert de St Loup and Morel become figures of light and dark in an angelic/diabolic duet. These were superbly done. Abbagnato and Moreau also performed the Carmen and Jose love-duet, (though here the absence of Clavé’s design was a disadvantage), but I found an especial joy of the evening was Lunkina’s appearance as La rose malade (“Oh rose, thou art sick”) in a heart-rending duet which Petit dared, and successfully, to set to that adagio from that Mahler symphony.

Different in her very essence from the boldly emotional Plisetskaya, for whom Petit made it, Lunkina was delicate, ravishing in subtlety, exquisite in line and phrasing,vastly touching in her modesty, and entirely perfect. Her Bolshoi partner, Artem Shpilevsky, was noble, eloquent, gesture and presence entirely attuned to Lunkina’s reading.

I record with no small pleasure that the final Cheek to Cheek, merry as can be, eventually brought all the artists on stage (and they were merry as can be, too) in a finale that Petit himself made for them and in which he also showed a neat pair of heels. And the audience clapped. And kept on clapping. Hurrah for Roland Petit. Hurrah for the cast.

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