Monday, July 05, 2010

Notre-Dame de Paris

Esmeralda and Quasimodo

Last night I watched 'Notre-Dame de Paris' on DVD ( TDK 1996). Based upon the famous nineteenth century novel by Victor Hugo, 'The Hunch-back of Notre-Dame' (1831), Hugo's story has undergone numerous adaptions in various genres throughout the centuries.

Roland Petit (1924-2011) has made a brilliant choreographic adaptation of Hugo's novel. Attracted to stories in which 'beings apart' be they wretched or hideous who fall prey to femmes fatales, the seductive face of death, as in his earliest masterpieces ' The young Man and Death', (1946) and 'Carmen (1949), it's not too surprising that Hugo's tale of love and death should attract the attention of Petit's choreographic skills.

The essentially menage-a-trois story of Esmeralda the gypsy girl, the Arch-Deacon Frollo and the hunch-back Quasimodo is given a fresh and original interpretation by the celebrated French ballet-master. First performed in 1965, Petit's ballet is a hybrid of traditional ballet and modern dance movement. In particular the hand and the many gestures its able to express is liberated by his choreography.

The part of Quasimodo is amazingly danced by Nicolas Le Riche. It requires some considerable balletic skill to dance the part of a deformed and alienated individual. It also adds to one's appreciation of how athletic and graceful the corps de ballet are. The vivid costume colours enhance the crowd scenes which are powerful and dramatic. Equally brilliant is the dancing of Isabelle Guerin as Esmeralda. The music composed by Maurice Jarre adequately supports the action without ever being original enough to be a focus in its own right. The staging at the Opera national de Paris incorporates stark but impressive sets. With a story which is set in medieval Paris, not so geographically remote from the Paris Opera House itself, Roland Petit's choreographic interpretation of Hugo's masterpiece is likely to remain in the repertoire of the National Ballet of Paris for a long time.

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