Moulin Rouge: Drama De Las Kamelias at Royal Vauxhall Theater
by Pierre Vernier
(Choisy Le Roi, France)
A great dance performance requires funding.
Funding requires government support.
Unfortunately for the Royal Ballet of Flanders, this particular support seems to have eluded them recently. Joke Schauvliege’s recent decision to merge the Royal Ballet of Flanders under the same directorship as the Flemish Opera House, has resulted in doubling Flemmish dance audience in a show of solidarity to support the arts. The Belgian dance scene is experiencing a revival with an outpour of dance manifesting itself into the opera houses and theaters of Brussels. In this case, The Royal Vauxhall De Bruxelles, has created stars out of dancers. What more appropriate a dance to choreograph in this theater that was formerly a pleasure palace than Fernando Martin’s cleverly titled Moulin Rouge-Drama De Las Kamelias based on the classic Alexandre Dumas novel and Baz Luhrman’s award winning film adaptation?
Here we saw the production staged by the Bud Blumenthal Dance Company with charming Parisian bordello-esque sets designed by Nina Capolaise.
The production brought to the forefront 4 dancers cast in the main roles of Marguerite and Armand alternating casts each night. Premiere night showcased Amie Sultan in the role of the courtesan Marguerite opposite Nils Patrick’s star-crossed lover Armand. The next evening we saw Vivienne Bernard partnered by Jae Sung Kim in the main roles. In an effort to, in Martin’s own words “Release the story from the confines of the Parisian powder room and diversify into a more universal ideology of love, passion, sacrifice, and tragedy, I decided to look into the international pool of dancers” The effect offered very different interpretations of the same choreography, which became merely the tool by which the company elaborately carved into our souls the tragic story.
Martin made clever use of Chopin’s romantic nocturnes and ballades to accent key moments from the story, again proving himself a master at choreographing large group formations into intricate filigree-like designs such as the party scene. Marguerite’s shameless flirtation with her many suitors until she meets Armand is depicted with complex lifts as she goes through men accepting their adoration almost in a delirium.
Upon meeting Armand she melts into a tender pas de deux frequently touching his face between each lift as if finally discovering the human behind the face, dropping the famous white rose which Armand keeps as her protector takes her away.
Marguerite’s terminal illness with tuberculosis unfolds the drama as Armand takes her to the countryside only to be met by his disapproving father. Society and Judgement –danced with confidence and panache by Gema Flores and Cecily Bresson-flank the father in the ensuing confrontation with Marguerite which although dramatic was perhaps a bit too long. Marguerite’s agreement to abandon her love for Armand to protect his reputation is followed by her humiliation when Armand tears her dress and throws money in her face, unaware of her sacrifice. The choice of music for this section was perfect as well as the ballade chosen for the scene when Armand’s father admits the truth to him. The heartbreaking finale shows him rushing back to her boudoir just in time for her to die in his arms-death symbolized by the red scarf she pulls out of his vest and leaves to drag behind her as Society and Judgement lift her lifeless body away.
The profound inspiration in this piece lay not in the choreography itself but in the way it was interpreted by both casts , especially in the female ranks. Vivienne Bernard, spritely and charming with an irresistible smile, drew inspiration from Moulin Rouge’s Satine. Her sweet heroine was a mature worldly woman, a flirtatious Parisian coquette accepting expensive gifts happy to oblige. Her initial happiness and flirtation with the audience ultimately served to enhance her shock at her own illness and tragedy.
The disarmingly beautiful Amie Sultan, chose a riskier path revealing a darker more tragic Marguerite, highlighting her illness and sacrifice, and the intimate moments she shares with her lover. The raven haired beauty’s magnetic energy and fluid movement style were amplified by her languid frame and captivating eyes. Her sensual portrayal of passion and tragedy wove a dark web of pathos pulling the spectator into the drama.
Where Bernard was playful and flirtatious with her suitors, happy to perform for them, Sultan was gracious and indifferent allowing them to lift her, handling her body as they please, until she set eyes on Armand and her soul was revealed. Here Bernard was openly passionate, robustly throwing herself into the lifts trusting her safe landing in Armand’s arms. Sultan slowly unfolded like a rose, discovering love with each touch to Armand’s face until she was melting into the movements abandoning herself as if physically and emotionally offering him her soul. It was interesting to note the stylistic differences both dancers opted for. Bernard, gave us loose curls from the start, while Sultan’s first appearance in a tightly coiffed up-do was eventually discreetly let loose by Patrick during an embrace in Marguerite’s first dance with Armand. An interesting difference in artistic choices.
Bernard’s lustrous energy in the large ensemble pieces made her particularly endearing in moments like the grand party scene. However, although charming, she seemed artificial in the passionate solos and ultimately failed to convey adequate emotion in the intense choreographic moments where Sultan hypnotized with her fluid technique and expressive arms. The lover’s final moment before parting, known as the “black dress pas de deux” was danced by Patrick and Sultan with a brutal ecstatic passion interpolated with subtle touches and moments of tenderness to Chopin’s ballade no. 1 and ended to almost deafening applause. Apparently the pair had danced this duet together earlier this year in Amsterdam to a near standing ovation.
Nils has recently become a favorite to Flemish Audiences following his last stint dancing the role of Crown Prince Rudolf and his descent into madness in Sean Elias’s modern and starkly minimal award winning production “Rudolf”. His Armand was an impulsive passionate dreamer unaware of the impending doom that awaits his love. Of the two Armands, Kim was the technically stronger one, having trained with the Paris Opera Ballet school as well as a two year stay at the HET National Ballet. His Jumps were precise and brilliant particularly in the confrontation with his father and Martin made clever use of chopin’s music to showcase the smooth transitions of Kim’s leaps as he dueled with Society and Judgement.
Martin’s use of contemporary choreography extensively relied on Horton technique with a classic base and alternated traditional with modern elements that left a delible impression on the audience as well as his clever employment of symbols from the novel such as the rose, the scarf, the feather, the letter etc…The haunting scene of Marguerite’s lifeless body wrapped around Armand, the blood red scarf binding them together as he faces the mirror in her boudoir may well become an iconic image in the future.
The production opened on December 14 and continued to a final night on December 19 to a nearly packed house, with a prominent attendance of dancers from the Royal Ballet of Flanders on Saturday in a show of their support for the arts.
Hopefully Flemish audience encouragement as well as an increase in dance productions nationwide will force the government to take a closer look at art funding and the current policies on financial development in the dance world. Until then, we can continue to be inspired by the tasteful art that has been permeating our culture of late.