Baroque mixed with contemporary in German choreographer Patrick de Bana’s new ballet “Marie Antoinette,” which premiered Saturday at Vienna’s Volksoper theatre… and the result was electrifying. Specially created for the Vienna Ballet, this was a tortured “Marie Antoinette,” retelling the tragic story of the Austrian-born queen who perished under the French Revolution’s guillotine.
And the ballet began ominously, with a twitching black-clad character called “Fate” and a ghost-like “Shadow of Marie Antoinette” setting the tone for the dreary events to follow.
Set predominantly to music from the period — from George Philipp Telemann and Vivaldi to Mozart and Jean-Philippe Rameau — this was a resolutely modern choreography, with no pointe-work but with a fair share of classical thrown in.
And it worked.
Wonderful lifts and graceful contortions made for some beautiful dancing, performed exquisitely by the fantastic Olga Esina, first solo dancer of the Vienna Ballet and the story’s Marie Antoinette. Playful at first, then tragic and fragile, Esina was undoubtedly the star of the evening.
Kirill Kourlaev and Elisabeth Golibina however threatened to upstage the rest of the ensemble from the very beginning with their riveting performances as Fate and Marie Antoinette’s blank-faced shadow: the only scenes set to contemporary music — a sinister, atmospheric piece commissioned from Spanish composer Luis Miguel Cobo.
In secondary roles, Kamil Pavelka, whose pas-de-deux with Esina were among the highlights of the evening, and Ketevan Papava as Marie Antoinette’s confidante, also deserved honourable mentions.
First solo dancer Roman Lazik disappointed on the other hand, never seeming quite at ease with the movements and presenting a rather clumsy Louis XVI.
Contributing to a futuristic feel on stage, Marcelo Pacheco and Alberto Esteban built sleek sets with mirrored walls, cascades of crystal and suspended steel bars representing Marie Antoinette’s prison.
The costumes — opulent yet light — were designed by Paris Opera etoile dancer Agnes Letestu, again weaving baroque and modern to stunning effect.
De Bana initially created “Marie Antoinette” as a pas-de-deux for Letestu and himself in 2009, but was then asked to develop the idea further for the Vienna Ballet by its new director Manuel Legris.
Saturday evening, a few uncoordinated moments, especially in set pieces, revealed the ensemble’s struggle to perfect a choreography still tweaked days before the premiere. But half a dozen curtain calls and loud applause from the Volksoper audience proved this new “Marie Antoinette” was a hit, for de Bana and for the Vienna Ballet.
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