The Paris Opera Bastille this month hosted the Notre Dame de Paris Ballet created in 1965 by Roland Petit for the Opera Ballet after Victor Hugo’s original novel.
Located in the south east of Paris on Bastille Square, the modern opera house was built in 1989 and together with the traditional Opera Garnier is one of the main venues for ballet.
The famous novel and its very intense story have spawned many musicals, movies and cartoons but none is as powerful or dramatic as the Notre Dame de Paris Ballet.
This well-known and much loved tale, set in the 15th Century under the reign on Louis XI, sees all men fall for the beauty of the gypsy Esmeralda who is dancing in the Notre Dame Forecourt: Frollo, the dark alchemist and priest; Quasimodo the hunchback caretaker of Notre Dame bells; and Phoebus the archers’ captain.
Esmeralda is deeply in love with Phoebus but the jealous Frollo stabs Phoebus and accuses Esmeralda of the crime. Desperate and sad, Esmeralda confesses to the crime and to witchcraft. She is about to be hanged on the forecourt when suddenly Quasimodo swoops in and takes her into the church. But this help isn’t enough and the story turns into a real tragedy.
Roland Petit’s ballet is really outstanding thanks to its dramatic touch and emphasis on love and death, humanity and naivety, jealousy and hate, and the contrast between beauty and beast.
In addition to the wonderful choreography, the scenery and the costumes take us back to the Middle Ages. Colourful costumes by Yves-Saint-Laurent in Act I embody the stained glass windows of Notre Dame while in Act II the darkness of the grey maze and surroundings allude to the Dark Ages.
Maurice Jarre’s music and Kevin Rhodes’ direction with the National Ile-de-France orchestra – full of drums, xylophones and flutes – add to the charm of the first scenes and the tragedy of the last scenes.
This ballet featured some of the best dancers from Paris Opera: known as the best dancers of their generation Argentinian Prima Ballerina Ludmila Pagliero (Esmeralda) and Florent Magnenet (Pheobus); Josua Hoffalt (Frollo) whose ease and lightness is enthralling and finally superstar Nicolas Le Riche as Quasimodo, who at age 42 showed his wonderful dancing talent for the last time.
Notre Dame de Paris Ballet is unique and has thoroughly enthralled its audiences.