A musical adaptation of Victor Hugo's novel "Notre Dame de Paris" which follows the gypsy dancer Esmeralda and the three men who vie for her love: the kind hunchback Quadimodo, the twisted priest Frollo, and the unfaithful soldier Phoebus.
André Flédérick's direction of Notre-Dame de Paris does the choreography by evergreen Roland Petit every bit of justice. This is an exquisite work relying heavily on classical ballet but shading it with so much contemporary moves that it sparkles and shines and finally moves the viewer to tears. Based on Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, it retells the story of Quasimodo and Esméralda in graphic scenes. It has a character and an overall look which is quite unique.
The opening in front of the famous Notre-Dame is perhaps the most colourful I've ever seen in ballet (or any other form of stage work for that matter.) Costume's were designed by none other than Yves Saint Laurent and what starts off with virtually all the colours of the rainbow, moves through the ballet to threatening shades of red and onto sombre, mournful black attire.
Quasimodo, danced to perfection by Nicolas Le Riche, suddenly appears amongst the frolicking dancers in a beige outfit reminiscent of sandstone. Here is a Quasimodo with no prosthesis to represent a hunch. By only squaring his right arm and spreading his fingers he completes the picture and is utterly believable. Quite a dish of a man, his facial expressions assist him in portraying a misshapen, hapless and misunderstood being. This is his story and although Esméralda gets top billing, his applause at the end is by far the most deafening and rightfully so. He portrays pain and joy with equal dexterity in pirouette and jeté, twists and turns and large soulful eyes. His frustration combined with anger about the deformity is heart-rending.
As Esméralda Isabelle Guérin also fully rises to the occasion. She is sensuous, sexy yet sensitive. The back leg extension is something to behold. I have never seen a ballerina slide en pointe and she does it twice with breathtaking accuracy. The way she reveals various facets of Esméralda's character in partnering Laurent Hilaire (as the lecherous, treacherous priest Frollo) or Manuel Legris (as her lover Phoebus) is a lesson to many an actress. Wonderful! Both Hilaire (with superb elevation) and Legris are excellent although the latter might lack the physical stature to be fully convincing as the idealised romantic hero. Their dancing, however, is of the quality one expects from the Ballet de l'Opéra National de Paris. (Note the exceptional choreography for Phoebus in making love...) This also applies to the corps de ballet. Even the wildest abandon is portrayed with precision and discipline.
David Garforth conducts the orchestra with a deft hand. Not many conductors understand the art of supporting dancers rather than becoming the main feature. He does both score and dance justice.
The score was written especially for the work by Maurice Jarre (yes him of the soundtracks of Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago and countless others and father of Jean-Michel) with not a chord sounding like his film music. The main pas de deux for Quasimodo and Esméralda is tender and sweeping and the choreography and execution unforgettable.
Throughout the novel Victor Hugo mentions the architecture of the Notre-Dame and René Allio's decor needs a special mention. Attention was paid to minute detail and authenticity throughout. Scenes range from the exterior to the bell-tower (Quasimodo trying to stop the bell from ringing is utterly shattering).
This production is available on DVD in high definition and widescreen and belongs on every ballet/dance fan's shelf. BRAVO!
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