Co-written by Saranya Chawla
A young peasant girl Giselle dies of a broken heart when her lover is betrothed to another. A supernatural group of women, who dance men to death — The Wilis — summon Giselle from her grave and she joins them. When her lover, full of remorse, visits her at night, he is preyed upon by The Wilis, who condemn him to dance till death. Giselle then helps him escape. Created in 1841, Giselle is an iconic French ballet, shown the world over.
Based on the story written by Theophile Gautier, and music by Adolphe Adam, the traditional theme of love conquering death runs through the tale. It is one of the eight pieces being presented in the ballet recital — ‘Paris Ballet Legends’ — with dancers from Paris, Rome and Madrid, as a part of Bonjour India. After a show in Delhi, the dancers will perform at National Centre for Performing Arts, in Mumbai.
“All pieces linked to Paris, either through their choreography, author, theme, composer, or their focus on current affairs, is a legend,” says Frederic Fontan, who has directed and choreographed the recital. In 2016, he was selected by then French Foreign Minister Jean Marc Ayrault to participate in the Ambassadors Entrepreneurs Summit, where he proposed the concept of Paris Ballet Legends, as a hymn to the French style created four centuries ago by King Louis XIV.
Nearly 15 years ago, Fontan was introduced to India, when he saw Lamia Saffiedine narrate stories of the Silk Route in her ballet recital Assafar – The Journey in Paris. “The passage on India enthralled me with the power of its technique, peculiarities, costumes, musicality and rhythm,” he says. What he misses in the Paris Ballet Legends is the collaboration with Indian artistes. “In Hanoi, we had the National Vietnam Symphony Orchestra play while we danced,” he says. But he makes a connect to India with the piece La Bayadère, which means ‘The Female Indian Dancer’. He calls this an obvious choice for its “fantasy on India and its beauty sensuality and myths”. Choreographed by the celebrated French ballet dancer, Marius Pepita, it is the story of a Hindu dancer Nikiya and a warrior Solor, whose love story is thwarted by the High Brahmin and Rajah Dugmanta of Golconda.
In the piece Les Enfants Du Paradis, they pay tribute to the 1943 cult film by Marcel Carné. In Non, Rien de Rien, they dance to the classic sung by Edith Piaf. In the latter piece, we get to see award-winning dancer Agnès Letestu, one of the most celebrated French dancers of today. They also dance to the iconic music of Mozart in Le Parc and Mendelssohn in the modern ballet piece Renaissance. “I wanted to bring together the dance form, the city of Paris — an object of fantasy for many people — and the concept of legends from the past and the present alike,” says Fontan.