Directly behind the stage of the Palais Garnier, Paris’s historic opera house, is the Foyer de la Danse. This opulent room, with its lavish chandeliers and gilt decor, was originally designed as a gathering place for patrons of the ballet before a performance.
On Wednesday, the Foyer was the setting of an important press conference jointly sponsored by the Paris Opera Ballet and Les Grands Ballets Canadiens. The occasion was the announcement of the Paris Opera’s visit to Montreal, Oct. 16 to 19, 2014. The last time the fabled company performed in Montreal was during Expo 67, 47 years ago.
For Canadian dance lovers, this is welcome news indeed. Not only is the Paris Opera Ballet the oldest ballet company in the world – it was founded in 1661 by Louis XIV – it is also considered among the finest, spoken in the same reverential breath as the Bolshoi and the Mariinsky-Kirov ballets.
As long ago as 2001, Les Grands’ artistic director, Gradimir Pankov, had made overtures to his long-time friend, the Paris Opera’s director of dance, Brigitte Lefèvre, for her company to appear at Montreal’s Place des Arts. It is now a dream come true. Les Grands has scored a coup – Montreal is the only North American city that the Paris Opera Ballet will visit in 2014.
The Paris Opera Ballet will perform Paquita, one of the “lost ballets” of the 19th century. Choreographer Pierre Lacotte, a former principal dancer with the company, recreated Paquita in 2001. The story is set during the Napoleonic wars in Spain. Paquita is a fiery gypsy girl who saves the life of a French officer. To mount such a lavish classical ballet, the company will bring 122 staff and dancers to Montreal.
Lacotte is one of the world’s leading experts on the romantic ballets of the 19th century. He explained how his research took him to dance archives in four different countries. Lacotte was also helped in establishing dance style and mime elements by two of his teachers, Lubov Egorova and Carlotta Zambelli, who had both performed the ballet in Russia.
Paquita was first choreographed for the Paris Opera Ballet by Joseph Mazilier in 1846 to music by Edouard Deldevez. When storied French ballet master Marius Petipa (the choreographer to Tchaikovsky) first went to St. Petersburg in 1847, Paquita was the first ballet he staged. His revival in 1881 included new choreography set to music by Ludwig Minkus. Egorova was coached in the role of Paquita by Petipa himself.
Les Grands is subsidizing 100 per cent of the cost of the visit. They hope to break even through ticket sales, and by fundraising. The company is soliciting corporate funds through the Ambassador’s Circle, under honorary chairman Philippe Zeller, French ambassador to Canada, and private donations through Amis du Ballet de l’Opéra de Paris au Québec, under honorary chairmen Bruno Clerc, consul general of France in Montreal, and Nicolas Chibaeff, consul general of France in Quebec City.