Tall tales

Thierry Malandain and his troupe perform two classics at the Israel Festival this week.

Malandain Ballet Biarritz (photo credit: OLIVIER HOUEIX)
Malandain Ballet Biarritz
(photo credit: OLIVIER HOUEIX)
As any storyteller will confess, the way a tale is told is as important, if not more, than the plot or characters. For French choreographer Thierry Malandain, finding the right way to tell a story is the key to unlocking his creativity. A seasoned choreographer, Malandain has taken on treasured classics from Don Juan to Carmen , always bringing a new twist or perspective to the story.
This weekend, Malandain Ballet Biarritz will perform for the first time in Israel. As guests of the annual Israel Festival, it will present two programs, Romeo and Juliet and Cinderella . These ballets represent two examples of Malandain’s rich and diverse repertory.
The company was founded in 1998 as a joint initiative of the French Culture and Communication Ministry and the city of Biarritz. Today, the troupe is home to 20 excellent dancers.
The choice to bring these two works for their maiden voyage to Israel was greatly influenced by Israel Festival director Yossi Tal-Gan.
“Yossi Tal-Gan came to watch these two ballets in France,” explained Malandain in a recent interview with The Jerusalem Post.
Trusting Tal-Gan’s experience with local audiences, Malandain agreed to present the two time-tested tales with which his company could best showcase their talents.
Romeo and Juliet premiered in September 2010 and is set to music by Hector Berlioz. Jorge Gallardo’s set and costumes bring Malandain’s version of Shakespeare’s tragedy into the present day.
“My version is different from the others, because I chose Hector Berlioz’s dramatic symphony instead of Serge Prokofiev’s sheet music,” he said. “Moreover, I did not wish to refer to the Italian roots of the myth. I wanted to try to give to this ballet a more universal dimension.”
His take on Cinderella , which premiered in 2013, is highly visual and at times comedic. The ballet posed a particular challenge to Malandain, who admits to having put off taking on the telling of this tale for several years.
“I thought that I needed more dancers,” he gave as a reason for his initial reluctance to broaching Cinderella.
However, in spite of his apprehension, he began working on Cinderella two years ago. For the production, he once again called on Gallardo to give his version a signature look. Gallardo’s set is centered around the iconic shoe, which is represented by dozens of high-heeled shoes hanging on the back wall of the stage.
“I was afraid to create Cinderella but once we overcame the material difficulties, the creation process was easier than I thought,” he said.
For more than a quarter of a century, Malandain has honed his skills as a storyteller. Having trained as a classical dancer, he began his stage career with the Paris Opera. At the age of 27, he decided to forgo the spotlight for the reins of artistic creation, a choice that continues to resonate in his life.
“I stopped dancing on stage when I created the company. I have always missed dancing, and I still do, but even though it is hard for me to accept that time flies, I am 55-years-old and my body tells me that there is a time for everything,” he said.
If the past 16 years have proven anything to Malandain, it is that the time is right for choreographing. Since the establishment of the company, Ballet Biarritz has become a driving force in neoclassical and contemporary dance. The troupe tours extensively throughout Europe every year, with the occasional hop to locations further afield. In addition, he has created many works for other companies, including the National Paris Opera Ballet, the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet and Geneva Ballet.
Malandain Ballet Biarritz will perform at the Israel Festival on June 12, 13 and 14. For more information, visit http://israel-festival.org/ English/.