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Discovering Roland Petit

By Jarrod 14 Mar 2017 • 1 Comments

RNZB Carmen1

The Royal New Zealand Ballet kicks off their 2017 season with a double bill from acclaimed choreographer Roland Petit – Carmen and L'Arlésienne. Jarrod caught up with Francesco Ventriglia, RNZB’s Artistic Director, to find out what makes these ballets so special.

Jarrod: This is the first time the Royal New Zealand Ballet have performed works by Roland Petit. Can you tell me a bit about why he’s so significant?

Francesco: He’s one of the most important choreographers of the 20th Century. He was a great master, obviously, first of all, and the second – what I’m bringing here to New Zealand are these two iconic titles, L'Arlésienne and Carmen, because those represent very much a few of his masterworks. Two iconic titles.

He created this ballet – Carmen – in 1949, and if you see the ballet now, you can imagine that he created it yesterday, it’s extremely modern. It’s extremely challenging for the dancers, but extremely accessible for the public, because it’s very easy to read the story, it’s very to follow what happens, it’s so musical – the musicality is amazing and the choreography so colourful... And they’re two completely different ballets on the same night.

I had the personal possibility to work with him in Milan many years ago, and he brought to my career a lot of knowledge, a lot of positive things, because when you meet a choreographer like that, everything changes – so it’s important to give to my dancers the possibility to dance the work of this choreographer and even to New Zealanders the possibility to meet this choreographer, to know him, to know his work.

Natasha Kusch as Carmen and Joseph Skelton as Don Jose
Photo credit: Stephen A'Court

And Petit has been especially significant to you personally?

For me it was amazing – because the first time I met him in person I was in the ballet school, La Scala, and I was 16 obviously so it was a big choreographer. When I arrived in the ballet company I was 19; immediately he was invited again, and he chose me for a role, and I continued to work with him for many years. He was the first choreographer to give me a full-length ballet - it was a very big turning point in my career when I met Roland Petit so he is very important to me.

Unfortunately he died a few years ago, but his other assistant and ballet master continue his job perfectly around the world to restage him. So Roland Petit the choreographer is staging at the Paris Opera, and Beijing Ballet, La Scala, Rome – in every company in the world, so I thought it was really important to bring him to New Zealand.


Carmen in particular is now over 60 years old – are there any elements of it that change over that time? You’ve said that it’s quite contemporary – that it could have been choreographed yesterday – but do you think there’s an element that a work can change over that sort of length of life?

No – the choreography absolutely doesn’t change. It’s always the same. Obviously the dancers change, the interpreters change – across these sixty years many dancers performed this ballet and every artist brings on stage a different contribution, if you want, to the story and to the choreography, but the ballet is always the same. Nothing is changed. The key is how genius was Roland Petit. He created this ballet – he created something that could stay alive across this time without a problem. It’s great.

Francesco Ventriglia at 19 with Roland Petit at the Paris Opera Ballet
Francesco Ventriglia at 19 with Roland Petit at the Paris Opera Ballet

Apart from the fact that both ballets are set to Bizet, is there anything else which makes them complementary?

Arguably they’re two completely different stories, if you want, but equally in both stories they are full of passion, love, eroticism, tragedy – it’s two different stories about these characters where they live their lives completely committed with passion, completely committed with – they dive into the emotion completely, these two characters, they don’t live their lives superficially. They’re really into the emotion, into the passion. That’s why I guess it’s extremely overwhelming when this story arrives to you. That’s I guess is the connection between these two ballets, even if they’re completely different, absolutely.

You’ve got some guest dancers working with the company – can you tell me a little about them?

Yes, we have Daniel Gaudiello and Natalya Kusch. Natalya was a principal dancer in the Australian Ballet and now she’s freelance. I met her when I was in Australia to see the Australian Ballet and I thought she was a perfect interpreter for Carmen and so why not invite her.

And Daniel Gaudiello danced with us in Giselle last year, so it’s very good he came back with us. You know, the guest artists are very good for the company because obviously it’s a challenge into the group, and new inspiration, and new point of view – and for the public they have the possibility to see other dancers. So it’s always a positive thing to have a guest artist. And Natalya and Daniel – they’re part of the family now. Daniel already worked for us for two years, and Natalya just arrived, but they are two very positive presences.

Carmen 201727710 v4 small
Natalya Kusch as Carmen
Photo credit: Stephen A'Court

You’ve said you think these works should be seen by everyone who loves the arts. Do you think they’re accessible to ballet novices?

Look absolutely yes – if you love art, in general, you cannot miss this opportunity because Roland Petit represents one of the most important artists of the 20th century. It’s not about most important choreographer – it doesn’t matter that he’s a choreographer – because in this performance you can find everything. All of the community – the arts community – must come and see. If you see the reaction of the public after the show, it’s amazing how they feel touched by the story, by this new different way to combine steps and music and costumes and design and everything – it’s mesmerising at the end of the show. So that’s why I say this thing, I say all the people who love the arts – no matter which arts – they need to come.

Add your comment

  • Catherine Butland 24/03/2017 7:25pm (14 months ago)

    Long time ballet follower - will be amazing.

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