Ballet Nice Méditerranée, under the artistic direction of Éric Vu-An, presents five works in a programme entitled Black Dances Matter – paying tribute to the influence of black artists in the history of dance. The company has a well-deserved reputation for versatility, and this is amply displayed across Vu-An’s Eden and Le Ballet de Faust, Maurice Béjart’s Chaka, Dwight Rhoden’s Verse Us and Alvin Ailey’s Night Creature.
In Eden, Éric Vu-An – who is of Franco, African and Vietnamese descendancy – depicts a harmonious time when Humanity gave birth to all, regardless of race or colour, but – as the music from Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice foretells – this Utopian state doesn’t last, as tolerance, universality and love descend into conflict.
The second work comprises solos from Maurice Béjart’s Chaka, a ballet in which Béjart reconnects with his African heritage (he had a Senegalese grandmother). Chaka is based on a text by Senegalese poet, politician and cultural theorist, Léopold Sédar Senghor, who served as the first president of Senegal for 20 years. Set to Brazilian and Ivory Coast music, the ballet has Chaka, the founder of the Zulu kingdom, as its central character, demonstrating what Senghor saw as the influence of Africa on modern culture.
Éric Vu-An created his Le Ballet de Faust in 2018, setting it to the music of Charles Gounod. This work is his interpretation of Walpurgis Night – the scene in Gounod’s opera Faust when Mephistopheles shows Faust the folk celebration before May Day, the night on which the souls of the dead are briefly released to wander as they choose. Building on a sense of joyful reverie, the ballet paints a vivid, colourful picture of the dancers reaching a stage of total distraction, in which dance and trance are never far apart.
Dwight Rhoden, a former principal dancer with the Alvin Ailey Company, is the co-founder, and one of the two artistic directors of Complexions Contemporary Ballet in New York – widely regarded as America’s original multicultural dance company. His Verse Us is a dramatic piece with jazzy undertones, and an impressive display of movements in a bold, almost athletic style. Even the score is unusual – bringing together the music of Philip Glass, contemporary German composers Nils Frahm and Sven Helbig, and Estonian-born American conductor, curator and producer Kristjan Järvi. In a nod to tradition, the score also features music by Mozart and Claude Debussy.
The final ballet on the programme is Night Creature, created by the prolific American choreographer Alvin Ailey, founder of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, a multi-racial modern dance company which had a significant effect on the popularity of contemporary dance, not only in America, but around the world as well. His Night Creature, dating back to 1974, is set to Duke Ellington’s Night Creature for Jazz Band and Orchestra. A spirited work, it features the antics of a group of bright young things in the Jazz Age, who come into their own after nightfall – as they strut, slink, leap and soft-shoe shuffle their way, 1920s style, through Ailey’s sassy choreography and Ellington’s fabulous score.
Black Dances Matter will be stage at the Nice Opera from 15th to 21st October. Reservations can be made by telephone on 04 92 17 40 79, or online at www.opera-nice.org.
This article first appeared in Riviera Buzz