The Royal Opera House London chose the 2017 performance of Marguerite and Armand as a part of its lockdown time online shows, and what a show it was! More from Sowgandhika Krishnan.
The courtesan and hero falling in love with each other is a pretty popular theme across cultures. Movies, operas, books, and dance have dealt with this theme over years. Alexandre Dumas wrote ‘La Dame aux Camélias’ and ‘Marguerite and Armand’, a ballet based on his story, was choreographed by Sir Frederick Ashton in 1963. This was for the farewell performance of one of the greatest classical dancers, Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fontey (together considered Ballet’s legendary pairing).
The ballet takes the viewer through the story in flashback mode. Marguerite, a Parisian courtesan, lies on her deathbed, gravely ill with tuberculosis. She reminisces her love for Armand and everything that has transpired between them. Marguerite is in the company of a wealthy patron and admirers when she meets Armand for the first time. They fall in love, and she moves in with him. Things seem happy until an increasingly ill Marguerite is ordered by Armand’s father to leave him for good in order to save his family’s reputation. She leaves with no explanation and moves in with a wealthy patron. An angry Armand humiliates her by throwing money at her in public and accuses her of choosing money over love. As she waits for death, Armand’s father reveals the truth to him, and he comes back to Marguerite only for her to die in his arms.
This 40-minute production is set to Franz Liszt’s music. The set is unusual with bamboo/wood bars and a lot of fabric, put together to resemble a big cage, aptly symbolizing Marguerite’s life – being caught up in situations she has no control over. The set is minimal yet beautiful. Sir Ashton’s choreography is outstanding – beautiful pas de deux (duets) full of passion, with a lot of lifts and fantastic landings. The lifts and landings are very well executed particularly the landing in the romantic duet, which has Yanowsky (the dancer playing Marguerite) landing like a swan gliding over water! Of special mention, is the duet where the angry Armand confronts Marguerite, – this one has the dancers Yanowsky and Bolle (playing Armand) at their best. The production ends with Armand crying over Marguerite’s body.
There is something about unattainable love that tugs at a viewer’s heart. Marguerite and Armand does it very well. It keeps you glued to the screen. This one is definitely worth a watch.
Marguerite and Armand plays online on the Royal Opera House site until February 14, 2021. Do watch it.
Photo (Set) – Tristam Kenton, Royal Opera House
Photos – Alistair Muir, Royal Opera House
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