The ballet Marguerite and Armand was created at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in 1963. Eye-witnesses recollect that following the premiere there were twenty-one curtain calls.
Frederick Ashton staged the ballet for Margot Fonteyn. Rudolf Nureyev, who had recently arrived in London, was all but unknown to Ashton at the time, but the charismatic young dancer`s partnership with the forty-three-year-old grande dame of British ballet ¨C the incomparable Margot Fonteyn ¨C provided a suitable theme for the production in which the choreographer was afforded the opportunity once again to present his darling in all her glory.
Ashton and Fonteyn emerged as great artists together ¨C she as a ballerina and he as a choreographer. He created ballets with her in mind and dedicated them to her. And if Ashton had not had such a responsive performer who so inspired him over the course of more than a quarter of a century with her ease, emotionality and perfectionism his achievements in British choreography may well have been rather different. In the early 1960s Margot Fonteyn was planning to retire from performing and Ashton`s vision of a stage version of the story told by Alexandre Dumas fils in La Dame aux camelias happened to find resonance with her stage career. In the ballet, the heroine appeared at the end of her life`s journey: dying from consumption, she recalled moments of her former life and her passionate love. It suited Fonteyn to remember the past days of former artistic triumphs. And for Ashton this production was a deeply personal dedication. At the time, in spring 1963, no-one could have imagined that the method chosen to depict the story in the ballet would foretell the scenario of the ballerina`s own subsequent stage life, where events would not be regarded in retrospective but would look into the future. Her greatest triumphs were yet to come and her partnership with Nureyev was to be not a matter of nostalgia but rather the beginning of a new stage life.
Other amazing coincidences are connected with this production: having heard Liszt`s Piano Sonata in B Minor on the radio, Frederick Ashton considered it to be a suitable musical basis for his future ballet based on the plot of La Dame aux cam§Ûlias. And how surprised he was when he discovered that Franz Liszt and Marie Duplessis, the prototype of Marguerite Gautier, the female protagonist of Dumas fils¡¯ novel and stage play, were linked by a romantic relationship at the end of her short life and that the sonata was composed several years after her death!
Ashton did not create the ballet taking into account the individual characters of the performers, and neither did he tell a story about his dancers; he created their story ¨C it was in this ballet that the legendary duo was born. This was why the choreographer categorically forbade any other dancers to touch this incredibly providential masterpiece. If, at first, during rehearsals Fonteyn and Nureyev had understudies, over time Ashton came to consider that the ballet Marguerite and Armand was not a vehicle where the performers could be replaced. The only possible content of the ballet was the personalities of its protagonists and the magnetism of their relationship on the stage.
But one by one the creators of the ballet all died ¨C first Ashton in 1988, then Margot Fonteyn in 1991 and, two years after that, Nureyev. And the idea arose of reviving this ¡°lost¡± wonder.
The first dancer with whom the guardians of Ashton¡¯s legacy entrusted Fonteyn¡¯s role was Sylvie Guillem, a ballerina with unique physical abilities and, which is more important here, a rare charisma and incredibly powerful individuality. In 1984 the nineteen-year-old Sylvie had been named an §«toile of the Op§Ûra de Paris by Rudolf Nureyev, while some years later he took her to London for a co-performance and personally introduced her to Margot Fonteyn. Soon she became the brightest star of British ballet, as Fonteyn herself had once been, the unchallenged darling of London audiences. It is quite possible that she, more than anyone else, saw the obvious pointlessness of following the path taken by her mentor Rudolf Nureyev and his eternally adored Margot Fonteyn. Probably that is why Sylvie Guillem turned down the role on two occasions. And when she accepted it in 2000 she looked for the key to the image not in Fonteyn`s Marguerite but in the literary source.
Thus began the new stage life of Marguerite and Armand. The ¡°ghosts¡± and destinies of Fonteyn and Nureyev have faded into the background, and today`s performers of the ballet ¨C of whom there have been a great many since 2000 ¨C dance the story of Dumas` characters.
concept, Direction & Choreography by Wayne McGregor
Music by Max Richter
Set Design: Julian Opie
Lighting Design: Lucy Carter
Costume Design: Moritz Junge
Sound Design: Chris Ekers
Restaged by Antoine Vereecken
Assisted by Miranda Lind
Sound realised by Mark Thackeray
Light realised by Simon Bennison
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
Today the ballets of British choreographer Wayne McGregor adorn the playbills of the world`s leading ballet companies ¨C the Op¨¦ra de Paris, the Royal Ballet in Great Britain, New York City Ballet, the Nederlands Dans Theater and Russia`s Bolshoi Theatre, invariably amazing audiences. Through his interest in modern technology, in his productions the choreographer tries to produce a dialogue between dance and the latest multimedia achievements. In his ballets, alongside the dancers there are computer-generated figures and 3D architecture, digital video and animation are employed. And all of this in combination with original plastique. McGregor¡¯s interest in the mechanics of movement produces enchanting results ¨C refined body combinations in duets and the flow of mechanical poses you cannot draw your eyes from as they flow from one to the next. And despite the pure refinement of the beauty of the dance you have a sense of absolutely natural movement ¨C the plastique reality is bewitching, it draws the audience into its own magnetic field that is created not by external energy coming from the music or the plot but from the form of pure dance in its own right. For his collaboration with the Mariinsky Ballet McGregor has selected the one-act ballet Infra, created in 2008 for the Royal Ballet in London. ¡°The Mariinsky Ballet¡¯s magnificent dancers give the choreography their own energy, they change its character,¡± says the choreographer, ¡°When I chose to stage a ballet at the Mariinsky Theatre I really wanted something suitable specifically for this company that combines lofty technique and emotionality. Everyone has their own story to tell but in a crowd these stories are lost and, when doing their everyday tasks, people can become really lonely. I have tried to get into the hidden depths of the human soul and show people`s inner sides ¨C prosaic, imperfect and vulnerable. Infra is about that, it`s just a ballet about people.
The translation from Latin means ¡°under, underneath¡±. The contrasting chaos of people¡¯s everyday inner lives is visualised in the designs by Julian Opie: high up, high above the stage plane there is a light diode screen with a series of conventional walking figureless digital people, while below the screen to the resonant and piercing monotony of the strings` melody (composed by Max Richter) twelve dancers tell the story of desires and collisions, passing meetings and lost illusions, wrongful breakups and unattained happiness.
World premiere: 13 November 2008, The Royal Ballet, Royal Opera Hous§Ö, London
Premiere at the Mariinsky II: 24 February 2014
Running time: 30 minutes