Homage to Roland Petit: Eleonora Abbagnato returns to dance at the Teatro Massimo. Also on the programme is a world premiere by Benjamin Pech inspired by Palermo.

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Eleonora Abbagnato returns to dance at the Teatro Massimo in Palermo two years after Carmen (March 2014). She does so, starting tomorrow Wednesday 15 June and running until the 19th, with Soirée Roland Petit, a selection of choreographies in homage to the great French maestro who made her his muse, after discovering her in 1990 for the role of Aurora as a child in The Sleeping Beauty. The programme dedicated to Roland Petit (L’Arlésienne and Le Jeune Homme e la Mort) is completed with the choreography Stabat Mater signed by Benjamin Pech, étoile of the Paris Opéra, created on this occasion for Abbagnato and the Teatro Massimo of Palermo and presented as a world premiere.

Great dance returns, then, for an evening dedicated to the extraordinary choreographer (born in 1924 and died in 2011) who was one of the most important figures in ballet in the second half of the 20th century. Today the presentation to the press, with the superintendent Francesco Giambrone; the coordinator of the Corps de Ballet, Marco Bellone; the conductor Alessandro Ferrari, who leads the Teatro Massimo Orchestra; the supervisor of choreographies Luigi Bonino, who for 36 years worked alongside Roland Petit, Benjamin Pech, Silvia Azzoni and Alessandro Riga, the two dancers starring in L’Arlésienne.

“It is always a great pleasure to return to my city. It is a very intense emotion to step onto the stage of the Massimo, accompanied by the affection and esteem of my audience. Dancing a choreography by Roland Petit makes me look back on the many years of hard work spent with him, remembering both his proverbial severity and the enormous satisfaction that a smile of approval from him could give you,’ says Eleonora Abbagnato, now étoile at the Paris Opera, who has been director of the Rome Opera Ballet Corps for a year.

“We are very happy,” adds Superintendent Francesco Giambrone, “that Eleonora is returning to dance at the Teatro Massimo, the theatre of her city, the theatre that saw her born. We appreciate her more and more as a dancer, but we also greatly appreciate the work she is doing at the Rome Opera for the growth of the corps de ballet and the enhancement of young talent. This confirms to us that the direction we have taken, that of maintaining and enhancing our corps de ballet, is the right one. A great theatre is a theatre that has an orchestra, a choir, a corps de ballet, technicians who build the sets’.

Roland Petit’s ballets on the programme are Le Jeune Homme e la Mort and L’Arlésienne, the former created at the beginning of his choreographic activity, in 1946, the latter in 1974, created immediately after he moved from Paris to Marseille to found the legendary ballet company (Ballet de Marseille, later to become Ballet National de Marseille-Roland Petit). When Roland Petit created Le Jeune Homme e la Mort (libretto by Cocteau with music by Johann Sebastian Bach), unanimously considered a masterpiece and interpreted over time by great male dance stars such as Nureyev, Baryshnikov and Roberto Bolle, he was only twenty-two years old. “For the set design of what he called a mimodrama,” says Daniela Cecchini in the programme, “he imagined a Baudeleire-like world, where ‘beauty was contaminated by the sordid and the ignoble’. An unmade bed, a few chairs, a drape, a table, a beam with a rope. The setting is a miserable painting studio, cloaked in a gloomy atmosphere that envelops the protagonist, oppressed by himself, plunged into a fully existentialist atmosphere. The anguished anticipation of the lover is disturbingly accompanied by a simultaneous emptiness of meaning. The plot is simple: a young painter is waiting for a visit from his woman.

Upon arrival, she displays an ambiguous attitude: she lets herself be taken in, approaches, seduces and distances herself. To his pressing demands and threats of suicide she shows contemptuous, already distant. She finally exits the scene to give way to death, which manifests itself in the guise of a lady in yellow. She wears a mask that after a scene of icy seduction is allegorically transferred onto the face of the young man, who immediately afterwards takes his own life’. Eleonora Abbagnato’s partner for Le Jeune Homme et la Mort is Stéphane Bullion, also an étoile at the Paris Opéra and one of Roland Petit’s favourite dancers. The tension of a tragic ending is also present in L’Arlésienne, a narrative ballet that Roland Petit created based on an 1866 novella by Alphonse Daudet, inspired by the suicide of a nephew of the writer and poet: Frédéric Mistral. At the centre of the story is the obsession of the protagonist, Frédéri, for a beloved and lost Arlesian woman. His passion for her has never dissipated, nor does his engagement to Vivette succeed in resolving the conflict. The man, in the end, in despair, kills himself. The drama of a passion that leads to madness and death unfolds in a single day, during the feast of Saint Eligius, in the course of an overwhelming farandole, a Provençal folk dance performed by men and women holding hands. For L’Arlésienne dances Silvia Azzoni, prima ballerina at the Hamburg Ballet, and Alessandro Riga, principal bailarín of the Compañia Nacional de Danza in Madrid, with the Corps de Ballet of the Teatro Massimo. Benjamin Pech, étoile of the Paris Opéra, is the author of the third choreography of the Soirée.

Just a few months after his farewell to the stage, last February at the Opéra, during an evening danced together with Eleonora Abbagnato, it was for the Palermo étoile and the Teatro Massimo di Palermo that this dancer was invited to create a choreographic work that also inaugurates a new season in his career, and for which he has exceptionally returned to dance. Benjamin Pech’s project started from a personal memory connected to his first time in Palermo. “The first time I was in Palermo,” he recounted, “some 20 years ago, walking in the historic centre, I got lost. I then entered a church to ask the way. The church was empty, there was only the organist playing, I sat down and listened… it was Vivaldi’s Stabat Mater. The music seemed to come from every stone in the building; it was a unique moment!”.

A sacred celebration on the piety and feelings of the Virgin Mary, the Stabat Mater accompanies the believer to contemplate the portrait of a woman, a mother and a saint. In this horizon, music and dance embrace. Along with arias from Vivaldi’s sacred hymn, the French choreographer has also chosen for his ballet the composition dedicated to Winter, taken from the Four Seasons. The protagonist of the ballet will be the couple Eleonora Abbagnato and Benjamin Pech, alternated by Riccardo Riccio, with the dancers of the Corps de Ballet of the Teatro Massimo. A sacred celebration on the piety and feelings of the Virgin Mary, the Stabat Mater accompanies the believer to contemplate the portrait of a woman, a mother and a saint. The two soloists embody on stage the moving image of a mother and a Christ.