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Letter from Cannes.

CANNES -- For many good reasons -- the picturesque factor, fabulous weather, delicious food -- almost all of France's major arts festivals take place in beautiful, historically resonant small towns in the south of the country during the indolent summer months. While the Cannes international Dance Festival conforms geographically to the rule, it differs on most other counts: Cannes is small but very urban, its famous beachfront densely packed with high-rise apartment buildings, its populace elderly, and its cultural affiliations nearly limited to the famous film festival that is apparently the most exhaustively covered media event on the planet.

Nearly, but not quite. Since 1986, Cannes has hosted -- along with other cultural initiatives from the mairie, or town hall -- a winter dance festival that has slowly transformed itself from merely featuring a series of well-known ballet companies to one of the most interesting events on the festival circuit. The transformation is due to the curatorial skills of Yorgos Loukos, whose day job is artistic director of Lyons National Opera Ballet, and who took over as festival director in 1992 from founders Rosella Hightower and Jean-Luc Barsotti. The Greek-born Loukos, a solidly built, open-faced man who speaks an improbable number of languages fluently and exudes enthusiasm and discernment in equal parts, has taken an unconventional approach to the famously conservative inclinations of the region's population (Jean-Marie Le Pen's far-right party garnered 33 percent of the region's vote in the last elections): He programs as if the public were seasoned dance lovers of catholic tastes, who might like to see a pared-down version of Romeo and Juliet by Monte Carlo Ballet one night and an avant-garde dance-theater work by David Grenke the next.

It's an approach that seems to have worked -- audiences and box-office receipts have increased annually -- and Loukos pays due homage to the Cannes cultural policies that have allowed him to shape the festival as a broadening of artistic horizons for both the public and the participating performers. He nonetheless found his budget reduced by about a third for this eleventh edition (even France, the last bastion of liberal funding for the arts, is showing evidence of reduced circumstances). Loukos's solution was a two-pronged approach featuring, on the one hand, interesting European ballet companies in largely contemporary programs and, on the other, youngish choreographers in small-scale new works.

The eight-day program started gently with the aforementioned Romeo and Juliet, choreographed by Monte Carlo Ballet director Jean-Christophe Maillot, whose new Recto Verso and Vers un Pays Sage were to be seen the following afternoon (together with a strong rendition of Balanchine's Stravinsky Violin Concerto) on a mixed bill. Maillot's blend of classical technique and more contemporary inflections doesn't always work (he seems led astray by the dreaded and more or less untransatable French concept of scenographie, or staging), but it demonstrated a spirit of experiment that set the scene for much that was to come from the ballet companies, and showed off the company's fine dancers (who could be seen for the rest of the week in the audience, taking maximum advantage of so much new dance so close to home).

Later that night came a mixed program from French choreographer Herve Robbe and American Wally Cardona (who recently made a piece for Robbe's company, Le Marietta Secret), both showing premieres of works in progress, and both looking tentative. Inducting us slowly into festival rhythms (and allowing decent sleep-in time before press conferences, much needed after late-night, discussion-filled, festival-hosted dinners), the next two days featured just one company each evening -- Charleroi Danses, headed by Belgian choreographer Frederic Flamand, and Meryl Tankard's Australian Dance Theatre. Both were spectacular but very differently styled theatrical events -- Flamand's Moving Target an imaginative but messy mixed-media event, and Tankard's Furioso a brilliant, breathtaking depiction of male-female relationships that creates a shifting visual poetry and constant kinetic excitement through the skillful use of harnesses and dancers' physical prowess.

The succeeding days saw wonderfully clear, blue-skied afternoons (made particularly gratifying by reports of rain and cold from New York), press debates about the state of the art in the U.S. and France, and a discussion with dance patron Nathan Clark, who was visiting the festival with a view to setting up a collaborative structure with the American Dance Festival and who, in his nineties, was an indefatigably dapper presence at every performance and event. There were also programs of new works by former Lyons National Opera Ballet dancer Stanislaw Wisniewski, Lyons Opera and Monte Carlo Ballet dancers, French choreographers Gilles Baron and Lionel Hoche, Finn Tero Saarinen, and American David Grenke. My favorites were both spare male trios, by Hoche and Saarinen -- the former a well-established artist, the latter just starting out but showing evidence of a truly original dance vocabulary made up of loping moonwalking steps and limb-swirling turns, infused with an intensely focused and controlled energy.

Meanwhile, Geneva Grand Theatre Ballet, Netherlands Dance Theater 3, Lyons National Opera Ballet, and Balletto di Toscana represented Loukos's other programming line, in performances that generally succeeded better than those of the smaller companies. The strategem worked well in general because all of these companies have their own policy of programming a stimulating mix of contemporary ballets -- offering works by Amanda Miller, Ohad Naharin, Jiri Kylian, William Forsythe, and Bill T. Jones among others. It must be said, however, that, with the exception of Kylian -- whose assorted pieces for his four wonderful NDT 3 dancers (Martine van Hamel, Sabine Kupferberg, Gary Chryst, and Gerard Lemaitre) made one want to prostrate oneself in worship before them -- the festival firmly underlined that, with very few exceptions, directors of companies should refrain from choreography, or at least exercise restraint. Giorgio Mancini and Mauro Bigonzetti's pieces (for their Geneva and Tuscany companies, respectively) were not works that provoked much critical debate at postperformance dinners. Luckily, we were in France, and there was food to think about.


FLORENCE -- Only eleven years ago it seemed an impossible bet: to form an independent Italian ballet company and introduce it to America. But Cristina Bozzolini, former prima ballerina with Florence's Maggio Musicale Ballet (now known as Maggiodanza) and currently the artistic director of Balletto di Toscana, has always loved challenges. The gamble paid off -- in March, Florence-based Balletto di Toscana performs Mauro Bigonzetti's Mediterranea from Canada to California on a five-week tour. [See Performance Calendar, page 4, for dates and locations.]

From its start in 1986, Balletto di Toscana was a risky venture: Bozzolini's goal was to create a permanent company, independent of the traditional European opera-house structure, comprised of classically trained dancers who were also comfortable with different choreographic languages. The repertory was to be based on the most interesting examples of contemporary European ballet and -- the hardest task -- the creations of young Italian dancemakers.

In 1985, the italian ballet situation was desolate: Apart from Aterballetto, no other company gave an international breath to Italian ballet. Bozzolini decided to try. Supported by the National Performing Arts Ministry and the Tuscany Regional Government (which gave the company $700,000 in 1996), she hired fourteen dancers, all of whom had to have something special: beautiful and strong technique, expressiveness, and emotional depth onstage.

Bozzolini's interest in the development of balletic language led her to build a repertory of the works of European neoclassicists such as Nils Christe, Ed Wubbe, Hans van Manen, Robert North, Christopher Bruce, and Vasco Wellenkamp. More recently she has extended the repertory's range to include works that mix choreographic idioms, such as those of Cesc Gelabert, Angelin Preljocaj, Stephan Thoss, Amanda Miller, and Jonathan Burrows.

With the creation of Balletto di Toscana, Bozzolini promoted a wave of new choreography in Italy. She gave many young talents in the 1980s avant-garde Nuova Danza movement their first opportunities to work with professional dancers. Choreographers Virgilio Sieni, Massimo Moricone, and Fabrizio Monteverde had career turning points with Balletto di Toscana.

Mauro Bigonzetti (now the internationally renowned director of Aterballetto), also got his start during a five-year partnership with Balletto di Toscana, in which he developed his demanding style, which is based upon dazzling tensions and never-ending dynamics. His 1993 Mediterranea, inspired by the Mediterranean cultural melting pot, recalls ancient myths as well as the contrasts and fusions of the Mediterranean world. The company's signature work, Mediterranea, which introduces Balletto di Toscana to America, demonstrates why someone has defined the company as "a small miracle in italy."


VAIL, Colorado -- Across the ski ranges of Colorado, a gradual transformation is happening: seasonal resorts are becoming communities with patrons who want year-round cultural experiences. Vail is an excellent example of this trend: a new, year-round arts venue opened here on February 5.

The $15 million Vilar Center for the Arts houses a 530-seat multipurpose theater, a concert hall, and Vail's first public art gallery. Cuban-American business magnate Alberto Vilar, president of Austria's Salzburg Music Festival, pledged $6.5 million for the center, and more than two hundred donors, including Vail resident and former President Gerald Ford and his wife, Betty (an early member of the Martha Graham Dance Company), generously contributed. In March, Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal performs at the center, as well as Balletto di Toscana. The icing on the cake? Atop the theater, an outdoor ice skating rink is already attracting crowds.


MARSEILLES, France -- It was a melancholy day in Marseilles on December 2, 1997, when Roland Petit, the artistic director of the Ballet National de Marseille and the accompanying school, made public his decision to step down. His unexpected announcement took place only six months after he and the company celebrated the company's twenty-fifth anniversary with performances on the waterfront of this southern French metropolis.

Petit, who turned 74 in January, declared that he was resigning as artistic director to liberate himself from a job that took up 365 days a year and "in order to try out some new experiences, notably television." According to Christophe Mely at the Marseilles company, Petit is planning to work on a feature film based on his life. His interest in film came about earlier this year when he met with a director from the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) who had come to Marseilles to do a news story on Petit and the ballet.

Petit, once a celebrated Marseilles resident, has also put his southern French home on the market and has moved back to Lausanne, Switzerland. He plans to continue working with the company and to spend five to six months a year in Marseilles. His latest production of Swan Lake opens in March, and he plans to create a new piece, Le Bon Petit Diable ("The Good Little Devil"), for the winter 1998-99 season of the ballet school.

Shortly after Petit's announcement, rumor spread that his successor would be French choreographer Angelin Preljocaj, whose dance company is situated in nearby Aix-en-Provence. Such a decision is unlikely, however, given the contemporary nature of Preljocaj's work. As of January, a new artistic director had yet to be selected, but Mely is certain that "the hunting committee, made up of cultural ministers and local politicians, will find someone with Petit's profile, someone who has already had experience running a classical dance company of this stature."

The ballet, founded by Petit in 1972, and its school, which will soon be celebrating its tenth anniversary, plans to perform fewer original works by Petit and more works by other choreographers.


LONDON -- While the Royal Opera House is closed (until 1999 for rebuilding), a leadership crisis has created offstage drama. The nine-member Board and the chairman, Lord Chadlington, resigned in December 1997, following a blistering report by a government committee.

The newly elected Labour government instituted an inquiry into the goings-on at the Opera House after the chief executive, Genista McIntosh, quit abruptly after just nineteen weeks in office. She was replaced -- with a haste that gave further cause for concern -- by Mary Allen, then secretary-general of the Arts Council, which is responsible for the annual grant of 15 million [pounds sterling] to the ROH and its two companies, the Royal Ballet and the Royal Opera.

The Culture Committee's report accused Allen of "conduct that fell seriously below the standards to be expected of someone in public office" for accepting a highly paid job without undergoing the usual interviewing procedures. Rumors of an affair between her and Lord Chadlington were hotly denied. He was criticized in the report for failing to appoint a finance director for more than a year after he took office and for failing to review plans for closure. The Board was castigated for delays in finding alternative theaters during the two-and-a-half-year closure period and for financial planning so abysmal that the committee recommended the Arts Council grant be withdrawn unless the entire board resigned.

They did so, staying on as caretaker managers until a new board could be appointed in the new year. Lord Chadlington was instructed to quit at once, which he did. On January 15, 1998, the new Labour Culture Minister, Chris Smith, named Sir Colin Southgate, the chairman of EMI records, as Chadlington's replacement. Sir Colin, who has chaired the music empire since 1989, says that he forsees no conflict of interest in his new post, though EMI exclusively represents noted singers and conductors who perform with the Royal Opera company. (Also announced on January 15 was the appointment of a new Chairman of the Arts Council. Gerry Robinson, a well-known businessman and supporter of the Labour Party, takes over from Earl Gowrie, who resigned just before the critical Kaufman committee report on the ROH and the Arts Council.)

Ms. Allen's offer to resign was rejected by the board: she remains at her post until the future of the Royal Opera House is decided. Its current deficit is expected to reach 7 million [pounds sterling] by the end of the financial year, in spite of two rescue package put together by wealthy patrons.

Since the Opera House closed last summer, seasons by the Royal Ballet at a former rock venue in West London and by the Royal Opera in a West End theater have lost considerable sums of money. The ROH is also having to raise private funds to match the 278.5 million granted to it from the National Lottery for its rebuilding project. Smith, has suggested privatizing the ROH, so that it no longer relies at all on public money.

Smith has asked the recently departed director of the Royal National Theatre, Sir Richard Eyre, to head a committee examining the provision of lyric theater (opera and dance) in London. One proposal the Eyre committee must consider is whether or not to move the English National Opera -- another Arts Council-subsidized company that's losing money at its home theater, the London Coliseum -- into the rebuilt Royal Opera House. The building, to be renamed the Covent Garden Theatre, would then house three companies: ENO, the Royal Ballet, and the Royal Opera. The proposal has been greeted with outrage by those involved, not least the Royal Ballet, which has had to fight for its share of performances with just one other company in the opera house. The Eyre committee is expected to report its findings in May 1998.


BERLIN -- Gerhard Brunner, general manager of the United Theaters of Graz, Austria, has been appointed advisor to the Berlin Senate of Culture to prepare the planned merger in 1999-2000 of the three Berlin ballet companies : State Opera Unter den Linden, the German Opera (formerly of West Berlin -- the company headed at present by artistic director Richard Cragun), and the Comic Opera. Brunner is former artistic director of Vienna State Opera Ballet and, since 1978, has directed the Vienna Dance Biennale.

The future Berlin Ballet will have 120 dancers, who are expected to perform at all three opera houses, possibly in two groups, one more classically oriented and one concentrating primarily on more contemporary works. Also integrated into the organization will be the Berlin State Ballet School, and there will be strong connections with Berlin's lively freelance dance scene.

At fifty-eight, Brunner faces a difficult job. The Berlin Cultural Senate also hopes to win him over as the manager of the new Berlin Ballet, but it is not yet clear whether the company will have a separate artistic director or if the positions of manager and director will be merged. In any case, Brunner's contract in Graz ends with the 1999-2000 season, so he will probably do a lot of city-hopping in between.


HONG KONG -- Like George Balanchine in New York and William Forsythe in Frankfurt, modern dance choreographer Rosalind Newman has found success outside of her native country. Now a resident of Hong Kong, the former New Yorker is launching a dance company, Dance HK/NY, with performances March 20-22 at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre Studio Theatre.

The program consists of a world premiere by Newman, untitled at press time, as well as her Ring of Shadows and Scenes from a Mirage.

The company is being presented by the Provisional Urban Council of Hong Kong, Special Administrative Region of China. "I was more than surprised," said Newman. "I was overjoyed when I learned about the Council's decision to present my work."

Newman has experience in leading a dance troupe. Her company in New York performed at the Joyce Theater and Dance Theater Workshop during the 1970s and 1980s and danced in many European festivals. In 1989 Newman moved to Hong Kong as a senior lecturer in modern dance at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, one of Asia's premier performing arts academies. Since then, she has choreographed on graduating dancers works that have been performed in Hong Kong, as well as on tours throughout Asia.

Many of the dancers in Dance HK/NY are graduates of the Academy and have studied with Newman. "These dancers know me and I know them," she says. "Our communication is instantaneous. We work hard; that's the only way there is. We explore, explore, explore, and arrive at a place that means something.

"I do miss New York, yet the resources at my disposal here are a choreographer's dream. There are theaters and studios and time that are hard to find elsewhere and that have allowed me to make pieces, especially with the way I like to deal with space and ideas."

Dance HK/NY has been invited to perform in the Kwan Du Arts Festival in Taipei, Taiwan, in May, and the Karmiel Dance Festival in israel in July.
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Title Annotation:Cannes International Dance Festival in Cannes, France
Author:Sulcas, Roslyn
Publication:Dance Magazine
Date:Mar 1, 1998
Previous Article:Questions.
Next Article:Two northwest successes.

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