La reine morte


La reine morte (The Dead Queen) ballet. Music by Tchaikovsky. Libretto by Kader Belarbi. Choreographed and directed by Kader Belarbi in 2015 at the Ballet du Capitole. Stars Artjom Maksakov (King Ferrante of Spain), Davit Galstyan (Don Pedro, Prince of Portugal, son of King Ferrante), Maria Gutierrez (Doña Inés de Castro, Lady-in-waiting of Infanta), and Juliette Thélin (The Infanta, the daughter of the King of Navarre). Supporting dancers are Matthew Astley, Takafumi Watanabe, Kayo Nakazato, and Caroline Betancourt (Fools);  Lauren Kennedy, Julie Loria, Virginie Baïet-Dartigalongue, Emilia Cadorin, Sofia Caminiti, and Solène Monnereau (Ladies of the court); Evgueni Dokoukine, Maxim Clefos, Minoru Kaneko, Shizen Kazama, Jérémy Leydier and Maksat Sydykov (Courtiers); Taisha Barton Rowledge (Lady of honor to the Infanta); Nicolas Rombaut (Lieutenant of the guards); Demian Vargas (Close advisor to the King); Matthew Astley, Shiven Kazama, Maxim Clefos, Evgueni Dokoukine, Minoru Kaneko, Jérémy Leydier, Nicolas Rombaut, and Maksat Sydykov (Councillors); Andrea Morelly (Priest); Lauren Kennedy, Julie Loria, Beatrice Carbone, Virginie Baïet-Dartigalongue, Taisha Barton Rowledge, Caroline Betancourt, Emilia Cadorin, Sofia Caminiti, Vanessa Dirven, Solène Monnereau, Kayo Nakazato, and Tiphaine Prévost (Ghost brides); Andrea Morelli and Takafumi Watanabe (Executioners) and Eukene Sagues-Abad (understudy to for Doña Inés). Koen Kessels conducts the Orchestre National du Capitole. Stage designs by Bruno DeLavenère; costumes by Olivier Bériot; lighting by Sylvain Chevallot. Directed for screen by Luc Riolon; produced by Fabienne Servan Schreiber and Laurence Miller. Released 2016, music was recorded with 48kHz/24-bit sampling, and the disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: A-

This new ballet by Kader Belarbi premiered in 2011 and was revived and recorded in 2015. Loosely based on true events in Portugal in the 1300s, it's a love story enmeshed with themes of father versus son and love versus duty. The story is likely new to most, so I don't want to spoil it. The keepcase booklet has an excellent background piece by Belarbi and a detailed synopsis. The music is all from lesser-known Tchaikovsky pieces (like Capriccio italien) that were not written for ballets purposes. But when Belarbi finishes cutting and pasting, you get the impression that Tchaikovsky wrote it all specifically for the story of Inés and her Prince. The score is well played by the Orchestra national du Capitol under Koen Kessels, and the recording is clear and detailed. Belarbi adds in the keepcase booklet a list of the music on all 27 tracks on the disc. 

The old King (Artjom Maksakov) is worn down by duties of state and is dependent on his Advisor (Demian Vargas):


To bolster the security of the realm, the King agrees that his son, Prince Don Pedro, must marry the Infanta (Juliette Thélin), the daughter of the powerful King of Navarre:

Don Pedro (Davit Galstyan) greets the Infanta:

But his heart is with Inés de Castro (Maria Gutierrez), a noblewoman who happens to be a Lady-in-waiting to the Infanta:


A party at the Court:

Entertainment by fools:

So who should the Prince marry? The King consults with the young people and his Councillors:


There is a power struggle:


Inés in the hands of the Councillors:

Belarbi, with a corps of only 12, comes up with an astonishingly effective Petipa-style white scene:


And what's going on here?

Belarbi uses a lot of ultra-tall chairs which are similar to those used by Pina Bausch in Orpheus und Eurydike:

The crowd went wild at curtain call for this narrative ballet with all the trimmings performed by a total of only 27 dancers (some dancers with multiple roles):

This piece gives more evidence that the narrative ballet is not dead. It also proves that a modest ballet company (34 dancers in 2016) in a small city (Toulouse) can come up with a hit worth being seen all over the world. This is Belabi's third project published by Opus Arte, following his Le Corsaire (C+) and La Bête et la Belle (B+). The Ballet du Capitole is still a bit too small to compete head-on with the big houses in a grand ballet based on historical events, but I'll cheerfully give it a grade of A-.