Entrance of The Lady Of The Camellias
John Neumeier and The Bolshoi Theatre’s first encounter happened in 2004. Back then The Bolshoi showed Russian premiere of Neumeier’s outstanding ballet – A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The Lady of the Camellias (original French title is La Dame aux Camélias) reunited The Bolshoi and Neumeier second time followed by same success: we have included the ballet that became a classic of XXI century to our repertoire. It also was Russian premiere.

An Idea for a Big Ballet
Autobiographical plot that Alexandre Dumas fils’ (French for ‘son’) used in literature (he published novel La Dame aux Camélias in 1848 and subsequently made it into a play in 1852) turned out to be extremely adaptable. The Lady of the Camellias firmly prevailed in dramatic theatre, adding plethora of great artists and directors to achievement list ( Sarah Bernhardt, Eleanora Duse, Gabrielle Rejane, Maria Savina, Vsevolod Meyerhold - to name a few legendary names)

Story of The Lady of the Camellias opera is same long and even more flamboyant. Opera La Traviata by Verdi premiered in 1853, served as original source for the first stage adaption by Dumas just a year later. Soon after crucial failure, it shook the whole world (Maria Callas, Renata Tebaldi and many other remarkable Violettas, together with no less remarkable Alfredos and Germonts)

Without delay The Lady of the Camellias made it to the screen once cinematography was created (Alla Nazimova, Greta Garbo, Sara Monticello, Isabelle Huppert; Rudolph Valentino is among Armands)

Ballet was not an exception. Choreographers were eager to widely use the plot for their productions. Most famous ballet, though, became The Lady of the Camellias by John Neumeier.

‘Giselle of XX Century’
This Lady belongs to the number of the most sought after ‘full length’ ballet of the second half of XX century. Ballerinas love it, and world leading ballet theaters permanently include it into their repertoire, The Paris Opera Ballet, Royal Danish Ballet, Bayerisches Stasstorchester ( Bavarian State Ballet), La Scala Ballet, American Ballet Theatre (ABT) – list can go on.

In the end, someone even came up with idea to call it ‘Giselle of XX century’. When it was brought to John Neumeier’s attention, he accepted compliment humbly, however took a chance to assume the reason behind this comparison. Greatest ballet Giselle keeps existing due to incredible combination of music, dramaturgy, dance and drama that are so tightly intertwined together which makes it impossible to pull apart. He tried to achieve the same ‘effect’ when was creating his ballet. Despite the unlikeness, main female characters have something in common – motif of sacrifice. Important thing – both roles of Giselle and Marguerite imply multiple and even completely different interpretations.

Like in the Movie
Nonetheless, his Lady is not so ‘classic’. Although this story happened in XIX century, it took absolutely another form of what it was formulated in multi-act story based ballet in the century before last. Lady has an entirely different structure. Neumeier follows Dumas: when he read novel, he admitted that he was amazed that it felt as if the author used cinematographic technique. Story is narrated in non-linear way; events are simultaneously presented from various points of views, and almost every time as flashbacks. It became very interesting and ambitious goal for him to reach – to reproduce same concept in ballet.

Jürgen Rose
Stage design was supposed to make it possible to do flashbacks, to change perspective from one angle to another, or combine them all at once. In the beginning of 1970s John Neumeier and his co-author stage designer on a regular basis Jürgen Rose – mainly under impression of German theatre and opera director Peter Stein’s works- surprisingly realized that realism in theatre can do an improbable miracle. Not until very recently they would never dress a peasant in a peasant costume, but Stein showed them that careful and accurate reproduction of the period details possesses theatrical power. Following this discovery they produced an array of performances. However, Lady stands out. Costumes are quite detailed, yet the setting is exhibited with plain simplicity. Ballet takes place during an auction. The entire possessions are displayed after the title character’s death. Storyline will be narrated backwards by people who ever crossed her life and by devastated Armand. Perspective evolves depending on who is thinking, feeling, talking at the given moment.

Choosing music for his future ballet, Neumeier didn’t think twice. Chopin! This choice appeared to be the best fit: “Chopin was very important figure in the life of society in XIX century. His music is lively and frivolous to a certain extent, and illustrates that side of life that is referred to The Lady of the Camellias. However Chopin’s life circumstances, his Polish origin or his illness, project a sense of sadness and gloomy fate in his compositions, and that precisely expresses the theme of the ballet”.

Manon Lescaut and Chevalier des Grieux
Dumas’ Armand Duval was late to the auction with Marguerite objects on sale. He started looking for Histoire du chevalier des Griex (literally The Story of Chevalier des Griex) to buy it back ,a book that he once gave to the beloved one himself. Famous courtesan from French novel of XVIII century and her poor lover become fully fledged characters in Neumeier’s ballet. Marguerite and Armand attend a performance based on the novel. Phantom of Manon coming down from theatrical stage and will be accompanying Marguerite throughout the entire ballet line presaging her destiny and ‘pushing’ her towards certain decisions.

Marguerite and Armand
There is a plenty of work for each one in the troupe – with that many different - as a matter of fact really different – characters. Main intrigue, obviously, lays in the leading duo. Neumeier emphasizes how every single setting of this ballet depends on the performers of the leading roles. When he was in the midst of creating his ballet for Marcia Haydée, she literally became his co-creator. He had the same feeling while working with other ballerinas. Choreographic text remains unchanged, but role of Marguerite (same as Armand) is subject to interpreter’s personality, and every performance would bring to the audience a brand new dimension. That is why Neumeier enjoyed working on it over and over again. Marguerite can be played by a young, very very young artist or ballerina who is getting ready to retire. Each one of them can create their own, authentic and completely unique image.

Nathalie Shadrina

Translated by Anna Muraveva