Michigan Opera Theatre

French ballet company makes Detroit Opera House debut with Valentine’s weekend program

Erica Hobbs
for Michigan Opera Theatre
Olivier Houeix, Malandain Ballet Biarritz

Hailing from southwestern France, contemporary ballet company Malandain Ballet Biarritz will make its Detroit Opera House debut Feb. 15. The company is known for their celebration of sensuality and humanity and will perform emotive works from classic composers Vivaldi, Chopin and Ravel, coinciding with Valentine’s weekend.

“Malandain Ballet Biarritz represents one of the best contemporary ballet companies from France,” said Jon H. Teeuwissen, Michigan Opera Theatre’s artistic advisor for dance. “Known for the forward, innovative, beautiful and captivating choreography of artistic director Thierry Malandain, this mixed-repertoire program offers a smorgasbord of movement that captures the imagination.”

Malandain, who founded the company in Biarritz, France in 1998, said his choreography is rooted in classical ballet but with his own style.

“A classical choreographer for some, a contemporary one for others, I play with it, simply trying to find a dance I like,” he said. “A dance that will not only leave a lasting impression of joy, but that will also restore the essence of the sacred things and serve as a response to the difficulty of being.”

One of those sacred things is the desire for personal growth in the opening work “Estro,” performed to Vivaldi’s “L'Estro Armonico Op.” The piece explores this longing for elevation and the efforts needed to reach the summit of a mountain, seen as the privileged place where sky and earth meet, according to Malandain.

“Nocturnes” is a darker work performed to the eponymous score by Chopin, a series of 21 pieces for piano exploring the depth of his melancholic nature to express the languor of love. The piece is painting put to motion. It is based on the “danse macabre” of the Middle Ages, an artistic genre that portrayed a series of characters led to their graves by skeletons.

Malandain said the genre is a posthumous reflection of the living.

“Beyond the idea of associating two things as disparate as dancing and dying, the ‘danse macabre’ symbolized the passing of time and showed that death unites people of all ranks,” he said.

The program ends with “Boléro,” a reflection on liberty performed to music by Ravel. Subjected to the obsessive repetition of the orchestral theme, 12 dancers perform almost soullessly in an enclosed and limited space, only breaking free in the end.

“This limit exists in the uniqueness and the mechanical repetition of the musical theme,” Malandain said, “which literally explodes in an intense finale, followed by silence, when dancers find themselves ‘locked outside.’”

Tickets for Malandain Ballet Biarritz start at $30. For tickets and more information, visit www.MichiganOpera.org.