You don’t have to know the first thing about ballet to be swept away by the Ballet Galas with Soloists from Opera Paris in Dubai. At least, that’s what etoile dancer and performance Karl Paquette told tabloid! on Tuesday night, two days ahead of the opening show.
From January 9-11 at Madinat Theatre, performers from one of the oldest, most prestigious ballet companies in the world, Ballet de l’Opera de Paris, will perform four grand galas of classical dance and explosive neoclassical technique. The galas will include excerpts from Swan Lake, Adagietto, Tchaikosvsky Grand Pas de Deux, Romeo & Juliet and In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated during part one, and the best moments from the Acts I & III of Don Quixote in part two.
“For people in Dubai who’ve never been to ballet it’s the perfect evening to discover dancing, because it’s not boring — it’s not just two hours and a half of the same thing,” said Paquette, emphasising that the UAE performances are stripped down, more intimate versions of what you’d experience back in France.
In Paris, a full two-and-a-half hour show would consist of 150 dancers and a grand orchestra, something Paquette said the theatre in Dubai wouldn’t be able to handle at the moment — though maybe in a few years time. For now, ten soloists will perform a scaled-down and concentrated set backed by pre-recorded music. But rather than water down the impact, this format aims to engage the audience more fully without overwhelming them.
“It’s just extracts, and you can go from one mood to another. It’s simple and easy. [If you don’t like something], just wait five or ten minutes, and it will be finished.”
Paquette, 37, is the oldest and most experienced of the performers, having started dancing over two decades ago. (He has five years before he has to retire from the company — 42 is their cut-off age — but says he’s happy to go on for as long as he can dance, and for as long as dance doesn’t bore him.) The rest of the performers in Dubai are much younger — one of them below 20 years of age — and this will be a training of sorts for them as soloists, with the audience’s attention focused completely on them.
“For them, it’s good to be on stage, to be soloists, to discover what the pressure is to be soloists, because when you’re corps de ballet [synchronised back-up dancers], you have thirty people around you. You don’t feel like, ‘Oh, I’m the only one on stage!’ It’s easier to have this illusion. [But] when you’re alone, you think, ‘Who are these people looking at? Oh, it’s me.’ Every step, every movement, everybody sees that, so it’s important. For them, they discover what’s the pressure — if they want to be soloists in Paris, they have to go through that, and discover the pressure. Every night on stage is the exam.”
For 21-year-old soloist Valentine Colasante, who’s been dancing since she was six and said her assent through ballet has been a whirlwind journey, hundreds of people watching is not a problem.
“We don’t have time to think about that — we have lots of movement, it’s very quick, and we have to concentrate on the steps. But before the entrance on stage, this moment is a little bit difficult [in terms of nerves], but on stage, it’s very exciting and the public is not in my mind. When I dance, I don’t think about that,” said Colasante.
Reiko M-Cheong, an ex-ballerina and the founder-director of Dubai Dance Academy — one of the only schools in Dubai to teach French ballet methods — worked tirelessly with PR and communications manager Ludivine Louboutin to make the galas a reality, with a dream of showcasing true talent and showmanship in the UAE.
“I’m not saying Dubai doesn’t have any ballet shows, some ballet shows are happening. But unfortunately, I have never, ever seen this top-level quality,” said M-Cheong. “Everybody, especially here, people love luxury. People pay a lot of money for jewellery, but fine art? The quality is missing. So I wanted to show, wow, this is [who] the real, top-level dancers are. That’s my huge point-of-view in Dubai. I want to show them — wow, this is the real ballet.”