Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!
An obviously appropriate topic for this time of year is love in ballet. In fact, I’ve seen quite the array of Valentine themed pictures or posts on my Facebook news feed from all the dance magazines. In the ballet blogging world, it seems to be the time to drag out adorable pictures of real life couples dancing together (think Marianela Nunez and Thiago Soares rehearsing Romeo and Juliet).
There is also a multitude of posts asking readers to comment and share their favorite love scene from a ballet. While the Romeo and Juliet balcony scene was a frequent reply, I feel like there are many gorgeous answers that are often overlooked.
Ballet lends itself nicely to Valentine’s Day, because almost every ballet has a pas de deux. Sometimes, the storyline focuses on two characters so much that there are several pas de deux within the same ballet, and so they take on nicknames, such as the “balcony pas de deux” or the “bedroom pas de deux,” as is the case with the classic ballet of Romeo and Juliet.
I have to admit, I have been enchanted by a different ballet’s bedroom pas de deux. Manon is a touching riches to rags story, as the title character falls in love with a young student by the name of des Grieux and must decide between her love for him and the promise of wealth from an older suitor. Soon after they meet in Act 1, while in des Grieux’s bedroom in Paris, Manon declares her love. It is a beautiful scene, especially when viewed with the end of the ballet in mind. Spoiler alert! After a great deal of struggle and intense pressure from her brother to choose wealth, Manon will favor love. In the heart wrenching final scene, Manon collapses while running away with des Grieux and dies in his arms.
Having seen many versions of the bedroom pas on YouTube, from Act 1 when the ballet is still happy and untroubled, I believe that this performance from Sylvie Guillem and Massimo Murru is the best.
Guillem is technically brilliant, as always, but her emotional performance here is exceptional as well. The girlish delight she shows at the beginning and her continuous connection to Murru convinced me of her love. Simple moments like the gentle hug the two share at 1:44 made the bond sweet and clear.
Often what makes a pas stunning is the amount of trust between the dancers. If the girl runs across the stage to jump and fling herself into her partner’s waiting arms, the risk makes the resulting movement breathtaking. Guillem showed that same impressive level of trust in Murru. This connection makes the pas work seem smooth and easy. And believe me, the choreography is not at all easy. For example, the sequence beginning at 2:29 is seamless despite its difficulty. Another spot that is very much worth noting is 3:31, where Guillem shows an almost insane amount of trust in Murru by going so far off her center. I had to watch this moment several times before I could accept it was real. Finally, I feel that the ending of the pas is about as perfect as it could possibly be. Their emotions are so genuine, and I couldn’t help but smile through the whole joyous finish.
(One final, small tidbit about this video: at this particular performance, Guillem was actually 46 years old and had come out of retirement to do a few final performances of the ballet. Amazing.)
Another love scene from a ballet that I feel is often overlooked is from the Lady of the Camellia’s (although I’ve found it is referred to as the French version of the name, Dame aux Camelias, most of the time). Choreographed by John Neumeier, the ballet tells the difficult story of Marguerite, who is suffering from tuberculosis. She is loved dearly by the young bourgeois Armand. Like in Manon, Marguerite must decide between her love of Armand and the wealth of a life that does not involve him. The decision is easier for her that it was for Manon, as she is willing to give up her easy lifestyle for her love, but others do not approve of this choice, and she is opposed strongly by Armand’s father.
The following pas, featuring Lucia Lacarra, is from the final act, I believe, when Marguerite is at her worst and getting close to death.
Again, the high level of trust between these two dancers is clear because of the lovely quality of their pas work. The same seamless characteristic shows up in this pas, at moments like the sequences beginning at 2:12 and 2:48. Although a great deal of the partnering work is challenging, there are also “easier” moments, limited more to gestures or embraces. Because one of my favorite pieces of choreography is Val Caniparoli’s Isben House Suite (which can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A0N0puiVjM0), I recognized right away that this was another one of his works., which seems to always have the perfect balance of complicated choreography and simpler displays of pure emotion. These moments are sweet and gently balance the more intense choreographic sections (examples at 4:06 and 5:29).
Because of Lacarra’s emotional involvement in the piece and the storyline, it was heartbreaking to me to see the effects of her sickness begin to take over at 6:45. The sequence beginning at 8:01 was especially lovely, and again, I felt the ending was perfect. Walking off into the distance with her curled up in his arms provided a beautiful close to the pas.
Hope everyone had an enjoyable Valentine’s Day, but continues to show the love for the special people in their lives all the time. No need for a special holiday with chocolate and roses to let people know how you feel. ❤