CONTEMPORARY BALLETS RUSSES: A RENEWED TOTAL ART FORM
The Firebird (1910), Petrushka (1911), The Rite of Spring (1913): the history of these three legendary scores by Igor Stravinsky is inseparable from that of the illustrious Ballets russes company founded by a genius impresario, Serge de Diaghilev. A major cultural phenomenon in the first half of the twentieth century (between 1907 and 1929), this company radically renewed the encounter between music, dance and performing arts, producing a series of breathtaking total art work creations. The early years of the Festival d'Aix-en-Provence were deeply marked by this unprecedented artistic adventure. Gabriel Dussurget wanted to perpetuate the spirit of the Ballets russes in Aix, by bringing in several of its collaborators and calling on the greatest painters and choreographers of his time. The Festival has created this original project in the form of a tribute to its legacy, but with the imagination and technological resources of the 21st century. Three commissions to three renowned filmmakers, Rebecca Zlotowski, Bertrand Mandico and Evangelia Kranioti, offer free reveries that shed new light on the relationship between fable, music and image, following on from Diaghilev's major innovations. The marvelous story of The Firebird has inspired Rebecca Zlotowski to plunge into the rushes of her film Planétarium, while Bertrand Mandico has explored the dark, bitter-sweet vein of Petrushka; Evangelia Kranioti's The Rite of Spring is a masterly illustration of anthropocene and the terrible damage inflicted by man on nature.
THE FIREBIRD – REBECCA ZLOTOWSKI
Having studied literature, music and film at the most prestigious schools, Rebecca Zlotowski has established herself as a leading director of her generation, recently in competition at the Venice Film Festival for her fifth film, Les Enfants des autres. Rapidly acclaimed by the critics - Belle Épine won the Prix Louis-Delluc and the Prix du Syndicat français de la critique for best first film - her filmography features deeply moving female characters, driven by a striking inner strength. With Planétarium (2016), the director produced a fable about the power of the cinema to create illusion : the film tells the story of a producer between the wars who is brought by two spiritualist sisters – played by Natalie Portman and Lily-Rose Depp – into contact with the shadows of his past, which he never ceases trying to capture on film. The soundtrack gives pride of place to a famous passage, the Lullaby of The Firebird, the crucial moment when the marvelous bird breaks the fateful charm. When the Festival d'Aix-en-Provence asked Rebecca Zlotowski to collaborate on this project, she had the sudden intuition that Stravinsky's fable and music had not been drawn to her film by chance, but that they contained something like its profound truth, which it was her duty from then on to continue tracking down. Exploring the unedited rushes of Planétarium, she has now turned the firebird taking flight in the huge darkened chamber of that of the Vitrolles Stadium into an allegory of the greatness and misery of the cinema's ambition to capture the elusive.
PETRUSHKA – BERTRAND MANDICO
Having trained at the École de cinéma d’animation des Gobelins, Bertrand Mandico has directed numerous award-winning films of any format, which are broadcasted in lots of festivals. After his feature-length film Les Garçons sauvages – broadcasted in the Mostra de Venise in 2017, then awarded the Prix Louis-Delluc for first film –, and after After Blue – screened in competition in Locarno Festival –, his latest film, Conann, is part of the sélection de la Quinzaine at the 2023 Cannes Festival. Bertrand Mandico combines different art forms with disconcerting fluidity, moving from photography, drawing and collage to performances and video clips. His highly inventive aesthetic brilliantly blends the most varied influences, in works that are at times fantastical, queer and tinged with eroticism, but always full of multiple cinematic references. For Ballets russes, the filmmaker relocates the story of Petrushka to the world of fashion, but also to a context of ruins, between an apocalyptic vision and science fiction: in this world where abuse is the law, the evil magician of the original folk tale becomes a shamelessly cruel demiurge dressmaker. The musical jolts convey the disturbing strangeness of the relationship between the designer and her henchmen, as well as the clumsiness of the dummies, creatures both animate and inanimate, perched on flimsy stilettos, scrutinised and manipulated without the slightest care. A parable with political undertones that attacks the excesses of power and immoderation, where the physical or moral wounds caused by thwarted relationships lead irreparably to a fatal outcome.
THE RITE OF SPRING – EVANGELIA KRANIOTI
Evangelia Kranioti is one of those mysterious artists who make a lasting impression on those who see her work: a Greek director and photographer trained at La Fémis and Le Fresnoy, she divides her time between Athens and Paris, shooting her first film, Exotica, Erotica, Etc. in 2015 on board merchant ships, capturing fleeting images of sailors and port prostitutes in twenty different countries. She then turned her attention to transgender icon Luana Muniz in the documentary Obscuro Barroco, which also won an award at the Berlinale in 2018 and explored the issue of migration in the Mediterranean in an exhibition in 2019 at Les Rencontres d'Arles, then as a resident at La Villa Medici in Rome. With an approach that blends documentary and fiction, the filmmaker's The Rite of Spring denounces the process of progressive subjugation of nature that has characterised the entire ideology of Western modernity, irrevocably distancing man from nature, while tracking down in today's world, without excessive idealism, the places on the planet where a shamanic link between man and nature is still active. From Greenland to the Amazon rainforest, from the Moroccan Atlas to her native Greece, this work is powerfully anchored in our time, capturing on screen the predatory relationships at the heart of the striking ritual of The Rite of Spring.
The challenge of this singular adventure lies in the fact that neither of the two arts, music and film, must subjugate the other: everything must breathe, from the scores performed by the Orchestre de Paris conducted by Klaus Mäkelä, to the films. The collaboration between the filmmakers and the Festival d'Aix-en-Provence teams inspires indeed a flexibility that is necessary to complete the project. This production is neither a choreography nor a film-concert; Ballets russes is a real human challenge that reinvents total art and imagines a multifaceted live performance.
Raphaëlle Blin, Aurore Flamion and Timothée Picard
Dramaturges of the Festival d'Aix-en-Provence
Translation: Christopher Bayton
Ballets russes is supported by Art Mentor Foundation Lucerne
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