This one act ballet was created on 6 January 1924 yt he Ballets-Russes at the Monte-Carlo Opera, in choreography by Brnoislava Nijinska and sets and costumes by Marie Laurencin. Without any particular plot, the ballet showed a few sophisticated young ladies and three young men parading in a vast sun drenched white room, as an exercise in distinguished and light-hearted gallantries. Among ther performers one could see Vera Nemtchinova in the roleof the beautiful stranger, Bronislava Nijinska as the hostess, and two young girls enjoying a balmy May evening.
In 1923, nothing could please Francis Poulenc, a great admirer of Ballets Russes, more than this commission from Diaghilev, who suggested writing a ballet with atmosphere, a sort of moderne Sylphides. To quote the composer « I thought of tese gallant frolics in which one couldeither see nothing or imagine the worst, as in some paintings by Watteau ».
Les Biches are the ballet of pleasure : the pleasure to retrieve a never-ending childhood. A rumbustious hurly-hurly « mad extravagance at the edge of the abyss » according to Maurice Sachs. For, unknown to them, the « années folles » were dancing on a volcano.
This historical context, Diaghilevs initial wishes, and the ballet by Nijinska, were the basis of my interpretation. But in the end, the decisive trigger was an element of the costumes by Marie Laurencin. Les Biches are adornet with feathers, like birds of paradise. With such a detail I could establish a link Diaghilevs suggestion to Poulenc, since white feathers are part of the wings of the Sylphides. The vast white room could then be filled with a sky where heavenly creatures could move about. A beautiful stranger, the hostess, and two young girls enjoying a balmy evening in May will appear through the gates of this paradise, in the original choreography by Bronislava Nijinska, as if surging from the past.
created on 24th February 2002
at l’Esplanade Saint-Etienne
music Francis Poulenc
choreography Thierry Malandain & Bronislava Nijinska*
set and costumes Jorge Gallardo
lighting design Jean-Claude Asquié
*avec l’aimable autorisation de Nathalie et George Raetz
duration of the entire ballet 34’
ballet for 14 dancers