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TV Reviews : Slavery of Desire in Roland Petit’s ‘Blue Angel’

From “Le Jeune Homme et la Mort” and “Carmen” in the 1940s to his Proust ballet(“Les Intermittences du Coeur”) 30 years later, the dance dramas of Roland Petit have often depicted men destroyed by sexual obsession. Even the French choreographer’s 1975 revision of “Coppelia” was about a toymaker so fixated on a village girl that he created a mannequin resembling her--a mannequin she later impersonated.

“The Blue Angel” is obviously Petit’s ultimate statement about the slavery of desire, and it comes to Bravo at 6:30 p.m. Sunday (with a repeat at 1:30 a.m.) in an authoritative 1988 Ballet de Marseille performance also currently available on Kultur home video.

Based on the same Heinrich Mann novel that inspired the classic 1930 film by Josef Von Sternberg, the ballet features Petit himself (now 66) as a repressed martinet seduced and then grotesquely debased by a nightclub dancer played by the leggy Dominique Khalfouni.

The ballet uses a young student danced by Jean-Pierre Aviotte for the final, ironic plot twist showing that men, too, can entice and humiliate. (There are no exceptions to the rule: Everyone is somebody’s fool.) However, the last image again epitomizes woman-as-destroyer: Khalfouni walking off down a street littered with bodies.

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In style, “The Blue Angel” lurches from Expressionist psycho-drama to classical bravura to social-dance/show biz pastiche to realistic pantomime--and it doesn’t ever work, not nearly. With insistent echoes of Stravinsky, Weill and others, the score by Marius Constant has identity problems of its own, and TV director Dirk Sanders doesn’t help matters with sudden, arbitrary inserts of slow-motion footage.

The result may be more compelling as an index to Petit’s lifelong preoccupations than as persuasive living art. Certainly Khalfouni can do no more than slink, preen and glower in a role conceived as nothing but a sleazy predator. Aviotte stands out from the crowd only by his haircut.

Petit’s character alone is given detail, dimension and a capacity for change--though, of course, the change leads to degradation and death. He gives a powerful, revealing performance in a work that is otherwise just a nasty career curio.


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