Ballet-pantomime in two acts
Don’t look for it – you’ve never seen this ballet.
So much so that there is no official English translation. The only time this ballet was performed in London was in 1845, under the title “The Devil to Pay or The Wives Metamorphosed.”
This is where it gets interesting – no “forced” choreography, no great model to follow or betray.
There is: the music – still played.
The argument of the story – which can also be adapted to our time.
Where I find this story amusing is that it features a literally dreadful woman – nicknamed in French “le diable à quatre”, a kind of shrew who sweeps everything in her path, who insults everyone, who hits, who screams, who is unspeakably mean.
What to do with such a Berthe?
The story dates from the period when people fell in love with fantasy – so Berthe will receive a fantastic lesson.
She knocks down an old man without stopping, without apologizing, and even starts insulting him for having stupidly stood in her way.
A young woman helps the old man up. She is very pretty, but very poor, and she earns her life by working, not like Berthe who has nothing to do but spend her income.
Bad luck – the old man was a magician.
He reversed the rules. Here was Berthe in the guise of a charming and beautiful young worker who worked from evening to morning, from morning to evening, and there were blows when she missed her work, insults when she lagged behind, a bed that was not a bed at all, how could anyone sleep on it? and the worst thing for Berthe, there was a husband in the bed – but how? but what was this man doing? this peasant? this guy who didn’t even wash who dared touch her?
No choice, Berthe – the life of the worker is yours.
It wasn’t her kindness that saved her – she would have remained a worker for the rest of her life.
It was the worker who didn’t like to be separated from her husband at all, whom she loved, washed or unwashed, she loved him and that was all.
By friendship for the young and pretty worker, the magician agreed to break the spell.
Berthe got back her body, her private hotel in Paris, her wealth, her servants at her exclusive service who could not understand how she had been normal with them these last days.
The story goes that she learned her lesson.
I don’t believe it for a second, but stories can have happy endings.
So this demon in petticoats was transformed into a kind and understanding human being. You have to at least believe in miracles to think that this can be true.
Here is the only mini-dance version of this ballet – choreographed for the young dancers of the Opera de Paris – it’s good but… the story is missing in the chosen excerpt, I think.
It has almost never, ever been performed since 1855- bits here and there, adaptations – nothing crazy.
So there is a whole ballet to create, with a character that is quite fun to watch evolve.
That’s what I mean when I say Altair absolutely has to produce shows – there are masses of them sitting in closets while all the theatres in the world are producing the same things all the time.
This ballet is in the spirit of “the same things” – but it needs to be created for the 21st century, not the 19th.
Featured Image : Frontispice from a piano reduction – from left to right, Lucien Petipa, Jean Coralli, Carlotta Grisi, Maria Mazilier, and Joseph Mazilier.