Roland Petit’s evocative and charming ballet, Chéri, was created at La Scala in 1996 for the mature Carla Fracci who turned sixty that year. Colette’s story of an ageing woman’s six-year relationship with a young man was the perfect choice for Fracci and Massimo Murru, who was 35 years her junior. In Colette’s story the boy is 19 and the woman 43 when they first meet. Roland chose Francis Poulenc’s music for his ballet. In his programme notes, Petit writes,
Chéri is a ballet that I created, in a way, in the family. When I was a boy I’d go to see Jean Cocteau and sometimes we’d go with Colette – who was his neighbour – to walk in the gardens of the Palais Royal, where Colette would throw bread crumbs for the birds. I remember her strong regional accent which, at the time, made her seem like a foreigner.
With Christian Bérard, I encountered his friend Francis Poulenc who, with a face like a sad clown, would discuss his future projects.
To them I dedicate this ballet, created from a story full of melancholy and with unbelievably powerful music which, I hope, would have their approval.
Christian Bérard, who designed sets and costumes for Jean Cocteau’s film La Belle et la Bête, was the partner of Boris Kochno with whom Roland Petit founded the Ballets des Champs-Élysées at the end of World War II. Bérard died in 1949 when he was just forty-six, and in 1950 Poulenc dedicated his Stabat Mater to him, and Jean Cocteau his film Orphée. It was a very intimate group of artists.
I also dedicate Chéri to the great Carla Fracci, an artist who has given to this ballet her subtle charm, her poetry and her wisdom. Also to her young partner, Massimo Murru, whose elegant profile recalls that of the young Cocteau, who has become “Chéri”.
“Chéri” is not “mon chéri”, it’s not “chéri je t’aime”. “Chéri” is his name. Some are called Jean, others Louis; “Chéri” is called Chéri. He is Chéri, she is Léa. He is a boy in his twenties, she is the “Duse” of the dance, “la Fracci”.
If I could have changed the title of the ballet I would have called it “Chérie”, as a homage to its great interpreter.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano’) about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman’s Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia’ column for Dancing Times magazine.