Notre Dame de Paris July 2022 New York City Lincoln Center picture image
Notre Dame de Paris July 2022 New York City Lincoln Center

As a Christmas present in 2020 I was given tickets to see Notre Dame de Paris in New York City July 2022. So I had a long time to get hyped. The tickets were for the Saturday afternoon show on the 16th. In theory I could have gone to Canada to see the show but New York City is closer to me despite the fact that I had only been once prior as child. So in the future if the show never returns to NYC I could go to a performance across the border but who knows maybe it will return someday. It’s so weird to me that this the only second time it’s been performed in the states. The Second and the first time in the Big Apple. Then again a lot of shows have never been performed in the States.

David Koch Theater Lobby before Notre Dame de Paris picture image
David Koch Theater Lobby before the show

So this was first my time seeing the show live. I had always thought that if I was going to see the show in the States that it would be in English and I was ok with that. So I was happy to learn back when it was first announced that it was going to be in French.

David Koch Theater Lobby before Notre Dame de Paris picture image
Photo-op in the David Koch Theater Lobby before Notre Dame de Paris

One thing that was a little weird/interesting was that in the lobby there was large photos from the show and mostly it was from the current revival cast, pretty sure, except there was one of Lola Ponce who played Esmeralda in the first Italian cast and is currently reprising her role. Not sure why they had that photo at Koch theatre unless they thought it was just a good photo op. It just stood out to me.

The stage at David Koch Theater before Notre Dame de Paris picture image
The stage at David Koch Theater before Notre Dame de Paris

So how was it? It was great. 10 out 10 I would see it live again. Was it so different seeing it live than seeing it in the pro-shot or recordings as I have for years? I’m not really sure. I did like that could look around the stage and see interactions that I would typically miss especially with the pro-shot. Like entrances and exits or what other performers are doing when the focus isn’t on them. I also just liked being in the space with a crowd watching the show.

Also I didn’t know the show used a haze effect so I learned something new. There were also changes to the show that didn’t know like that “Val de Amour” got toned down. I don’t typically rewatch that number so I didn’t know about the changes, it’s not as racy as the pro-shot or the Italian version pro-shot. There are also little things with blocking noticed but I won’t go into specifics.

This is not my recording. I’m miserable at getting pictures as I just never think to get them in the moment. But this recoding of the curtain call is from the performance I attended. Also my seat was up in the 4th ring so I was very high up so it might have been it might good have been a good shot any way but I did unobstructed view because I was in row 1 so I could see whole stage.

If I ever see show again I will try to get a picture from the curtain call. Also also at points in the show spotlights sweep over the audience and one at the end of “Vivre” went pretty much into my eyes and probably everyone else in my area too.

My Notre Dame de Paris haul picture image
My Notre Dame de Paris haul

Also of course there was merch. The merch included shirts, a mug, a tote, a poster, a keychain and a book. There could have been more but those items are what I remember.

At first I was like “Nah I don’t need stuff.” Then by intermission I decided to get the book and then like two minutes after that I impulsively got the Belle shirt. I sort of regret not getting the tote bag but I thought it was a little small for my purposes. Whatever. It’s fine.

Has seeing the show rekindled my interested in the show? A little bit yeah.

Hey all, I’m sorry I haven’t been updating and I’m sorry that I haven’t finished watching/reviewing The Magical Adventures of Quasimodo. I’m not going to go into reasons or excuses as to why as they pertain to matters of my personal life and I am not going there on this platform. All I really can say I’m not sure when I will get back to those review posts. Just know that I would like to at some point. For now posts will remain sporadic.

And now an unrelated story.

Helene Segara as Esmeralda Notre Dame de Paris picture image
Helene Segara as Esmeralda Notre Dame de Paris

So I also write Hunchback content on Hubpages. Way back in the before times of 2011 I did a page on Esmeralda’s green costume from Notre Dame de Paris. She wears this costume throughout the first act. You can see that hub here.

On this page I compare the different versions of the costume from production to production. Mostly the costume is fairly consist from cast to cast with minimum differences in the overall design. Basically aside from the Italian version, which deviated in design very early on from the Original French version and the Korean version being darker, the costume has remained mostly unchanged from the original 1998 design.

There some changes though. For instance the costume was getting tighter and shorter especially from 2012 to 2015. Good for sex appeal but not for dancing. In 2021 I decided to update all my hubpages which is still an ongoing thing since many require a lot more work. I should mention that prior to my update of the Esmeralda’s green costume page I hadn’t updated it since 2015, a year before the current World Tour production, can’t really say cast since the cast has changed since 2016.

In the 2015 update of my page, I added an observation which basically said that the costume needed a redesign because the newer iterations lacked movement. And in 2016 they did update the costume along with some others in the musical.

Hiba Tawaji as Esmeralda 2016/2017 Notre Dame de Paris picture image
Hiba Tawaji as Esmeralda

The new version of Esmeralda’s green costume has lots layers of lightweight fabric to show off the performer’s movement.

COINCIDENCE?

Maybe. It is suspect though given the timing. Perhaps my obsessive breakdown of the costume gave the production the idea to do a redesign. Perhaps it was parallel thought. Perhaps my page was one voice amongst many asking for a change. I do not know. More than likely it’s a case of parallel thought and the production and I had the idea independently of each other. The simplest explanations are typically the most likely.

Would I like to think I had something to do with it? Yes I would.

It is nice to see that the costume got more movement since that should add to the overall experience for the audience who is watching the musical live. And I guess I can comment on that further when I see it next month (July 2022) in New York City!

Quasimodo and Esmeralda in Roland Petit Notre Dame de Paris Ballet picture image
Quasimodo and Esmeralda in Roland Petit Notre Dame de Paris Ballet

While I personally do not understand the unique artistry of Petit’s choreography, as someone who doesn’t understand ballet, I do think that there was a lot of passion and love put into all aspects of this version. In that sense it was a breath of fresh air amongst some of the other versions of hunchback.

While the characters and story were simplified for the medium,  they were more than made up for in the other areas such as the choreography, costumes, musical score and the sets.  

All around Roland Petit’s Notre Dame de Paris is a really great adaptation and ballet in general.

The sets of the ballet were designed by French film and theater director René Allio.

Sets from Roland Petit Notre Dame de Paris picture image
Sets from Roland Petit Notre Dame de Paris

Like so many of the other past productions of Notre dame de Paris, Allio took the more symbolic representation of the cathedral. You know it’s Notre Dame you’re looking at but it’s not an accurate depiction. It’s depicted as brown with details in paint messy looking lines. It looks like a fresco trying to look like stained glass. Like Notre Dame broke into piece and clumsy put back together. Which is apt as that was Hugo description of Quasimodo.

Sets from Roland Petit Notre Dame de Paris picture image
Sets from Roland Petit Notre Dame de Paris

Other than the Notre Dame de Paris edifice set, the other set that is most noteworthy is the bell tower. At the start of the second act, Quasimodo climbs down the set as the bell rings.

Sets from Roland Petit Notre Dame de Paris picture image
Robert Bolle as Quasimodo

While you’re not always going to play attention to the sets they work for the ballet’s mood, tone and add to its overall very unique style.

Roland Petit Notre Dame de Paris Ballet picture image

Roland Petit Notre Dame de Paris Ballet

I’ll admit I should not be reviewing dance, I don’t understand it. I don’t understand the language or technique behind any of it. That being said I understand that Roland Petit was going for a more experimental form of ballet with Notre Dame de Paris or contemporary ballet. Contemporary ballet uses both elements of traditional ballet and modern dance to create a new style of ballet.

The style on dance in this ballet is not light and graceful with impressive delicate footwork on pointe, this ballet feels more masculine in its energy and movements than traditional ballets. It feels powerful in its moves  and there is a lot more upper body movements than you would see in what is considered for a conventional ballet.

Natalia Osipova as Esmeralda, Roberto Bolle as Quasimodo and Mick Zeni as Frollo, Roland Petit Notre Dame de Paris 2013 picture image

Natalia Osipova as Esmeralda, Roberto Bolle as Quasimodo and Mick Zeni as Frollo, Roland Petit Notre Dame de Paris 2013

That’s not to say it’s all strong manly ballet all throughout. Esmeralda does go on pointe and has more conventional ballet fluidity in her dances but their the modern dance elements still there. Like during her solo she has these sliding motions with her feet across the floor, which I have never seen in a ballet movement, though I could 100% mistaken and it done in traditional ballet.   

The question is does this contemporary ballet style of Petit’s work for the story? Hugo always had a rough less genital setting to his characters and story. With Hunchback we have a tragic story of three men and their own unique takes on love and desire.  So while I personally don’t understand this style of dance or ballet, it does suit the mood of the story.

There is nothing wrong with the choreography, Petit approached this project with a lot of passion and knowledge of the art form. This is all super subjective either you like this style or you do not. Or you’re like me whereas you appreciate the intent but you really just don’t get it.

Natalia Osipova as Esmeralda & Roberto Bolle as Quasimodo, Roland Petit Notre Dame de Paris Ballet picture image

Natalia Osipova
as Esmeralda & Roberto Bolle as Quasimodo

There were moments I liked, Like Esmeralda’s first solo, the pas de trois with Esmeralda, Phoebus and Frollo and the pas de deux with Quasimodo and Esmeralda in the second act. I also really liked Quasimodo’s moments on the whole of how the dancer uses his arm and elbow as his hunch. Make it more interactive.  

Mick Zeni as Frollo, Roland Petit Notre Dame de Paris picture image

Mick Zeni as Frollo, Roland Petit Notre Dame de Paris

Given this version characterization of Esmeralda and Quasimodo it’s not surprising that there is very little to this Frollo outside of what the plot demands.

He is a priest who lusts after Esmeralda. He doesn’t feel any guilt over feeling lust towards Esmeralda versus his lofty opinion of himself because of his position as a priest. He could have been spurned jealous lover of hers who happened to be a priest and it wouldn’t have changed anything as the ballet presents his character.

Basically there is not much here outside of Frollo slapping Esmeralda during his assault on her that is different. Not sure how I feel about that but he did attack her in the book so the slap was a clear visual for the ballet, so it’s at least understandable and the action does make Frollo more contemptible as a villain.   

And a villain is what he is. It’s very black and white with no shades of gray. It’s a boring rendering of the character.

Unless this ballet is super-coded and there is more expressed in the characterization  and I don’t understand it because I don’t understand the language and gestures of ballet. But, if that was true then the bitch slap would not have been necessary, so this is just boring yet oddly violent version of Frollo.  

Again I should just say that for the medium of ballet this type of characterization is fine. It does what it needs to.

Natalia Osipova as Esmeralda & Roberto Bolle as Quasimodo, Roland Petit Notre Dame de Paris Ballet picture image

Natalia Osipova as Esmeralda & Roberto Bolle as Quasimodo

 

If I had to venture a guess, I’d say this version of Quasimodo is more in keeping with the Laughton version. Indeed this Quasimodo falls into the more sad, devoted thoughtful brand of  Quasimodo.

There is nothing in this characterization  that is morose or hateful to the masses but nothing that worships Notre Dame either. Instead it seems like this Quasimodo wants to be a normal person and is devoted to Esmeralda.

Not a major departure for the character but you rarely see a Quasimodo trying to stand straight and failing. 

All in all it’s a very safe approach to the character. Time tested and audience approved.  People like the emotional pathos of the tragic disfigured figure of Quasimodo  and this is the characterization the ballet offers. 

Isabelle Guerin as Esmeralda Roland Petit Notre Dame de Paris picture image

Isabelle Guerin as Esmeralda Roland Petit Notre Dame de Paris

What can one really say about analyzing characters in a ballet? Yes, they have some traits of the characters from Hugo’s but nothing in depth. And that is okay.

With this version of Esmeralda we get that she is flirty at least when she dances and is generally kind.  She doesn’t have the innocence or superstitious streak that she has in the book but she does seem a bit shy about sleeping with Phoebus, so at least there is virginal quality of Esmeralda’s character is there in this ballet.

She doesn’t seem to fear Frollo as much until his attack on Phoebus. Unlike the book where she fears him very early on. In this ballet she does seem to be uncomfortable with his leering but it doesn’t seem like fear. This is not a big deal as many Esmeraldaa rarely fear Frollo from the onset.  

Esmeralda is sweet, kind, flirtatious and tragic in this version. So we have a baseline version of Esmeralda.  And for a ballet that is all she really needs to be.

Hiba Tawaji as Esmeralda and Martin Giroux as Phoebus Hiba Tawaji as Esmeralda and Martin Giroux as Phoebus Notre Dame de Paris picture image

Hiba Tawaji as Esmeralda & Martin Giroux as Phoebus

I have been watching videos of the most recent cast of Notre Dame de Paris and I noticed something about Hiba Tawaji’s portrayal of Esmeralda that was just off. It was something I couldn’t place but it was something I didn’t like. It was like she was trying to do too much but not succeeding. She  just wasn’t coming off as natural but forced.

Just so we’re clear this has nothing to with her as singer or person, this is just in her acting. She is fine as a singer.

Hiba Tawaji singing Bohemienne picture image

Hiba Tawaji singing Bohemienne

The weirdness in her acting was further noticeable when you watch the preview when the cast was announced. She is singing Bohemienne and she was coming off as sweet, happy and natural. From that video she seemed like the perfect Esmeralda. But then you watch the performance and she has a weird expression on her face and she trying to be sultry and playful and doing weird arm movements.

This led me to watch every Bohemienne performance I could find to see what the other Esmeraldas were doing since there is a bit of a disconnect from Segara’s original performance to what other Esmeraldas do with the song. I say this because I’m most familiar with Segara’s version but it’s not the standard anymore.

 

Helene Segara as Esmeralda and Patrick Fiori as Phoebus Notre Dame de Paris picture image

Esmeralda and Phoebus Notre Dame de Paris

Bohemienne, under at least Segara, starts off mysterious and somewhat aloof. Some Esmeraldas maintain some mystery but in other parts of the song.  The reason why Segara’s Esmeralda starts this way was because of changes to the lead-in to the song. In the original Frollo starts off by ordering Phoebus to arrest the refugees in which he immediately  runs into Esmeralda and then she starts her song after he asks her who she is. There is a threat here with Phoebus, as he was starts pursuing her and then tries to flirt. She is aloof because she on her guard.

 

In subsequent versions Phoebus gets his orders, there is a scene shift and then runs into Esmeralda already dancing for the people. She is unaware of Phoebus’ orders. So the song is already upbeat and happy at the start.

 

Lola Ponce as Esmeralda Italian Notre Dame de Paris picture image

Lola Ponce as Esmeralda Italian Notre Dame de Paris

Most Esmeraldas perform Bohemienne in a happy upbeat playful manner. Dancing varies but most try to move in a dancing like fashion whether or not it looks natural. Probably the best Esmeralda at conveying the spirit of a dancer and  a playful flirtatious attitude is the Italian cast Original Esmeralda, Lola Ponce. She is very natural in this performance. However the trade-off is her singing suffers. While it’s not bad she does get breathy and out breath in places but you can forgive it as she commits.

Many Italian Esmeraldas follow Ponce’s example in the playful flirty persona. Some try and focus more on singing so they don’t commit as fully. Some are just less natural in their movements and you can see them aiming to hit the next mark.

Other Esmeraldas it’s  just hard to tell if their happy and succeeding in the choreography because the quality of footage is bad.            

 

Hiba Tawaji as Esmeralda & Jay as Clopin Notre Dame de Paris picture image

Hiba Tawaji as Esmeralda & Jay as Clopin

   

So it’s a question of choreography vs singing vs an Esmeralda who is natural with their movements.  It would be unfair to put the blame solely on Tawaji as the choreography is weird at times. Like when she gesturing out towards the audience, why? Or maybe she’s just not super comfortable trying to move sensually while trying to be playful, effervescent and flirtatious while maintaining good vocals. It’s a tall order if not impossible   But then you watch Tawaji perform other songs in the show there is still that awkwardness with her movements so I don’t know. She could not be a very adept actress, great singer and not good in the acting department, she wouldn’t be the first singer not great at acting.

However there seems to be awkwardness with Daniel Lavoie’s movements in this version opposed to his original performance,  so I really don’t know what to think. Could be the director? Or maybe this all better live and the videos are not doing the performances any justice?

The point is in the case of Bohemienne  there is no right way to perform the song. The performer can be more playful, aloof,  flirtatious, sensual, wistful, youthful etc. However it does seem like sometimes the minor choreography can get in the way of the performer’s natural movements and that is when an Esmeralda can look mechanical or awkward and that is something an Esmeralda should never be.   

Natalia Osipova as Esmeralda, Roberto Bolle as Quasimodo and Mick Zeni as Frollo, Roland Petit Notre Dame de Paris 2013 picture image

Natalia Osipova as Esmeralda, Roberto Bolle as Quasimodo and Mick Zeni as Frollo, Roland Petit Notre Dame de Paris 2013

 

This version of Hugo’s novel is very pared down to a very minimal telling of the story. You have the four principal characters: Quasimodo, Esmeralda, Frollo and Phoebus. The ballet doesn’t have  Gringoire, Clopin, Fleur de Lys, or extra characters.

As one can guess having only the love/lust plot-line it follows that trajectory and doesn’t concern its self with the subject of blight of the downtrodden, social justice or the modernity of the printing impact on architecture.

It starts with Quasimodo getting crown Pope of Fools, Frollo gets mad. Esmeralda dances to which she attracts the attention of Quasimodo and Frollo.

Frollo then has Quasimodo kidnap Esmeralda. And here is where we a deviation. After Quasimodo grabs Esmeralda they are set upon by the corps dressed in red. Now I was very confused, I had no idea what was happening. I thought it was maybe fire or that the dancers were somehow symbolic of Frollo’s lust. I didn’t know!

According to http://ticket.heraldtribune.com (an actually well-done review) the corps are portraying thugs. This makes sense both within the context of the ballet’s narrative and adapting Hugo’s story. In the original novel after the kidnapping, Gringoire, who was trying to help Esmeralda, is set upon by the Court of Miracles. However the thugs are now in this scene to help convey Quasimodo as more sympathetic as he is protecting Esmeralda. This adaption isn’t really necessary to story and could have been skipped but works to add more dancing which you need in a ballet.    

So after the thugs are dealt with, Phoebus then arrests Quasimodo. Phoebus notices Esmeralda and they are attracted to each other. Then Quasimodo is sentenced and Esmeralda gives him water.  Esmeralda and Phoebus have their tyst, though he flirts with whores prior and during their time together. That is to communicate Phoebus’ lack of romantic feelings towards Esmeralda and that he just in it for the sex.  He is then stabbed by Frollo. I’m pretty sure that Phoebus does in fact die in this version.

Esmeralda has her trial and is sentenced. Quasimodo then saves her from the gallows.

The second act is Esmeralda and Quasimodo bond. Frollo then attacks Esmeralda and I mean he slaps her a bunch. She is then dragged off to her death. Quasimodo strangles Frollo and then carries Esmeralda’s body away.

It is a very basic rendition of Hunchback which is fine for medium of ballet. You don’t want anything too complex but is this telling too simple? Perhaps. It is very pared down to a degree that basic disney’s knockoff have more developed story lines though that is not always a good thing. 

To be honest the narrative only works to convey mood, style and dancing and that is what this Ballet is all about. But we should address the character before getting to those points of interest.