Marguerite and Armand
Marguerite and Armand is a ballet danced to Franz Liszt's B minor piano sonata. It was created in 1963 by British choreographer Sir Frederick Ashton specifically for world-famous dancers Rudolf Nureyev and Dame Margot Fonteyn. The ballet takes its inspiration from the 19th-century novel La Dame aux Camélias by Alexandre Dumas, fils, and other adaptations of the same story such as Giuseppe Verdi's opera La traviata.
Marguerite Gautier, a Parisian courtesan, lies on her deathbed, gravely ill with tuberculosis. In her delirium she recalls her love affair with a young man named Armand, which the ballet portrays using many dreamlike flashback sequences.
In the first flashback, Marguerite, wearing a red dress, is surrounded by admirers and suitors. She lets them flirt with her, but feels no real emotions. Armand enters and falls for Marguerite immediately, and she returns his feelings. At the end of this sequence, Marguerite tests Armand's love by throwing a white flower to the ground as her wealthy protector leads her away. Another suitor goes to pick up the flower, but when Armand moves to take it, the other man lets him. This symbolizes Marguerite and Armand as a couple.
Marguerite, now increasingly ill, deserts her wealthy protector to live in the countryside with Armand. However, Armand's father asks her to quit her lover; she agrees, but will not tell Armand why she must leave him. A despairing Marguerite is about to leave the country house when Armand enters, and becomes distressed upon seeing her so distraught. A passionate sequence follows, portraying the characters' love, Marguerite's sacrifice and Armand's confusion.
Armand, angered by Marguerite's lack of an explanation, publicly humiliates her by tearing the necklace given to her by her wealthy protector from her neck and throwing it to the floor, and throwing money in her face.
In the final scenes, sad and alone, Marguerite waits for inevitable death. However, Armand's father has revealed the truth to him and Armand makes it back to the apartment to hold Marguerite one last time. She dies in his arms.
Expression through the ballet
In the beginning scenes, at the party when Marguerite and Armand first meet, the mood of the dancing is rather naive, almost playful. There are plenty of sideways glances and loving gestures, but it is like they are testing each other to see if the feelings are true.
In the scenes following Armand's father's confrontation with Marguerite, the dance is much more passionate, more mature. They know what real love feels like, and it becomes clear that they would both willingly die for the other.
The death scene portrayed in heartbreaking detail, with Marguerite having to pause repeatedly to regain her strength. When she dies, Armand does not yet realize that she has gone, and only knows when her hand falls from his. Many people, after they had watched the ballet, commented that it was "like a private moment that they didn't want to intrude on."
Nureyev and Fonteyn
As this was a piece choreographed specifically for Nureyev and Fonteyn, it was difficult for anybody to imagine anyone else in the title roles. It was a highlight in their farewell performances in Fonteyn & Nureyev on Broadway. After they died, it was forbidden for anyone else to dance the piece, but this has changed in more recent times. Revivals of the ballet have starred pairings such as Sylvie Guillem and Nicolas Le Riche, Zenaida Yanowsky and Federico Bonelli, and Tamara Rojo and Sergei Polunin. Sergei Polunin has also danced the ballet alongside Svetlana Zakharova.
- Marguerite and Armand. Pas de deux by Tamara Rojo and Sergei Polunin
- Marguerite and Armand at Royal Opera House
- Nureyev dancing in Marguerite and Armand
- Sylvie Guillem & Nicolas Le Riche's performance