The Beziers municipal theatre sits proudly at the upper end of the Allees Paul Riquet. The Allees is a magnificent public space, a long, wide space, lined by huge plane trees, and bordered by impressive buildings. The theatre was opened in 1844, when Beziers was in its “golden age”, a time of prosperity and expansion. The building, with its classic, Greek-style façade, was designed by the architect Charles Isabelle.
The auditorium is in the Italian style, with several tiers of U-shaped balconies stacked on top of one another. It has been written that the municipal theatre in Beziers is unique in France, in that it has preserved its original decorative scheme throughout. I had long admired the building from the outside, but until recently I had not seen any of the interior.
All that changed when I booked to go and see a performance of &dentidades with the dancer Pastora Galvan. Walking along the Allees after sunset, with the theatre brightly lit up, I was not on my own – there were many other people going to see the same show!
The entrance foyer was crowded with people and there were columns everywhere. A sign indicated directions to the various parts of the theatre. French theatres have a different seat numbering system to the ones I have encountered in other countries. They start with seat one in the centre of the row, and work outwards, with even numbers running to the left and uneven to the right, as you face the stage. The first time I went to a theatre in France, I was a little anxious as I thought I did not have a seat next to my companion. I wasn’t sure that my French was up to persuading the person sitting between us to change seats with me :)! Anyhow, in Beziers we had seats Y07 and Y09, towards the centre of the last row in the first balcony (there are three). Luckily there was an usher to help me find the seats!
On the first floor of the theatre, an enormous, colonnaded room awaited patrons, perhaps for drinks during the interval?
The wooden staircase climbed to almost vertiginous heights!
And then I was inside the auditorium!! A riot of colour and painted ornamentation surrounded me, presided over by a huge, sparkling crystal chandelier.
One website has it that the original chandelier was removed by the Germans during the war, and melted down, and another site was lamenting the removal of the ornate stage curtain. I’ll try and find the official book on the history of the theatre to verify those details, and perhaps I’ll be able to go on a “behind-the-scenes” tour at some point.
The theatre management had thought that we would all be feeling a little chilly, and so the heating was turned on full blast. I managed to remove many layers and got nicely comfortable in my seat!
When the curtain opened there were a couple of chairs on the left, and a clothes rail, a coat rack, a small table and a chair on the right of the stage. Two guitarists took their seats on the chairs, and three men stood beside them – two of them singers, and the third in charge of clapping. In flamenco there is a lot of rhythmic clapping, and it’s quite an art to get it right. After a few minutes, Pastora Galvan appeared on stage, in a very elaborate white dress, and sat at the little table by the side of the stage, listening to the musicians for a little while. When she started her performance, it was with slow movements, gracefully moving the train of her dress as she turned. After that first dance she changed her costume and style of dancing, and continued to do this for each subsequent dance.
The idea behind the show was to pay tribute to seven heroes of the flamenco universe: Matilde Coral, Manuela Carrasco, Milagros Mengíbar, Loli Flores, Carmen Ledesma, Eugenia de los Reyes and Jose Galvan, the last two being Pastora Galvan’s mother and father.
The whole show was brilliantly conceived and executed, and highly enjoyable to watch! The costumes were sumptuous and the music was very emotionally charged. I don’t know enough about flamenco to be able to fully appreciate the gestures and moves, the texts of the songs etc, but what I watched left me awestruck.
My camera did not work too well with the low light levels inside the theatre, so my pictures and videos of the show are not as sharp and clear as I would have wanted. All the same I hope that they’ll give you a taste of what it was like!
And here are three videos of &dentidades (e-mail subscribers, please visit the website to watch them):
The videos will give you an idea of what it was like, but nothing beats seeing a live performance. If you are tempted to visit the area and see a show, drop me a line, I’ll try and help!!