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The National AE

23 January 2020

We speak to the co-directors who are bringing the novella to the stage...

I first read The Little Prince when I was more than 20 years old. I was hesitant about delving into what I thought was a children’s book. After all, the cover featured a picture of a boy with tousled blond hair and a pale green uniform, standing on his own little planet. But at the insistence of a good friend, I went for it nonetheless. I read it in one sitting.

The 1945 novella by Antoine de Saint-Exupery seemed to address my initial hesitance. With the sombre tone of the pilot-narrator and its childlike illustrations, it confronts the jaded nature of adulthood. It takes the reader along on an adventure of love and loss, introducing us to characters as fantastical as the Little Prince himself, from a king with no subjects and a businessman who catalogues the stars aiming to own them all, to a talking fox and a rose.

Bringing the cosmic, cross-universe magic of Saint-Exupery’s novella to life on stage could be quite a challenge, but a new play showing at Dubai Opera from today until Saturday, manages to do just that, thanks to a lot of acrobatics, dance and ­video-mapping technology.

Co-director Chris Mouron, who is credited with adapting the book for the stage, tells The National that she wanted to give the audience’s imagination a role in the performance.

“The main challenge, of course, was to respect the masterpiece and to keep from limiting the imagination of the audience,” she says. “Everyone who has read the book has their own idea of it, so we wanted to reflect on the imagination’s place in the story.”

Mouron is also the narrative voice of the production, ­providing a link between the audience and the performance. She says she didn’t think that the play needed a narrator at first, but while working with composer Terry Truck, she had the urge to put a particular line to music.

“We were working on the part where the Little Prince tries to tame the Fox,” she says. “It is a very important part. There is an iconic line that reads ‘and now here is my secret, a very simple secret; it is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essentially invisible to the eye’.”

Though it can be testing to fuse dance and dialogue, Mouron says she knew they couldn’t present the show without a narrator. “Dance is its own language, and usually it’s quite difficult mixing it with words. We knew there was a chance it would not work, but we went for it anyway.”

f audience reaction is ­anything to go by, then the experiment was a success. When the show first opened in Marseille, France, in January 2019, it received a seven-minute standing ovation. Among the crowd was a woman who led the team that tracked down the wreckage of Saint-Exupery’s plane off the coast of Marseille, six decades after the pilot-writer went missing during a flight in 1944.

“She was in tears,” Anne Tournie, director and choreographer of the show, says. “It was quite an emotional moment meeting her. It made the show at Marseille very memorable.”

The production was also presented at the Folies Bergere in Paris, a venue that has hosted a range of legendary performers, from Charlie Chaplin and Charles Aznavour to Edith Piaf.

Regarding the show’s choreography and how it marries circus-type acrobatics and dance, Tournie says she sees no distinction between the two. “I wanted to put the dances in the same level as the acrobatics. There is no distinction between the movements in the air and on the ground.”

The 10-person cast consists of a range of performers, each of whom bring a different speciality to the table. “Two of the performers are Chinese, one of whom plays the Rose,” Tournie says. “We have cast members from India, Poland, Italy and France. They all bring a range of dance styles to the show – from more traditional forms to hip-hop and acrobatics.”

Tournie also notes that there is no fixed set for the performance. Two screens make up the floor and the backdrop of the show, and with video-­mapping technology, they bring the cosmic journey of the Little Prince to life.

“It’s a little big show,” Mouron says, highlighting how ­technology and acrobatics merge with the heartfelt moral of the novella.

The show also marks a return to the familiar for Mouron and Tournie, who in 2016 staged the first Bollywood stunt show, Dabangg, at Dubai Parks and Resorts.

“We’ve been looking forward to being back here,” Tournie says. “We are very excited to present The Little Prince to Dubai. It really feels like the performance our careers have been building towards.”

Le Petit Prince is at Dubai Opera for five shows between today and Saturday

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