Concert review: Fete Royale's throwback to the French renaissance enthralls and confuses

As part of its aim to promote French culture and creativity, the Voilah! French Festival presented Fete Royale: Festivities At The Royal French Court, which sought to recreate the song and dance of the French renaissance era.

It was a treat, as the Victoria Theatre audience on Saturday night had the rare opportunity to witness a performance on period instruments such as the shawm and dulcian, as well as dancers clad in elaborate costumes.

However, without the aid of any programme notes or written commentary, many were left befuddled by the proceedings on stage. What was one to make of the puzzling drawing of cards, although one would eventually deduce that it signaled the start of each tableau, French for scene. Perhaps some added dialogue in English would help the audience follow the act better.

Set to 10 scenes played out in renaissance dances such as the Allemande, Basse Danse and Pavane, Fete Royale told a story of courtship and showmanship, with mock swordfights and noblemen being knighted.

However, with the lack of any notable stage prop except a giant foam club and toy wooden swords, it was visually lacklustre and would have been better served held in an open space rather than a darkened hall where listeners are conditioned to sit in silence. After all, what are festivities without merry making by all in attendance?

Production woes should not detract from the magnificent performance of the cast, led by soprano Veronique Bourin and tenor Hugues Primard, whose crystal clear diction and projection impressed stylistically.

The highly energetic dancers showed some fleet-footed choreography, especially in the Branle and Gaillarde dances, and showed no sign of fatique throughout the evening.

Stealing the show were the sextet of musicians, with Denis Raisin Dadre, Adrien Reboisson, Elsa Frank, and Jeremie Papasergio displaying a marvelous mastery of three different instruments. Providing rock solid rhythm on the timbrel and tambourine was Bruno Caillat, leaving the affable Pascale Boquet to delight with plucked accompaniment on the lute and renaissance guitar.

While it was an informative display of renaissance music and dance by a highly-talented cast, one could not help but feel let down by the lack of direction in the production.

Was it a performance, or was it a documentary of ancient French culture? That is the question best left to the creative crew behind Fete Royale.

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