Visit the Grandes Écuries, the stables that are home to the Academy of Equestrian Arts at the Chateau de Versailles. A unique show that is beautiful, moving and memorable, a wonderful homage to a French King who adored the “horse ballet” events that were a firm favourite at his court.
In the 1600’s, “Horse Ballets” at the court of Louis XIV were all the rage. The king always appeared dressed as the sun, furthering his image as the center of the French universe and most of the nobles at court were expected to participate. Allegorical themes were most often used…
Founded in 2003 by Bartabas, a tour de force of equestrian arts who first came to global attention with his production of Zingaro and the film Mazeppa, the Grand Ecuiries at the Chateau de Versailles is unique and incredible. Bartabas established the academy at the Chateau de Versailles based on his interpretation of what King Louis XIV believed were the ingredients to create a true equestrian artist, engaging in disciplines such as fencing, singing, dancing and music. Whilst Bartabas is a man of few words, should you cross his path on a visit you will find that he is a man of incredible vision and he has a talent for choreography that for observers completely transcends the rider/horse experience.
When I visited the show at the Château de Versailles was La Voie de l’Ecuyer. It was an avant-garde performance of the entire repertoire studied in the academy. The horses were beautiful and so were the riders who have honed their skills in the art of fencing, voice and archery. A performance here is simply incredible to watch and there were moments I honestly found moving because of the breath-taking beauty of it all. This academy and its performances are not so much about riding the horses as it is the true art of performing with them, horse and rider seamless – as one.
The academy is housed in the Grandes Écuries of the Chateau de Versailles originally built in 1679 and finished in 1683. These huge stables, as well as smaller ones known as the Petites Écurie were created to house the Sun King’s 600 horses. Now there are around 35 horses from Lusitania, Portugal and Argentina housed here and to say they receive the royal treatment is a bit of an understatement.
The academy performs at weekends in a beautiful 17th century hall that was refinished by French architect Patrick Bouchain. The arena is theatrical with Murano glass mirrors and lights and seats up to 500 spectators, lit by huge, serene chandeliers which give the show a haunting beauty.
After the show, I experienced a private tour of the stables and tack room, learned about the performance hall and enjoyed a coupe of champagne in the Salon Nuño Oliveira.
It is incredible that just 30 minutes from the centre of Paris is this stunning place which to visit is such a privilege. The behind the scenes team of the Academy of Equestrian Arts is brilliant and ambitious and the show is quite simply, magnificent.
Times, shows, tickets and details for Bartabas stables Versailles: www.bartabas.fr
By Lisa Burros-Hutchins.
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