"Petite Mort," "Le Jeune Homme et la Mort," "Etudes"
Jiri Kylian, Roland Petit, Harald Lander
English National Ballet
18-21 April, 2013
by Judith Cruikshank
copyright 2013 by Judith Cruikshank
This was the first programme of Tamara Rojo’s directorship of English National Ballet; something modern, something historic and something familiar, grouped under the rather lurid title, Ecstasy and Death. Only the Kylian was new to the company although it had been a regular in Rambert’s repertory some years ago. ‘Jeune Homme et la Mort’ was introduced by the previous regime in an all-Petit bill which premiered shortly after the choreographer’s death.
But there is no diminution in his formidable technique and the magnetism of his stage presence has, if anything, increased. The slow, gymnastic falls, the huge jumps which were clearly part of Babilée’s particular armoury seem to come naturally to Le Riche, and as we have seen before, he is a most compelling actor.
Rojo cast herself as the young woman who ultimately reveals herself to be Death. According to an interview she gave before the programme opened it had long been her ambition to dance the role and with Le Riche as her partner. She looks amazing in the severe black wig and poison yellow dress. But I found her interpretation too hot, fiery and passionate to be convincing. Her small stature makes it difficult for her to dominate Le Riche who is a tall man, but my main complaint is that there seemed to be no complicity between them. Two wonderful dancers each doing their own thing.
Curiously, a second cast which also involved a guest - Ivan Putrov, another of the Royal Ballet’s bad boy Russians – proved to be more satisfactory overall. Putrov looks to be in good shape, but he doesn’t have Le Riche’s exceptional technique, nor his extraordinary charisma. But he’s an excellent dancer and appeared to be completely comfortable with the challenges of the role.
His partner was Jia Zhang, still in the corps de ballet, who danced the role when it entered the ENB repertory last year. She’s very tall and seemingly very gifted. Her cold, implacable manner and dark sophisticated beauty provide a terrific contrast to Putrov’s youthful looks and her height allows her to gradually assume the dominant role until the final moments of the ballet when she lures him to his suicide.
This was presumably the “death” element of the programme because the phrase “petite morte” refers to something quite other. Six men holding foils, and clad in high-waisted briefs that might have been sourced from medical supply shop, perform various manoeuvres with the foils before running to the back of the stage and unfolding a vast silken cloth which covers the stage. They pull it back to reveal six women, similarly clad in flesh-coloured corsets and briefs.
Each couple then dances a brief pas de deux, all this to the slow movements from two Mozart piano concertos which have been spatchcocked together. It was nicely danced, as it should have been, cast from among the company’s leading dancers and most promising young talent, and it’s one of Kylian’s most popular pieces. But in this context it made little impression.
I’m a sucker for ‘Etudes’, even though some may deride it. It can be exciting and exhilarating; it can be moving as you watch those tiny exercises at the barre build into the virtuosity of the last sections. At its best it’s a combination of those sensations. Neither of the performances I saw quite reached those heights although overall the performances were enjoyable and the company danced well.
Erina Takahashi was partnered by James Forbat and Vadim Muntagirov. A refined and delicate dancer, she was at her best in the Romantic section partnered by Estaban Berlanga, but ‘in your face’ virtuosity doesn’t come naturally to her. Soloist James Forbat was impressive in the second man’s role but the star in that cast was unquestionably Vadim Muntagirov. Although he was dancing with an injury which forced him to withdraw from his later scheduled performances, there was no sense of holding back. He wears his beautiful Russian schooling as easily as a favourite sweater and the exhilaration he evidently felt as he soared high above the stage in the mazurka section was palpable.
Muntagirov was replaced in his subsequent performances by Ken Saruhushi who was a more than acceptable substitute. The ballerina was Rojo herself who knows just how to put across this kind of bravura role with authority and charm. She glittered appropriately, displayed all her lightness and delicacy in the Romantic interlude, and threw off a series of chainée turns which accelerated to such a speed that her silhouette was totally blurred.
The company now goes into rehearsal for its in-the-round production of "Swan Lake" which involves more swans than you can shake a stick at. Then comes a tribute programme to Rudolf Nureyev and the new season opens with Anna Marie Holmes’ production of ‘Le Corsaire’. No one could claim that Rojo’s directorship has begun in timid fashion. How it develops we must wait and see.