"Petrushka," "Songs of a Wayfarer," "Raymonda
English National Ballet
25 – 27 July 2013
by Judith Cruickshank
copyright 2013 by Judith Cruickshank
It’s forty two years since Maurice Béjart created a duet for Rudolf Nureyev and Paolo Bortoluzzi to Mahler’s song cycle “Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen”; “Songs of a Wayfarer”. The action shows a young man wandering through life, experiencing joy and sorrow, always accompanied by an alter ego who shares his experiences and finally reconciles him to death. Nureyev was to dance it many times with many partners – though none quite as effective as Bortoluzzi – until very late in his career.
The duet was the highlight of the performance given by the Paris Opera Ballet marking the tenth anniversary of Nureyev’s death. Laurent Hilaire and Manuel Legris, dancers formed by Nureyev, gave a performance of such intense emotion that Béjart himself was almost reduced to tears. And it was certainly the highlight of English National Ballet’s Tribute to Nureyev programme, given just five performances at the London Coliseum.
Muntagirov also shone in the final work; Nureyev’s staging of dances from Act III of “Raymonda”, partnering Daria Klimentova. She was radiant, in real ballerina mode, her dancing clean, accurate and musical. But while she glittered as brightly as one could wish, there was always the sense that this was a young woman celebrating her wedding day. Muntagirov sailed through his variation with smiling ease and partnered handsomely.
The rest of the cast danced well, but perhaps a little over-carefully. More performances would doubtless allow the dancers to settle into their roles and make them their own. But the exhilarating finale involving the entire cast went as well as one could possibly wish and the cheers at the end were well-deserved.
The evening opened with a revival of Michael Fokine’s “Petrushka” a role which Nureyev danced many times with many companies, though I never thought it one on which he made a particular mark. It was also a feature of English National Ballet’s repertory in an excellent production by Nicholas Beriosoff, initially danced by luminaries such as Anton Dolin and Leonide Massine.
I hardly know what to make of this revival staged I believe, by Isabelle Fokine. It differs in so many aspects from my memories of the Beriosoff production and the one originally staged by Diaghilev’s own ballet master, Serge Grigoriev, for the Royal Ballet. But more worryingly there was no atmosphere, no sense of the bustling Butter Week fair, and many of the incidents among the crowd which feature so importantly in the action seemed clumsy and artificial. Nancy Osbaldeston, hampered by a curious make-up, did her best with the role of the Ballerina; Shevelle Dynott was the Moor and Fabian Reimar Petrushka, the character seemingly re-thought as an automaton rather than a sawdust-stuffed puppet. The dancers seemed uncharacteristically awkward and constrained and spectators seeing the piece for the first time must have wondered how it gained its reputation as an important moment in the history of dance.
The programme was prefaced by a graceful filmed tribute to Nureyev whose connections with Festival Ballet (ENB’s former name) were extensive. Not only did he appear with the troupe both in the UK and overseas, for many years they presented his version of “Sleeping Beauty” and it was the company’s former director, Dame Beryl Grey, who commissioned him to create his “Romeo and Juliet”. Fittingly Dame Beryl herself, now President of the company, was present at the first night of this programme, which formed a graceful tribute to a great dancer devised by her successor, Tamara Rojo, and a fitting climax to Rojo’s first season as director.